Science has an important role to play to tackle food insecurity in a changing climate

The input of research scientists will be essential in addressing the issue of food insecurity in the face of a rapidly changing climate. This is the message from a new article produced by members of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change this week.

The group outlines a shortlist of key areas in the food security debate requiring further research focus. Sustainable agricultural intensification, for example, has been much emphasised as the way forward for food production (eg by the Royal Society and the UK government) but remains poorly defined and understood. Scientists are needed to help ‘define the practical meaning of sustainable intensification’ and find ‘forms of low emissions agriculture’ which ensure long-term productivity with minimal climate and environmental impacts. Already, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research has undertaken research analysing the success of agricultural carbon projects benefiting poor farmers in regions of Africa.

Related to this, research should also focus on identifying and assisting those populations and sectors most vulnerable to climate changes, the article says. Groups including North Kenyan pastoralists increasingly require some form of insurance to support them when their livestock are lost due to climate events such as drought. Researchers have a role to play in helping design insurance schemes which will work for the rural poor.

Critically, the article acknowledges that food security is not just about agricultural yields, a fact which is often side-lined in the debate. The authors recommend reshaping food access and altering consumption behaviours to ensure basic nutritional needs are met in all continents. Research is needed to understand the relative impact and cost-effectiveness of different innovations when they are introduced. For example, feedback on the rate of adoption and nutritional impact of a vitamin-A rich orange sweet potato, promoted by CGIAR’s HarvestPlus programme in Uganda and Mozambique, will help identify the best methods of encouraging uptake of nutritionally beneficial food innovations.

The article, entitled “The role for scientists in tackling food insecurity and climate change” (open access), has been published in time for the second Global Conference for Agricultural Research for Development. Here, the authors will present their message to the leaders in the global agricultural research world, contributing to the conference’s aim to harness research innovations in the realm of food security and transform them into real development impacts.

Download and read the full article: Beddington JR, Asaduzzaman M, Clark ME, Fernández Bremauntz A, Guillou MD, Jahn MM, Lin E, Mamo T, Negra C, Nobre CA, Scholes RJ, Sharma R, Van Bo N, Wakhungu J. 2012. The role for scientists in tackling food insecurity and climate change. Agriculture and Food Security, 1:10. DOI:10.1186/2048-7010-1-10 (open access)