Developing strategies to end hunger
 

A Climate to End Hunger: Climate Change, Food & Nutrition Security, and Poor People

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) said recently that there is increasing scientific evidence that food and nutrition security are at risk from climate change. The report concluded that African countries are the most vulnerable from the “profound and irreversible” changes that have already taken place.   Blog1 

In a world projected to have a population of 9 billion by the year 2050, requiring an increaseof 70% in food production, climate change could instead cause losses of up to 25 percent in the world’s major cereal crops: corn, wheat, and rice. This, clearly, will lead to grain shortages and increasing hunger unless steps are taken to better manage natural resources dedicated to farming and pasture land.

Another danger in an era of climate change is increases in “hidden hunger,” defined as malnutrition caused by deficiencies in micronutrients (vitamins and minerals). In its two landmark series on maternal and child nutrition, The Lancet medical journal helped bring the world’s attention to vulnerable people – especially pregnant women and children under age 2, those in the 1,000 Days window where nutrition is most critical – who eat enough calories but have hidden hunger. This is primarily because their diets are composed primarily of corn or rice and contain few micronutrients. The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) reports that 2 billion people globally already suffer from hidden hunger.

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So how can we get additional nutritious foods to people in an era of rapidly growing population and climate change? In the past generation, research scientists have developed seed varieties with traits that make them more drought resistant, or more heat resistant, or ready to harvest more quickly, or biofortified (meaning that micronutrients have been added). In the last decade, though, a new generation of seed varieties that combine two or more of these desirable traits have been developed. These more resilient and “climate smart” seed varieties are adapted to different climactic conditions.  So far, though, poor farmers in the developing world don’t have access to seed containing multiple, or “stacked”, traits and improved genetic profiles.

The challenge today is to bring sustainable farming practices together with efforts to increase crop production in ways that are resilient to climate change. This will require a renewed Green Revolution. The pioneering plant science research done by Dr. Norman Borlaug and others did a great deal to reduce mass hunger in Asia in the 1960s and 1970s. To extend the work of the Green Revolution and ensure that plants can survive under new conditions will require major investments in plant research. The World Bank and regional lending institutions can lead efforts to make these investments.

In the words of Nigerian Minister of Agriculture Akinwumi Adesina, who leads agricultural research efforts in a country where 240 million people are undernourished, “We invest in roads, in power, in ports, and we must recognize that building this infrastructure along with improving nutrition is investing in the economy today and in the future of our societies.”

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A Climate to End Hunger: What’s Cooking?

Stove9
Photo: Todd Post

In the developing world, women and girls are expected to collect firewood for cooking. The amount of time they spend on this chore varies depending on the local environment, but it is not uncommon to have to travel for hours to collect firewood several times a week.

A lot of trees are cut down as a result. The collection of firewood contributes to deforestation, and deforestation is a major contributor to global climate change.

We all want to reduce our carbon footprint. But what are the real-world choices of people in developing countries? It is one thing to gripe about people in rich countries who won’t part with their gas-guzzling automobiles, but quite another to expect people in poor countries to cook fewer meals in the interest of staving off climate change. I’m not suggesting that we should ignore the effects of their reliance on firewood. There are cost-effective ways to help solve the problem -- and nobody has to go hungry as a tradeoff.

In Malawi just last week, I saw how a simple clay stove—sold for less than a dollar—can significantly reduce the amount of firewood families use. And in turn, it frees up the time women and girls spend collecting it – time that they can now devote to more productive activities, such as work that produces an income or attending school.

A group of women I spoke with, participants in a program implemented by the National Association of Smallholder Farmers of Malawi (NASFAM), had been using open fires to cook their meals. They estimated that before they received clay stoves, they spent about 10 hours a week collecting firewood. With the new stoves, though, they’d reduced that time to less than an hour.

In addition to the stoves, NASFAM gave members of the group some seedlings to grow trees. If only the stoves had been provided, the women and girls would still have needed to walk for hours to get to the forest to collect their wood. They would not have needed to make as many trips as when they cooked over open fires, since the stoves need only a fraction of the firewood – but with trees right outside their homes, they can get firewood without going to the forest at all. Similarly, it would not make sense to plant trees without providing the stoves, since all the wood required to cook using open fires would have decimated the trees in no time.

But here’s the best part of the story: the community is now building stoves themselves and selling them in volume to a buyer, who in turn sells them in other villages for $1 each. They were able to do this because they pooled their resources to purchase the molds needed to make these clay stoves. They’ve also built a kiln. The enterprise is lifting families out of poverty, increasing their food intake, diversifying diets, and making it possible to keep children in school.

This story shows that it’s quite possible to improve people’s lives in significant ways without increasing the size of their carbon footprint. A little bit of technology goes a long way. Todd Post

A Climate to End Hunger: U.S. Farming in 2050

We’re hearing a lot about 2050 lately, especially in the anti-hunger community. It’s the year the human population is expected to reach 9 billion, and -- not coincidentally -- it’s the deadline to double global food production to meet growing demand. What will food production look like in 2050?

A new report from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) asks: How can agriculture best adapt to climate change? Food Security in a World of Natural Resource Scarcity forecasts what the climate will be like in 2050, then tries to figure out which of several farming techniques-- e.g., drip irrigation, no-till agriculture, precision agriculture--would be most effective for growing maize (corn), wheat, and rice under those conditions. 

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report released last month indicates that worldwide, climate change is already occurring and people are already being forced to adapt to different conditions. Although climate change is a global problem, its effects on food and hunger are likely to be quite localized. 

The report’s North American chapter says climate change could cause “productivity gains in northern regions and where water is not projected to be a limiting factor,” but that heat, drought, and storms in other regions will cause a decrease in crop yields. The report projects that without significant adaptation, the United States will see modest declines in the amount of food grown by the middle of the century, with steeper declines by the year 2100. 

Producing less food can mean higher prices and more hungry people--especially with population growth -- so it’s important for farmers to adapt to climate change and keep crop yields up. The solution isn’t the same for every region or every crop, so the report breaks the world down into square “pixels,” 60 by 60 kilometers. IFPRI has prepared an Agritech Toolbox with country-level data for visualizing which techniques will work best for each crop.  

Map of projected 2050 maize yields in the Americas
From Figure 4.2 of IFPRI report

For example, IFPRI researchers found that for growing maize in the United States, the most successful overall intervention would be to switch to heat-tolerant plant varieties. But as illustrated in a graphic in the report, adopting heat-tolerant varieties of maize wouldn’t change yields much at all in the northern parts of the country. It might not be hot enough there to need new types of corn by 2050. The southernmost corn-growing areas of the United States are likely to have only a small increase in corn yields from using heat-tolerant varieties -- perhaps droughts and storms will kill plants that otherwise could have survived the heat, or maybe it will prove too hot for even the hardiest varieties to thrive. Most importantly, though, there is a large area in the middle of the eastern United States where adopting heat-resistant varieties of maize could increase yields by more than 25 percent.  

Adapting to climate change isn’t enough. We need to change our ways of doing things so as to cause less climate change. For example, we should enable American farmers to not only maintain or increase crop yields despite climate change, but also to reduce waste so that more of the crops in the fields actually reach people’s plates – feeding more people without producing more greenhouse gas. Reducing future climate change can often be done using strategies that also bring people out of poverty, as we discussed in our 2010 Hunger Report.

Even if we succeed in slowing climate change, some of its damage is no longer avoidable. With the planet already experiencing greater extremes of temperature and precipitation, agriculture no longer has a choice about whether to adapt. The IPCC and IFPRI reports show in concrete ways how significantly Earth will change over the next several decades. Ending hunger is possible even in a changing climate, but it will require greater effort than it would have in the past -- on the part of the United States and every other country. 

Stacy Cloyd

Data to End Hunger: Immigrant Poverty Data

Data poverty
It’s important for immigrants who are undocumented to maintain a low profile – in particular to avoid attention from the government. But this also makes it difficult to obtain data on this group, estimated to include 11 million to 12 million people.

Even basic data -- such as how many unauthorized immigrants are in the United States – are at best estimates based on an analysis of U.S. Census Bureau data. To encourage full participation of immigrants in the census, the Census Bureau does not ask about immigration status. Neither is this information collected by any other government agency. The commonly agreed-upon figure of 11 million to 12 million undocumented immigrants is based on the work of research organizations, including the Pew Hispanic Trends Project, which analyze Census data to arrive at estimates of the raw numbers.

With no clear idea of exactly how many people are in the group, it is even more difficult to measure indicators of their socioeconomic status -- the data are even scarcer. For example, poverty rates among unauthorized immigrants:  there are several studies, but they arrive at different findings. On the lower side, the Pew Hispanic Trends Project estimated that 21 percent of unauthorized immigrant adults live in poverty, and one-third of the children of unauthorized parents (most of whom are U.S. citizens) live in poverty.

Those poverty rates are far too high for a wealthy country such as the United States – and yet they are lower than those found by other researchers. For example, the Public Policy Institute of California has estimated that roughly a third of all immigrants live in poverty.

The available data on poverty, while sparse and not consistent, is better than that on food security and hunger -- which is almost nonexistent. At the national level, there is data on food insecurity rates among immigrants. USDA estimates that during the period 2003-2010, 23 percent of recent immigrants, 25 percent of long-term immigrants, and 15 percent of naturalized immigrants were food insecure, compared with 18 percent for the U.S. population as a whole. But there is very little national-level data that looks specifically at food insecurity among unauthorized immigrants.

Most hunger and food insecurity statistics for unauthorized immigrants are only available at the state level, usually through university-led research. Even then, some of the research is dated and uses small sample sizes. Iowa State University found that 41 percent of Spanish-speaking respondents in Iowa were food insecure. But this was an inexact measure of food insecurity among unauthorized immigrants since Spanish speakers were used as a proxy. Similarly,  surveys in North Carolina found that food insecurity rates ranged from 36 percent to 42 percent among Latino immigrant families in the state.

The bottom line is that there is much we don’t know about the socioeconomic status of unauthorized immigrants. This is yet another reason to enact immigration reforms that legalize immigrants. In addition to the economic benefits for immigrant families, bringing undocumented workers out of the shadows will also help researchers better understand their socioeconomic realities, including how and why they experience poverty and food insecurity.  And identifying problems is an essential first step toward solving them.

Andrew Wainer

A Climate to End Hunger: Agriculture Is Part of the Problem and the Solution

Hunger Report Monday 2 Greenhouse Gas Emissions by Economic Sectors

Editor’s note: Welcome to Bread for the World Institute’s blog series on A Climate to End Hunger. The other day when I realized that Earth Day was approaching, I winced at my conflation of Earth Day with climate change. But it makes sense. Climate change is the biggest threat yet to Earth’s environment – and increasingly widespread hunger is one of its most tragic potential consequences. In this series, we reflect on how we can help prevent such a catastrophe. 

Today, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Working Group III published the third and final contribution, Mitigation of Climate Change, to the organization’s forthcoming Fifth Assessment Report. Working Group III, made up of hundreds of the world’s leading scientists, was tasked with surveying thousands of the latest peer-reviewed studies to gauge the current status of climate change, the hazards it poses to humanity, and, of course, what people can do to prevent and/or cope with those hazards. The Guardian’s Leo Hickman summed up the group’s findings best – and at Tweetable length:

Climate change is real. We are to blame. It will get worse if we fail to act. The solutions are available and affordable. But time is short.

The group’s findings support the warning – stronger than ever – of the threat posed by climate change not only to hungry and poor people, but to the entire global economy. Climate change is increasingly straining global food systems. The message to policymakers is that if all countries, rich and poor alike, do not act quickly and cooperatively, the hard-won global progress against hunger and extreme poverty of the past few decades could be rapidly undone.

More specifically, climate change threatens global food security by causing declining crop yields; disruptions in food access, utilization, and price stability; and significantly reduced access to water, food security, and agricultural incomes in rural communities.

As the report’s chart (above) shows, about a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions are generated by the “Agriculture, Forestry, and Other Land Use” (AFOLU) sector — more than by the transport and building sectors combined. Sustainable agricultural practices will be crucial to reducing AFOLU emissions while still producing enough food for the growing population. Promising mitigation options include afforestation and sustainable forest management, improved cropland management, and restoration of organic soils.

At its core, responding effectively to climate change means building resilience in communities where people have always struggled to produce enough food. It demands strong and organized political leadership, infrastructure, and resources at all levels — local, regional, national, and global. Strengthening local capacity to create and implement informed, effective adaptation strategies is vital to building resilience.

Chapter 5 of the 2014 Hunger Report, Ending Hunger in America, examines how agriculture has been part of the climate change problem, and more importantly, how it must be part of the solution. Visit www.hungerreport.org to read more.   Derek Schwabe

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