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Actions and gaps: The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change final report

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Report front coverThe Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change launched their final report, Achieving food security in the face of climate change, at a key event at the Planet Under Pressure conference in London on 28th March.

The report shows some ways forward for a food system that can reflect limits of food security. It also raises some important questions, including the problems of trade-offs between (corporate) development and the environment, and the nature of the policy processes for implementing the large-scale changes implied by the report.

Prof Bruce Campbell, CCAFS program director, opened the launch with an introduction to the report, which aims to synthesise 16 reports that have been produced over the past 3 years. Four report commissioners were also present to introduce the report and to highlight the 7 key recommendations coming from the report.

Prof Robert Scholes (CSIR, South Africa) opened by showing a video on the core message of the document, which centres on investing in an alternative future food system that keeps within the safe operating space for interconnected food and climate systems. Referring to complex adaptive systems theory, he said that the path into the future depends on the choices we make now. Long-term sustainability requires the world to stay within certain limits, he said, but climate change will bring us towards (and perhaps over) thresholds of food security. Areas that are currently food insecure will be hit worst.

Prof Sir John Beddington (Commission chair and Chief Scientific Adviser to the UK government) then introduced the first recommendation: 1. Integrate food security and sustainable agriculture into global and national policies.

Prof Beddington emphasised the importance of putting climate smart agriculture onto the agenda at Rio+20 as well as other international for a like the G8 and G20. He noted the importance of funds being allocated to come up with and implement new solutions to a problem that we are already facing: ‘the initial conditions are that we currently have billions in poverty, water scarcity and a billion malnourished.”

Prof Tekalign Mamo (Ministry of Agriculture, Ethiopia) then went on to discuss the next three recommendations:

2: Significantly raise the level of global investment in sustainable agriculture and food systems in the next decade.

3: Sustainably intensify agricultural production while reducing GHG emissions and other negative environmental impacts of agriculture.

4: Develop specific programmes and policies to assist populations and sectors that are most vulnerable to climate changes and food insecurity.

Prof Mamo's emphasis was that in tackling food insecurity, we face the dual challenge of increasing production for a growing population as well as mitigating climate change. In so doing, he urged the international community to deliver on the commitments made in L’Aquila and further recommended developing economic incentive mechanisms for sustainable intensification that empowers marginal food producers, including strengthening land tenure.

The final commissioner to brief the audience was Professor Molly Jahn, who briefly discussed the last three recommendations. These go beyond a focus on production to incorporate the rest of the food system. These recommendations are to:

5: Reshape food access and consumption patterns to ensure basic nutritional needs are met and to foster healthy and sustainable eating patterns worldwide.

6: Reduce loss and waste in food systems, targeting infrastructure, farming practices, processing, distribution and household habits.

7: Create comprehensive, shared, integrated information systems that encompass human and ecological dimensions.

The inclusion of the value chain, consumption patterns (with a recognition that we face not only the problem of under-nutrition, but also of over-nutrition) and perverse incentives that encourage waste, was noteworthy in bringing a systems approach to bear on the issue of food security. The report recognises that one-size-fits-all solutions will not work and that there is need to acknowledge diversity across space and to respect knowledge of all kinds.

In the sense of encompassing the complexity of the food security challenge under climate change, the report does well to produce 7 actionable recommendations.

However, it still leaves some gaps. Most notably, there was no discussion on the role of fishing systems in food security nor of educating people to become better (more sustainable) consumers. Another issue, brought up during the question session, was the significant role of large agri-business players whose incentives do not necessarily align with all of the recommendations.

It is on such policy aspects that the report lacks substance. Despite its emphasis on the role of multiple actors in the food system and its case studies, many of the recommendations are targeted at the national level or at international governmental bodies, thereby excluding most of the actors in the food system. Furthermore, the 'how' or 'enforcement' aspect of the report is not sufficiently fleshed out to recognise the significant trade-offs that will have to be made in order to achieve this new vision of a sustainable food system - in particular, trade-offs between business/development and the environment.

From a Future Agricultures perspective, there is plenty of work to do in addressing the politics of implementing this new vision, where the power dynamics for change lie, and what the policy processes for implementing these recommendations will actually entail. There is also space for challenging the reliance on climate smart agriculture and sustainable intensification as a ‘silver bullet’ for addressing the triple challenge of growing population and a need to mitigate as well as adapt to climate change.

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Laura Pereira completed her DPhil in Geography and Environmental Science at Oxford in 2012 and she holds an MSc from the same institution as well as a BSc (Hons) from the University of the Witwatersrand. Having spent a year as a Giorgio Ruffolo post-doctoral fellow in the Sustainability Science Program at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government, she is currently based at the University of Cape Town as part of the Bioeconomy research group in the Department of Environmental and Geographical Sciences. Laura has been a member of the Future Agricultures Consortium since 2011 when she became an early career post-doctoral fellow and she is also an International Social Sciences Council (ISSC) Post-doctoral Fellow.

Her research focuses on innovation and adaptation in the food system under environmental change, with a specific emphasis on the role of linking production and consumption patterns in emerging economies like Brazil and South Africa. Currently, she is focussing on the potential for orphan crops to play a significant role in a transformation to a more sustainable and equitable food system.

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