Building Agricultural Resilience in Response to Climate Change: A panel discussion on advancing global food security

Image courtesy of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

Image courtesy of The Chicago Council on Global Affairs

The Chicago Council on Global Affairs and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) held a panel on September 11, 2014 at IFPRI’s Washington, DC office. The panel targeted “the urgent need for strategies to build resilience for the world’s farmers to adapt to climate change.” The panel stipulated that “the food system is growing more fragile, and climate change and increasingly volatile weather are reducing agricultural productivity globally.”  Panelists included Shenggen Fan, Director General of IFPRI, Rachel Kyte, Group Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change at The World Bank, John McDermott, Director of CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture for Nutrition and Health, and Cynthia Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist from Goddard Institute for Space Studies at Columbia University. Dan Glickman, Co-chair of Global Agricultural Development Initiative from The Chicago Council on Global Affairs moderated the panel.

Focus was placed on how to move from the “rhetoric” perspective of resilience to an actual practice that will engage smallholder farmers who are facing the most risk. Shenggen Fan stated that resilience should be understood as a mechanism to build resilience to climate change and make the global food system produce more with less. He explained that food production should cost less energy and emission, and be more nutritious and abundant. The panelists were at consensus that the question now should not be whether climate change is certain or when we should worry about it, but how can we build this resilience and adapt?

In determining research and science priorities for resilience building, panelists’ suggestions included speeding up the process of innovation, more policy experiments, and globally integrated crop research. The panelists also listed out increasing small irrigation, climate insurance, funding gene banks and developing cellphone apps that can provide information for smallholder farmers. The role of public-private engagement was also emphasized as a source of solution; McDermott stated that focus should be placed on conducting business in the food industry in ways other than seeking private investment. Glickman added that health experts should take an active role regarding the nutrition aspect of food security.

During Q&A, questions were raised about the gap and distrust between science and public opinion regarding climate change. The panelists deemed this to be a lack of communication issue rather than validity of findings within the science community. Concerns around distrust also surfaced around the topic of genetically modified foods (GMOs) as a resilience mechanism; the panelists had different opinions on the matter. Rachel Kyte discussed why there is public distrust for GMOs and science in general, stating that there is belief that “science is bought”. She suggested there be a mechanism that provides more open data to the public on scientific findings to help people make informed decisions. John McDermott, acknowledging that economics has become a main factor for decision making in daily life, suggested that information about the economic benefit of GMOs be available to the general consumer.

The panel concluded with all panelists highlighting the importance of the upcoming UN General Assembly and the 2014 Climate Summit, which will be held on September 23rd. The summit will play a major role in paving the way for more action towards climate change through agricultural resilience building.

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