The world’s 350 million family farmers and smallhold producers are looking to this year’s United Nations climate summit, COP 27, to help avert a global food security crisis by funding climate adaptation and building “a food system that can feed the world on a hot planet”.
That system will depend on a shift to more diverse, low-input agriculture, says the letter coordinated by the Food and Farm Facility at the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. And any adaptation plan must begin with the small family farmers and producers that account for 80% of the food consumed in regions like Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa.
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“The surge in hunger over the last year has exposed the fragility of the global food system,” the letter states. “It is highly vulnerable to shocks—whether from COVID, conflict, or the climate—and ill-equipped for a world where extreme heat, drought, and floods are the new normal, even if we limit global heating to 1.5°C.”
But “decades of underinvestment, and an unfair global food system run by and for powerful agri-businesses, means we often lack the infrastructure, technology, resources, and democratic space to cope with ever more extreme and erratic weather,” the letter states. While only a scant 1.7% of climate finance is devoted to climate adaptation for small-scale producers, countries pay out US$611 billion per year in food production subsidies, much of it to large-scale industrial farming.
The more than 70 groups that signed the letter—including the 200-million-member Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa, and the World Rural Forum, which speaks for 35 million family farmers across five continents—urge the COP to back a shift to agroecology practices and other forms of sustainable food production.
“Diversity is key to food security,” they say. “Growing a wider variety of local crops, mixing crops, livestock, forestry, and fisheries, reducing chemical inputs, and building strong connections to local markets builds resilience.”
“The producers in our networks feed millions of people and support hundreds of thousands of jobs but they have reached a breaking point,” said Elizabeth Nsimadala, president of the 25-million-member Eastern Africa Farmers Federation. “There needs to be a massive boost in climate finance to ensure small-scale producers have the information, resources, and training necessary to continue feeding the world for generations to come.”
“Food and agriculture have been sidelined in climate negotiations and the concerns of smallholder producers ignored,” added World Rural Forum Director Laura Lorenzo. “Small-scale family farmers need a seat at the table and a say in the decisions that affect us—from secure access to land and tenure, to accessing finance—if we are to rebuild our broken food system.”
Alvaro Lario, president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, reinforced the point late last week in a post for the World Economic Forum. Small farmers produce food for two-thirds of the global population, he said, and failing to support them will “risk the collapse of agricultural systems” that feed billions of people around the world.
“As crippling spikes in food and energy prices rock the world economy, we are at risk of overlooking the gravest danger of all: the devastating impact of climate change on the productive capacity of small-scale farmers, who produce more than one-third of the world’s food and feed between 4.5 and 5.5 billion people worldwide,” he wrote. “For them, soaring prices for energy and inputs such as fertilizer and feedstock could be the final straw. Unless we act to help them now, we risk the collapse of agricultural systems that sustain billions. We simply cannot let this happen.”
Small-scale producers “are astonishingly efficient and resourceful—they produce 30% of the world’s food on just 11% of its farmland,” Lario added. “But they are being battered by rolling crises—not just climate change, but also COVID-19, livestock diseases such as swine fever, and a locust infestation across the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa.”
The result has been soaring food prices, with food price inflation above 5% in nine out of 10 low- and lower-middle-income countries, and staple foods particularly vulnerable. “Year-on-year, average wheat prices were up 18% in October, with maize up 27% and rice by 10%. In Myanmar, the cost of rice is up by 50%. In Nigeria, raising chickens is now prohibitive due to the rising cost of feed.”
Small farmers can switch to drought-tolerant crops, adopt climate-smart irrigation and soil practices, and they’ll need access to early warning systems for severe weather and insurance to help them survive severe weather, Lario said. “But these are incredibly poor people and in some of the least developed countries. What they need most is money to invest and technical support to implement the changes that will see them through the tough times.”