Political Will to Co-operate is Needed to Tackle the World's Food and Climate Challenges

By Alison Withers

It is hard to comprehend the huge numbers that fill the news on climate change, global poverty and the global economic crisis and that makes it even harder not to despair.

There is a sense that everywhere we look things are spiralling out of control and the problems that beset the planet and its inhabitants are of such dimensions that they are impossible to grasp.

As the annual climate change talks stumble on in Cancun, Mexico, with little optimism for binding agreement as each country argues and negotiates over its own position the UK's Committee on Climate Change has this week, for example, suggested a binding commitment to cut carbon emissions by 60% by the year 2030. Visualising what impact that might have on our lives in practical terms is nearly impossible.

Some equally enormous figures are included in the latest annual poverty report for 2011 recently issued by the International Fund for Agricultural Development. The report is focused on the prospects for food production and farming given the projected increase in the global population to 9 billion by 2050. It will mean increasing agricultural production by as much as 70% to provide enough food, when we are already in a situation where there is tension around the world about land use, little fertile land left to develop and the increasingly unstable weather coming out of global warming and climate change are making life even more difficult for farmers.

There have been some improvements in reducing poverty, the IFAD says, most notably in China, but the situation in S Asia and Africa appears to be getting worse.In the developing world, it says, around 80% of the population is rural and that is where the worst poverty is found.

In these countries there are some 500 million small farmers producing 80% of their countries' food supplies. But they are battling increasingly harsh and unpredictable climate conditions to do so and barely subsisting themselves.

When a recent report in the UK revealed that a quarter of all its farmers were also struggling with poverty and lack of any profit to rely on small farmers in the developing world to increase production to the level that is predicted to be needed by 2050 seems like an almost impossible task.

The IFAD has highlighted what needs to be done, however, and it requires what it calls 'joined-up' government across different ministries, and a breaking down of some traditional distinctions between social and economic policies and programmes. It says that the main areas of focus should be the strengthening the individual and collective capabilities of rural populations, improving the overall rural environment and reducing the level of risk rural populations live with. What that means is investment in infrastructure, access to markets, sustainable farming and knowledge sharing of new agricultural technologies.

The UK has recently pledged £37 million in aid over three years to overseas farmers to help them develop new crops that can combat climate change. An example of such a crop that has been successful is Scuba rice that can survive under water for two weeks.

Plainly technologies, for example GM seeds and crops, or low-chem agricultural products such as the more natural range of biopesticides, yield enhancers and biofungicides do already exist. It is making them accessible to small-scale farmers with little to invest and without the knowledge of how to use them that is the challenge, and that is where the "joined-up" government both nationally and internationally comes in, if governments can muster the political will to do it.

Alison Withers
Article by Alison Withers
Incomprehensibly huge numbers filling the news on a daily basis make it hard not to despair about climate change, global poverty and food scarcity, but sharing knowledge globally on new farming technologies like low-chem agricultural products could begin to make a difference, says Ali Withers. www.agraquest.com.

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