Keith Nunes
Keith Nunes

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI, U.S. — The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations’ most recent “The State of Food and Agriculture 2016” report is alarming. It brings into focus the dual challenges global population growth and climate change pose to society at large and food producers in particular.

Within the United Nations, the FAO has always set lofty goals. In relation to hunger and poverty around the world, the group aims to eradicate both by 2030, and the food and agriculture report is built around achieving its goals. While such objectives are praiseworthy, their practicality is questionable. Yet the establishment of such a purpose puts stakeholders on notice about the kinds of efforts required not necessarily to achieve the identified goals, but, at the least, make meaningful progress.

To meet future societal needs as they relate to hunger, poverty and climate change, significant transformation of food and agricultural systems worldwide will be necessary, with a required transition to more sustainable agriculture practices that do not jeopardize the capacity of such agriculture sectors as crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry to meet the world’s food needs.

Adaptation to climate change is an essential component to providing enough food globally in the coming decades, the report said, noting that beyond 2030, “the negative impacts of climate change on the productivity of crops, livestock, fisheries and forestry will become increasingly severe in all regions.”

Nearer term, adaptation at the level of individual production units or farms may be sufficient, but longer-term broader efforts will be necessary in order to cope with the changes already established by past and ongoing increases in the concentration of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.

Additional efforts to preserve the environment, which the FAO defines as “mitigation,” likely will be necessary to keep effects of climate change within acceptable limits and ensure long-term food security for the world’s population.

“Adaptation is something everyone will want to do in their own interest,” the report said. “Mitigation is something that has to be done together, in the interests of everyone. It is a global public good and a social responsibility to which the agriculture sectors must also contribute.”

Agriculture and food manufacturing must play a role in the effort to constrain environmental warming.

”The agriculture sectors can contribute to mitigation, first, by reducing their emission intensity … and avoiding the further loss of carbon stored principally in forests and soil,” the report said. “This effort can be complemented by actions aimed at reducing food losses and waste, and changing food consumption patterns.”

The FAO has developed an approach it calls a “climate-smart agriculture” to help with responses to differing effects of climate change around the world.

“Since local conditions vary, an essential feature of C.S.A. is to identify the impacts of agricultural intensification strategies on food security, adaptation and mitigation in specific locations,” the report said. “This is particularly important in developing countries, where agricultural growth is generally a top priority. Often, but not always, practices with strong adaptation and food security benefit can also lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions or increased carbon sequestration.”

Many stakeholders throughout the food and beverage supply chain are leaders in the endeavor to adopt mitigation and adaptation strategies. Whether it is Wal-Mart Stores, Inc. committing to science-based targets for emissions reductions, PepsiCo, Inc., committing to increase the amount of land used to supply raw materials to sustainable production practices, or the industry coming together through the Food Waste Reduction Alliance to develop strategies to reduce food waste, each of the efforts is a step toward progress and a step in the right direction toward transforming food and agriculture both domestically and globally.