Climate Change and Agriculture – A Path to Economic Growth or Poverty?

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SEATTLE — The World Bank explains that “agricultural development is one of the most powerful tools to end extreme poverty” as it provides food, livelihoods and stability to a large body of individuals who are particularly susceptible to climate change. However, agriculture is subject to decreased production as a result of the toll humans take on the environment. Together, climate change and agriculture call for climate-minded development in order to ensure the world has enough to eat amid rising environmental threats.

Urbanization, increased wealth and a rapidly growing world population make way for a 60 percent increase in global food demand by 2030, requiring heightened agricultural productivity. At the same time, climate change impedes food production and increases the risk of food insecurity; the World Food Program predicts a 20 percent increase in the threat of hunger by 2050 as a result of climate change and associated agricultural shortcomings.

These stressors lead to conditions that perpetuate poverty for low-income populations. By 2030, world food prices will be 17 percent higher than today. That number jumps to 23 percent in South Asia and 77 percent in Sub-Saharan Africa. For Europe, food prices will only rise by three percent.

As a major economic sector in all corners of the globe- particularly developing nations- agriculture drives growth for emerging economies and provides food security and jobs for 65 percent of all poor working adults. Many of these individuals work closely with the earth for a living, including pastoralists, farmers, foresters and fisherpeople, among others. According to the World Bank, “some of the most severe poverty impacts of climate change are expected to be channeled through agriculture” because losses in productivity impede global ties to economic security.

Sustaining the agricultural sector in order to protect against these issues requires climate-minded investment; it is a key player in impeding climate change and improving resilience for food production and economies. The World Bank is pioneering developments in sustainable agriculture with the Climate Change Action Plan, hoping to transition to 100 percent climate friendly agriculture by 2019. Progress is already apparent in various countries like Uruguay, Senegal, Morocco and Ethiopia.

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) takes the changing climate into account and helps prepare farmers for pests, drought, extreme weather and other climate threats. CSA has the power to increase productivity while maintaining earth-friendly practices through reducing emissions, airborne carbon and deforestation. This allows agriculture to “adapt and grow in the face of longer-term stresses” caused by climate change and ultimately feed the growing population.

However, ending food insecurity is a complicated battle because agriculture drives climate change. Agriculture contributes to a fifth of global emissions and between 19 and 29 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. This means that traditional- and in many cases environmentally detrimental- agricultural practices require climate minded development in addition to the fight against other sources of climate change.

In many cases, improved participation from governmental and international bodies may be able to change the path climate change and agriculture are set to take. Better implementing climate smart goals, like those included in the Paris talks, redirects agriculture to a source of prosperity. Ninety four percent of countries within the Paris Climate Agreement plan to implement changes to their agricultural sectors, marking progress amid the fact that development remains imperative.

According to the FAO, hunger, poverty and climate change must be solved collectively. In doing so, it is possible to impede the development of global inequities caused by climate change and agriculture. With climate smart development, agriculture is able to return to a source of growth for many of the world’s lowest income populations and provide solutions for issues that ultimately effect all people.

Cleo Krejci
Photo: Flickr

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About Author

Cleo Krejci

Cleo writes for The Borgen Project from Minneapolis, Minnesota. Her academic interests include English and journalism, Spanish, art and creative writing. Cleo hopes to become a creative nonfiction writer.

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