Climate-related impacts on agriculture and food security can contribute to fragility and instability, particularly when market volatility and high prices intersect with poor governance and economic and social grievances. Building resilient food systems can mitigate this risk.
Dr. Martin Frick, Director of Climate, Energy and Tenure Division at the UN Food and Agriculture Organization spoke with International Alert about sustainable resource management in the agricultural sector for resilience and conflict prevention.
International Alert: The FAO recently held a major event on the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. Some elements of climate smart agriculture obviously have co-benefits for conflict prevention agendas, e.g. integrated policy approaches and empowering local institutions affect dynamics that are important for inclusion and equality. Can you talk about any closer engagement FAO might have with the political dimensions of food security and promoting a resilience agenda that addresses those?
Dr. Martin Frick: I think the question is spot on. If we look at where the world’s conflicts mainly are it is clear that pressure on natural resources is an integral part of the picture. Climate change and a growing population are increasing the pressure on all areas FAO works with: agriculture, fisheries and forestry. In our work for climate-smart agriculture we are aiming at producing more with less and strengthening the resilience in particular of smallholder farmers. It is vital that we see the full picture in agriculture. It is not only about food production but also about the management of natural resources and building stability and peace by providing a sustainable basis for people’s life.
The recently released State of Food Insecurity in the World Map 2015 illustrates the degree of overlap between hunger and other challenges, including instability and conflict. How does FAO view the relationship between food insecurity and social unrest, and what are some of the ways this is incorporated into its work?
We see the downward spiral of land degradation, loss of agricultural productivity, hunger and conflict very clearly. Efforts like the international year of soils are joint initiatives to build stronger awareness about the issue. However, it is still a huge advocacy task to argue for the relatively cheap measures needed to keep and restore the productive capacity of land in “hard” security circles. It is time to look in a much more preventive manner into emerging security situations and to mobilize funds for restoring agricultural capacity before regions slide into conflict. In this respect, FAO helps governments to develop an enabling environment for the management of multiple hazards and risks that put agriculture, nutrition, food security and food safety at risk. This support varies depending on national needs and the ability of countries to manage crises.
What emissions scenario assumptions are in place in the FAO’s climate smart agriculture planning? How much of the strategizing is based on a world that exceeds 2°?
Staying within the 2 degree guardrail is simply an imperative. From everything science tells us, we risk disruptive changes in the global food supply if we overshoot 2 degrees. So I hope for a strong commitment of state parties and a solid outcome of COP21 in Paris.
The UN Financing for Development conference held in July was seen by some as an early indicator of how successful Paris might be, in terms of countries’ political will to take difficult but necessary steps to address sustainability issues. Were there particular commitments that you were looking for at this event in terms of genuinely kickstarting action? What did you expect to see happen?
In this context – and also in the context of the Green Climate Fund – FAO is developing large-scale proposals as we believe agriculture is uniquely positioned to combine the fight against poverty with the fight against climate change. Some 75 per cent of the world’s food insecure and poor people rely on agriculture and natural resources for their livelihoods. The agricultural sectors (including forestry, fisheries) are particularly exposed to the impacts of climate change and climate variability and are already being substantially affected. Addressing climate risks requires taking steps to create more resilient food production systems that are better adapted to climate change. Larger scale climate investment programmes could enhance the climate proofing of national agricultural investment programmes and policies and create momentum for transformational change of the agriculture sectors needed to ensure food security under changing climatic conditions.
The FAO is evolving as an institution and expanding its focus on climate change and energy. Is there any other aspect of the work that you would particularly like to highlight that has relevance to peace and stability?
Land tenure: FAO successfully led the process of preparation of the Voluntary Guidelines on the Responsible Governance of Tenure of Land, Fisheries and Forests in the context of National Food Security. Tenure rights are unclear in the majority of areas in the world and a major source of conflict. Addressing responsible governance of tenure and respecting and securing legitimate tenure rights are key challenges for successful climate change policies.
Biofuels: The issue of biofuels vs. food is well known. Although cheap oil is currently masking the issue, it will resurface. Biofuels are here to stay. Therefore, it is more important to get biofuels right. Based on its work in different countries, FAO has concluded that biofuels are not good or bad per se; it depends on how they are managed. FAO has developed a sustainable bioenergy support package; which allows governments and operators to reduce the risks of “food versus fuel” and move towards the opportunities and “food and fuel” But the issue is much bigger: Using biomass e.g. from residues from agricultural production can and should be an integral part of bringing sustainable energy to all. With the environmental pressures on our food production we need to cascade down and make best use of all the biomass we produce. In particular for least developing countries, this represents a massive opportunity to bring clean energy to their population.