Avoid the proverbial digging a hole to fill another

Climate & Natural resources,Food Security03 Nov 2010Yemi Akinbamijo

The link between food security, agriculture and climate change is not a new phenomenon. Throughout history, farming folks have always adapted to the altering vicissitudes of their vocation. Consequently, as a survival strategy, they have always evolved adaptive measures in order to cope with these changes.

This blog is part of the blog series about the ‘It’s Down 2 Earth’ conference on agriculture, food security and climate change held in The Hague between 31 October and 5 November 2010. The participants discuss the future of agriculture; how it can contribute to food security and be placed at the heart of sustainable development and poverty eradication – and still be an instrument to challenge climate change?

In a relative sense, more recently the phenomenon has become a newfound register, with considerable popularity among a broad spectrum of the population. From a purely analytical perspective, climate change in itself is an aggregation of meteorological events. Viewed in isolation these events do not make sense, but the cumulative impacts of aggregated events in different places have now become a colossal global phenomenon, one that requires specialised attention to manage the impacts. The gathering in The Hague has a lot to discuss: these crucial events and the human communities at the crossroads of the climate, food security and livelihoods.

The agronomic implication is the climatic shock within food production systems, which has devastating effects on crops, livestock and fisheries. The totality of the systemic evolution implies a net loss in the ability to sustainably meet the demand for food and conserve the natural biodiversity. Proactive measures are imperative to avoid the repetition of an undesirable history that culminated in the extinction of several species.

There is an urgent need, therefore, to rethink our options, strategies and approaches. I am a proponent of the use of ‘systemic applications’ to the issue of climate change and food security. Without pretending to invent a new register in itself, I advocate for the home-grown, customised solutions that have evolved, taking into considerations the knock-on effects within the same system.

Of course, the subject of climate change has become a multi-faceted yet integrated phenomenon. The discussions around climate change have always centred on mitigation and adaptation options, depending on which axis one’s argument comes from. In Africa, the biggest concern is the conservation of livelihoods in accordance with the peculiarities of the continent. I therefore long for options that do not leave us in a situation where we ‘dig a hole to fill another hole’!

Since the impacts of climate change are a function of meteorological elements, and agriculture in Africa is still, to a large extent, premised on the meteorological indices, there is a knock-on effect from climate change on agro-ecological descriptors, agriculture and subsequently food security. In principle, one can say that whatever affects the climatic indices will affect the ecosystem and subsequently food production and livelihoods. In Africa, where the population has doubled in most countries during the last fifty years (and without a concomitant increase in land mass or, in some cases, agricultural inputs), it is not surprising that there is a negative food balance, especially in Africa.

The current discussions in The Hague have provided some very stimulating ideas and options on how to meet the challenges of climate change headlong through ‘climate-smart’ agricultural initiatives. The options are exciting, but not without pitfalls. The bottom line will be to avoid the proverbial digging a hole to fill another. In order to get around this challenge, system-based rather than commodity or sector-based approaches will be imperative.

Is the earth approaching the apocalyptic limit? This will be the subject in my next blog post.