Re: Addressing food insecurity in protracted crises: Resilience-building programming

Peter Steele Agricultural Engineer, Italy

Developing resilience on global scale

Shifting direction – consider the larger picture

I was partway into my small contribution – exploring issues of water in society – before the contribution from Peter Carter of Canada cropped up. It set me thinking. Like most of the other contributors mine was to be a focused approach, wherein I thought I could put issues of water security into context representing as it does the basis of crop and livestock production that services the estimated 30% of the global land surface on which people normally live.

Mine was to be a contextual approach with establishing some parameters for addressing food insecurity in that on-going and protracted crisis in which the majority people in most low-income countries never have access to sufficient water for their needs. The same holds true for a handful of richer industrializing countries, but these same countries typically make a living from those extractive industries that comprise the basis for the imbalance that has been forced upon the atmosphere of Planet Earth; and continue to encourage the climate changes expected. These are people who can generally continue to purchase their current needs whether technologies, food supplies and/or manufactured goods.

Resilience building on global scale

Peter Carter steps back further and puts Planet Earth into context as likely to become unlivable by the standards enjoyed by those of us alive today; and certainly ungovernable within the draconian changes that a 4degC temperature rise will have on living space, food supplies, air quality and so on by 2100. And that’s without focusing upon the projected numbers of people who will need to be fed, the 80% urban world society that will have to be serviced, the higher living standards expected and more.

The magnitude of these issues overwhelms; the lack of consensus of what to do about it, the sometimes conflicting information available, the inertia that limits change, the human time-scales involved and more simply overwhelm most people. And, that said you, reading this, probably already belong to that minority rich (or at least the relatively affluent) proportion of humanity that has the luxury of time, education and freedom to give thought to the bigger picture.

The reality is, however, the limited vision of the majority people and, typically, the governments that they form (that continue to plan and invest on time-scales that span a handful of years). Peter Carter’s worst case scenario looms.

Taking out insurance

And what if Peter Carter and others promoting similar messages have got their magnitudes and timescales wrong; what if they are out by a century or two? This brings choices. In much the same way that I purchase house insurance – I prefer the security of knowing that I can replace my house should it be lost; and the premium required for doing so is simply budgeted into my annual outgoings. Can we build resilience into our current ‘way-of-life’? Your children’s children may have some of the answers to that particular challenge. You, of course, won’t be around to check them out, but you owe it to your descendents to promote those mixed programmes of sustainable social movement, investments, alternative energy use, land & water care, etc. that represent today’s first tentative steps.

And that thing about water and human development

Working in support of people in the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) countries until recently, I was part of an agro-development team that was able to make a small contribution to the lives of >450 million people in the 20 countries that we consider make up the region. Climate change will impact adversely across this – the driest habitable region of the world, which brings me to my ‘water & society’ contribution.

Agriculture across the MENA region is likely to be severely disrupted by climate changes that are already underway. This will manifest with raised ambient temperatures of 2-3degC by 2100, decreases in rainfall of the order 20%, reduced run-off, rising sea levels of the order 400 mm and coastal inundation that may result in loss of productive land of the order 15%. Estimated 12-50 million people may be displaced. Flow in international rivers in the region will decline by up to 80%. Global movements of temperature bands northwards will bring risk of increased desertification.

Coping or mitigation effort is required for societies-at-large that people are able to accommodate the changes taking place. Agricultural production will be adversely affected; and the region with an additional 50% people by 2050 is likely to become even more dependent upon imported foods. How to build resilience into this kind of projection?

Scope for making better use of resources

Optimistically, changes can be introduced and managed. The MENA region has sufficient intellectual and financial resources to boost the efficiency of resource use for socio-economic development, including efforts to maintain stability within regional agro-production industries. Apart from water, agricultural production resources are relatively plentiful. The crisis of water supplies in the region are those of management not supply, and the result is that millions of people and the environment will continue to suffer because of the failures of national managers to make the changes required. Water productivity is expected to improve and less water will be lost; savings can be re-directed into new crops/lands. Intensification of production will help compensate for lands eventually abandoned to the sea and/or to desertification.

The result is one in which resources will be shifted into more efficient and productive use, and this will enable the region to continue to feed estimated 50% of regional people. Over time, however, regional/national managers should be establishing the trading networks that will provide the additional raw materials required with which to service domestic/regional agro-industries. Support will be needed to mobilize the institutional, educational, industrial and financial resources that will help produce the resilient socio-economies required of 2050 and later.


You probably need a forester on your team when planning for the long-term future - everyone else thinks short-term. If you come from the MENA region, your descendents will eventually thank you for your timeliness, resourcefulness and prompt action with the planning required of a water secure future.

Peter Steele

Agricultural Engineer