Food Security Must Be a Top Priority for the Paris COP

When we think of climate change, we tend to picture rising sea levels, higher temperatures, expanding deserts, more violent storms, melting ice caps. But we should also think of wasted fields and hungry people, because climate change poses a tremendous threat to our food supply for all countries. And yet this most basic need has not always had the place it should in our discussions: at the centre. The COP21 Conference of Parties in Paris offers a chance -- maybe the last chance -- to make food security a primary issue when we talk about climate change. After all, our lives depend on it.

Families struggle to survive

Poor rural people in developing countries are among those hardest hit by the effects of climate change and are the least able to cope with them. Most of these people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. The world's 500 million small farms are key to global food security, and are responsible for up to 80 per cent of production in some regions. They are also a factor for social and political stability in many countries. Smallholder farmers and their needs must be part of any climate agreement. We need to invest now in increasing their adaptive capacity to ensure food security for all. And the Agenda 2030 goal of ending hunger cannot come about without addressing the nexus of climate change and food security.

Tangible progress has been made in mobilizing financing to deal with climate change, but little of it has been directed at agriculture. In 2009, developed countries committed to mobilizing US$100 billion a year in climate finance by 2020 for climate action in developing countries. Five years after the initial commitment was made at COP15 in Copenhagen, and six years ahead of the target date of 2020, there has been significant progress: climate finance reached an annual average of US$57 billion in 2013-2014.

But little of such finance reaches the remote areas where smallholder families struggle to survive.

We need to encourage increased support for agricultural adaptation

French President François Hollande drew attention to the agriculture gap on climate action early this year, when he called for a Green Climate Fund that will significantly support climate adaptation of developing country farmers, stating that "the Green Fund, in a large proportion, should be channelled to agriculture." Other partners, including governments and development institutions, need to heed this call as well -- because the benefits are many.

This has been confirmed by the fact that a vast majority of intended nationally determined contributions (iNDCs) published by countries to date to include agriculture and forest as relevant sectors where action is needed to face climate change challenges.

France and IFAD are committed to encourage increased support for agricultural adaptation. Climate-resilient agriculture is essential to ensuring global food security, and this must be acknowledged during the Paris COP. Solutions are available and can be scaled up: IFAD, for instance, is already implementing the biggest adaptation programme for smallholder farmers, known as ASAP, which has proven that adaptation action is not only possible but also yields co-benefits for food security and mitigation for more than 5 million farmers to date.

Agriculture is a case where adaptation and mitigation go hand in hand. Investments in adaptive and resilient smallholder agriculture are not only reducing vulnerability and increasing production, but also avoiding greenhouse gas emissions into the atmosphere. This is a triple win -- not just for smallholders, but for everybody, including the urban populations that depend on rural people for their food. This is the challenge the agricultural sector will have to face in the coming century.

Why not use the key benefits of soils to halt global rises in CO2 levels?

The agriculture and forest sectors are important for international climate action, yet agriculture has often been seen as solely part of the problem, rather than a solution. In fact it is both: while the agriculture and land-use sector is responsible for a quarter of global emissions, they also have the technical potential to offset a much bigger amount -- but that will require economic and institutional incentives, as well as political will, to promote green and low carbon development.

To achieve this goal, agriculture can build on a valuable asset: agricultural soils. Agricultural soils provide many environmental and economic services: production factor, fertility, water regulation, reserve of biodiversity, etc. Soils that are richer in carbon are key to a sustainable and resilient agricultural development. To showcase this potential, it is the sense of mobilization initiated by France through the "4‰: soils for food security and climate" Initiative which will be officially launched at the COP21 in Paris in December 2015. Evidence shows that if we increase the carbon content in agricultural soils by even as little as 0.4 per cent per year, we can halt the annual global increase in CO2. Evidence shows that if we increase the carbon content in agricultural soils by even as little as 0.4 per cent per year, we can halt the annual global increase in CO2.

The measures that we are promoting increase organic matter in soils and can reduce the needs for irrigation, thus saving water. They also lower pollution, improve crop yields even in dryer years. These approaches can be implemented by most farmers -- even poor ones tending marginal lands -- to improve their own livelihoods while also contributing to global food security and a healthy environment and climate. But to do so at sufficient scale, they need our financial support.

Any sound climate deal will need to have a strong food security dimension -- because any sound human future will need to have a sustainable food supply based on sustainable agricultural practices. Everyone can make a contribution to addressing climate change, and smallholder farmers are no exception. They can transform our support and investment into success for themselves and the world. Let's help them become part of the solution to both climate change and food security.