Global food security is about more than the climate
I am delighted that COP27*, the 27th edition of the United Nations Conference of Parties, is to be held in Egypt this year. And not just because that is where I started my career in 2002 establishing water authorities…
At the time, the top brass in Cairo distributed the water. Water authorities gave the farmers a voice and opportunities to design a more equitable irrigation system. A critical prerequisite for a good harvest!
Egypt made a decision with far-reaching consequences. The available water and land were used for export purposes. Rather than produce wheat, which the Egyptians themselves might use to bake bread, they opted to produce, for example, string beans for European supermarkets. A very profitable short-term option. But just how vulnerable this choice makes the Egyptian population is becoming clear now that wheat prices are soaring on the international market.
The right choices in food production
The climate, in short, is just one of the factors influencing our food system. Soil quality, availability of water and biodiversity also play an essential role. Challenges in the food system are interlinked. Hence, addressing only food production is pointless. We must also address the different ways in which we produce. In this respect, I discern four central questions:
- How can we produce food as effectively as possible in a particular location?
- What determines the diet in that location; i.e., what are suitable crops and animals?
- Can farmers generate an income from their farms, and is food affordable?
- What is the environmental impact: climate, biodiversity, soil and water quality?
The choices a country is willing and able to make with respect to the above determine whether it is sufficiently resilient to adapt to changing circumstances in the future. For me, increasing awareness of this fact is the goal for COP27.
Inspiration, education and action
How do we ensure that people make the right choices to safeguard food security in a future with a changing climate? I believe in transferring inspiration, sharing knowledge and educating people, and stepping up together so that we gain experience to further our goals. There is no single “silver bullet”. Bread in Kenya and Australia need not be made from the same ingredients. Because soil, biodiversity, water availability, manure, and people’s diets differ geographically. There are, however, already wonderful examples of success. In Uganda, for example, bread is now baked from crops other than wheat. And, precisely the fact that there is no one-size-fits-all global solution means that much research is still needed. As well as the exchange of scientific knowledge.
After reading the above challenges, you may wonder what then makes me so happy. I am delighted to see Egypt taking control in 2022. To see African countries saying: we are going to actively participate in solutions for our continent. Much has always been said about Africa and Asia because it is where many vulnerable countries are located. It is no more than just that we should discuss vulnerability, resilience and climate action on one of the continents most affected by the consequences of climate change during this COP.
Point of departure
Solutions do not lie exclusively in producing more food. And the climate is not the only important factor. Hence, I propose we see the exchange of knowledge during this COP as a link in a chain. This global dialogue will continue during summits on biodiversity in December and water in March. In mixed company, of course, with African scientists joining their European and Asian fellows.
In addition to the official part of COP where the negotiations take place, there are many sessions in which best practices and knowledge are shared. More information about contributions from WUR can be found at COP27. Two sessions in which I was involved as initiator: Agricultural Transition in Asian Mega Deltas and Delivering climate resilient food systems during multiple crises and fragility.
*COP – For almost three decades, the UN has brought together nearly all the countries in the world for global climate summits – called COP – which stands for ‘Conference of the Parties’. Climate change has developed from a peripheral concern to a global priority during this time.
- Video: Food Systems Approach by WUR explained in 1 minute
- Research programme: Food security and the value of water
- Read more about the food systems approach
- Climate resilient agriculture – NUTRIFOODS: An African-European partnership to develop climate resilient bread products
- Blog: Working on climate-resilient agriculture in East Africa
- Booklet: Food systems research
- COP27: other WUR research during COP27