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The State of Food and Agriculture 2016

Questions & Answers

1. What is the impact of climate change on agriculture and food security?

In many regions, agricultural production is already being adversely affected by the effects of climate change: rising temperatures, increased temperature variability, changes in levels and frequency of precipitation, a greater frequency of dry spells and droughts, increasing intensity of extreme weather events, rising sea levels, and salinization of arable land and freshwater.
The effects of climate change on agricultural production and livelihoods are expected to intensify over time, and to vary across countries and regions.
Beyond 2030, the negative impacts of climate change on the productivity of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry will become increasingly severe in all regions.

2. Who will be most affected?

Productivity declines would have serious implications for food security. Since the areas most affected would be those with already high rates of hunger and poverty, food price increases would directly affect millions of low-income people. Reductions in crop yields and the productivity of livestock, fisheries and forestry are more likely in tropical developing regions than in temperate, developed regions. Among the most vulnerable will be those who depend on agriculture for their livelihood and income, particularly smallholder producers in developing countries. The greatest vulnerabilities to climate change impacts are in sub-Saharan Africa and South and South-east Asia. Overall the biggest negative food security impacts in terms of numbers of undernourished are projected in sub-Saharan Africa, in part because of the high dependence on agriculture for incomes and food security.

3. What should farmers do to prepare for adverse climate trends?

Significant improvements in food security, as well as resilience to climate change can be achieved with the introduction of sustainable agricultural practices. Wide adoption of practices such as the use of nitrogen-efficient and heat-tolerant crop varieties, zero-tillage and integrated soil fertility management would boost productivity and farmers’ incomes, and help lower food prices. By one estimate, the number of people at risk of undernourishment in developing countries in 2050 could be reduced by more than 120 million through widespread use of nitrogen-efficient crop varieties alone.
Farmers can further enhance their resilience through diversification, which can reduce the impact of climate shocks on income and provide households with a broader range of options when managing future risks. For farm households with limited options for on-farm diversification, livelihood diversification through non-farm rural employment or migration to cities may be essential. Adaptation through sustainable intensification and agricultural diversification may have to be combined, therefore, with the creation of off-farm opportunities, both locally and through strengthened rural-urban linkages. Gender issues also need to be addressed – social norms often prevent women from pursuing off-farm activities. Social protection, education and active labour market policies are needed to mitigate many of the challenges associated with diversification and migration.

4. What are the concrete steps farmers and governments should take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Emissions will have to be drastically reduced in order to keep climate change in check and keep the global temperature increase no higher than 1.5 Co or 2Co, compared with pre-industrial levels. This is a global responsibility and requires all economic sectors to shift to low emission intensity.
Agriculture, and the food sector at large, have an important responsibility in climate change mitigation. Taken together, agriculture, forestry and land-use change account for about one-fifth of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Carbon dioxide emissions are mainly attributable to losses of above and below ground organic matter, through changes in land use, such as conversion of forests to pasture or cropland, and land degradation such as caused by over-grazing. The bulk of direct emissions of methane and nitrous oxide, two potent GHGs, are the result of enteric fermentation in livestock, rice production in flooded fields, and the application of nitrogen fertilizer and manure. All of these can be reduced through the implementation of better management practices.
Several practices can reduce losses of soil organic carbon or increase carbon sequestration in agricultural landscapes, e.g. reducing fires, overgrazing and soil erosion or recycling crop residues and manure. Other options include use of cover crops, intercropping,  agroforestry and conservation agriculture. Carbon balances can also be improved with better crop varieties. Technical options also exist for reducing methane emissions from livestock and flooded rice production. Emissions from livestock production could be reduced by 18-30 percent by adopting practices used by the 25 percent of produces with lowest GHG emissions intensity. Reductions in nitrous oxide emissions can be achieved through improvements in both crop and animal production and manure  management.
The share of the food system as a whole in total global GHG emissions is even greater – further emissions are generated by the manufacture of agrochemicals, by fossil energy use in farm operations, and in post-production transportation, processing and retailing.
Policies, market forces and environmental constraints drive the use of inputs and other resources in agriculture, influencing productivity and the degree of conservation or depletion of natural resources. Policy-making for agriculture under climate change should start from an understanding of those drivers and their impacts on farmers’ livelihoods and the environment. Drivers vary significantly between countries and regions – smallholder farmers do not have the same capacity as global agribusinesses to respond to policy and market signals.

5. How can we produce more food while implementing adaptation and mitigation measures at the same time?

As agricultural production increases to meet demand, so too will its emissions. Major improvements in the management of the carbon and nitrogen cycles in agriculture would be needed to achieve a reduction in emission intensities – or emissions per unit of agricultural output – to counterbalance the tendency of the agriculture sectors to emit more as they produce more. Achieving the mitigation potential in the agriculture sectors will not be easy.
Some mitigation options can be seen as adaptation measures with important mitigation co-benefits. Others are driven exclusively by a mitigation motive. For example, putting a halt to deforestation and forest degradation arguably has the largest potential for emission reduction in the agriculture sectors. This should be a top priority, but will require accepting trade-offs: reducing deforestation often comes at a cost to the farmer. Reducing deforestation brings benefits for many but often comes at a cost to the farmer.

6. What are the adjustments required in the food system?

Big adjustments are required in food systems at large. About one-third of all food produced in the world is lost or wasted post-harvest. Reducing food losses and waste would not only improve the efficiency of the food system, but would also reduce both pressure on natural resources and emissions of greenhouse gases. The energy use and emission-intensity of food processing, conservation and transportation are high and increasing. Reducing emission intensity along the entire food chain will require significant changes in consumer awareness, as well as price incentives that favour food items with much smaller environmental footprints.

7. Do we need to change our eating habits – eat less meat – to reduce greenhouse gas emissions?

Livestock production requires more natural resources than plant production. It also produces significant amounts of methane which is an important GHG. Livestock production is thus a major source of agricultural GHG emissions, both directly, through production of enteric methane and manure management, and indirectly, through feed production and deforestation. At the same time, however, livestock produces fertilizers and contributes to management of grasslands and rangelands, which constitute important carbon stocks.
Production and consumption of meat and dairy is increasing, driven by global population and income growth. This has an impact on global emissions as production and conservation of animal products generally entails bigger emissions per calorie than plant food, particularly when compared to cereals and other staple foods. It is, however, important to bear in mind that many people in the world are malnourished, lacking essential micro nutrients and that animal products are particularly important for good nutrition because of their content of protein and essential micro nutrients. In fact, consumption of animal products is very unequally distributed globally. A more balanced diet, also at global level, between products and between people can have both health and environmental benefits.
So reducing consumption of livestock products when it is excessive can play a role. But it is also important to consider by what they would be replaced. There are examples where replacing livestock products by plant products would in fact increase emissions. In high-income countries, for example, perishable products – e.g. fruits and vegetables -  require significant energy use, and corresponding levels of GHG emissions, in the storage, distribution and consumption stages. Careful lifecycle analysis is required to accurately assess the GHG emissions  associated with different products in different contexts.

8. Has the Paris Agreement on Climate Change actually helped countries turn commitments into action to tackle climate change?

The Paris Agreement is helping countries move towards action in different ways. First of all there is the Paris agreement in itself with the commitment of all countries to a common objective. The broad international participation in the commitments facilitates the commitments of every individual country, including the poorest. Indeed, committing to an objective is easier when all commit, including potential economic competitors for instance,.The Paris Agreement also helps by creating a framework for long-term work and engagement.
A further way in which the Paris Agreement has helped moving towards action, has been through the preparation of the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (the INDCs) leading up to the Paris meeting. In many countries, their preparation was an occasion for taking stock of climate change impacts and on-going actions to adapt and mitigate, and for determining what could be done. Very often this was a political process, in the best sense of the word, involving institutions and multiple stakeholders. As a result, most countries, are now much better prepared to act.
As a result, of the Paris Agreement and the INDCs, commitments are now much closer to action. However there is often still a long way to go from commitment to action. Many commitments will need profound transformations, an enabling environment, often additional resources. However, implementing effective climate change action in agriculture – in terms of both adaptation and mitigation – is more difficult than in most other sectors. This is because, the agriculture sectors depend on biological processes and are part of complex ecosystems. Furthermore, agricultural activities are undertaken within an enormous range of agro-ecological and socio-economic conditions and involve a large number of actors worldwide. For these reasons, the agriculture sectors are likely to be slower in adjusting to climate change than other sectors. It will take time. This is why governments need to act now, in order to enable action of all.

9. What are the obstacles and the challenges countries are facing to implementing adaptation and mitigation measures?   

Challenges faced by countries occur from the farm level all the way to high-level policy decisions concerning rural development, climate change, and food security.
At the farm-level, significant improvements in food security, as well as resilience to climate change can be achieved with the introduction of sustainable agricultural practices (e.g. nitrogen-efficient, heat-tolerant crop varieties, etc), but the adoption by farmers of improved practices is still very limited. Adoption is often hampered by a combination of policy, institutional, and financial barriers to change. Smallholders, especially, face a broad range of barriers, such as limited access to markets, credit, extension advice, weather information, risk management tools and social protection.
Policymakers at the local and national level must face multiple challenges linked to climate change and often do so with only limited resources. Targeting resources  to reduce barriers to adoption by farmers is one important area for an effective adaptation and mitigation strategy. This means putting in place the institutions that can provide the needed climate information, facilitate access to credit, provide extension services.  Social safety nets designed to favor adaptation also represent an important, but challenging, dimension in areas where an increase in extreme events is expected due to climate change.
At the broadest level, there is also the challenge of policy coherence. Policy frameworks need to be drastically modified to align agricultural development, food security and nutrition, and climate stability objectives.
To address all these challenges more climate finance is needed and must be used effectively to leverage larger flows of public and private funding for sustainable agriculture.
A final challenge, even if additional funding is secured, consists in improving countries’ capacity to make things happen on the ground. Systemic capacity constraints currently hamper developing country access to and effective use of climate finance for agriculture. This “capacity gap” in policy-making and institutional development, which can manifest itself at both funding and receiving ends, hinders support for the transition to sustainable agriculture.

10. What is the support countries need to make agriculture more climate-friendly and how can FAO help them? 

FAO can help in multiple ways, through technical support in:

  1. identifying barriers to adoption of practices that facilitate adaptation and GHG mitigation;
  2. capacity development to lower barriers to adoption;
  3. cross-sectoral policy dialogue to better align the objectives of agricultural development and climate policies;
  4. preparing investment proposals to access climate funds and that are well-integrated in Member countries’ development strategies.

11. What are the benefits and costs if countries invest in mitigation and adaptation?

The report finds that there is a clear willingness of countries to respond to climate change by transforming and investing in the agriculture sectors. The agriculture sectors feature prominently in the Intended Nationally Determined Contribution (INDCs), with 94 percent of all countries including them in their mitigation and/or adaptation contributions. Developing countries highlight the importance of agriculture and food security for adaptation; often, they also include the agriculture sectors as contributing to their mitigation targets. Around one-third of all countries refer in their INDCs to the potential co-benefits between mitigation and adaptation in agriculture.
The report also suggests that the aggregate cost of adaptation and making farm systems more resilient are only a fraction of the costs of inaction. Adaptation efforts make good economic sense and often also have considerable potential to reduce the GHG emissions generated by agriculture, forestry and land-use change. Increasing resource-use efficiency, cutting the use of fossil fuels and avoiding direct environmental degradation will save farmers money, enhance productivity sustainably and reduce dependence on external inputs.  
Based on countries’ intended actions and on the evidence in the report, countries appear to recognize that it is in their best interest to put in place adaptation and mitigation measures. However, such actions should be compatible with countries’ development objectives, and support from developed countries should be an integral part of implementing such actions. 

12. Who should pay for making agriculture more climate friendly?

Support from developed countries should be an integral part of implementing intended actions in developing countries. The report does not go into the details about who should pay how much for any specific action. This will be determined by a political process following the principle enshrined in the UNFCCC of “common but differentiated responsibilities”. However, the fact that some of the changes in enabling factors would be part of a rural development strategy even without climate change, justify the need for domestic efforts independently of the amount of external resources received. The report highlights the need to step up climate finance from developed countries; however, it also underscores the importance of policy coherence and how existing resources are used in the agricultural budget of developing countries.
In developing countries, where typically the share of food expenditures in the household budget is higher, the more vulnerable segments of the population should be shielded from the full burden of costs associated with adaptation and mitigation.