Is it possible to tailor climate adaptation investments for rural communities and foster productivity growth without damaging the environment and worsening climate change and GHG emissions?
In order to answer this question, governments should be considering options about ‘what works’ before implementing new strategies, such as building climate-resilient infrastructure and diversifying agriculture. To do this, it is vital to access and evaluate scientific, technical and indigenous knowledge.
Artificial intelligence is an important tool to promote better assessment and accountability designed to transform agrifood systems. An ambitious AI analysis of 6 million scientific papers from 2010-2022 led by the Juno Evidence Alliance explored how science is responding to the demands of a significantly changing world and found that research trends have not shifted since 2015.
Science continues to emphasize solving last century’s problems, with a disproportionate amount of knowledge focused on increased investment for yield, productivity, and calorie-based food security targets.
Eight out of every ten articles published in food and agriculture focuses on issues surrounding economic growth and food security, while just two out of ten articles focus opportunities to support resilience, gender, and policy transformation.
Correlating climate resilience
According to the Global Adaptation Index (which measures a country's ability to adapt to and be resilient in the face of climate change) it will currently take over 100 years for lower income countries to reach the resiliency of richer countries.
The number of poor people dependent on agriculture and food systems in low-income and lower-middle income countries is large–nearly 3.2 billion people live in rural areas, and most still depend to varying degrees on agriculture and food systems for their livelihoods.
It has been well established that climate change both affects and is affected by food production. It increases uncertainty of agricultural production and associated livelihoods, and crop productivity is expected to be negatively impacted by climate change. In African maize systems, for instance, each day above 30C reduces crop yields 1.7% under drought conditions.
Climate change will also reduce farmer productivity and incomes and increase food prices, with a risk of deteriorating the state of food and nutrition security globally. The brunt of these costs will be borne by the most vulnerable and food insecure countries.
At the same time, the expansion of food production that is necessary to reduce hunger could place a heavy burden on the climate, depending on how expansion is achieved. We must promote interventions that increase yields sustainably, considering factors such as
increased emissions due to land use change (e.g. deforestation for farming), and the relative climate impacts of different kinds of foods (e.g. the high GHG cost of beef and other livestock) and farming practices (e.g. no-till farming and improved crop rotation for carbon sequestration), while also ensuring that pro-climate policies do not put an unfair burden on the poor, or on smallholder farmers.
Avoiding, resisting and recovering from the negative impacts of climate risks helps economies and communities adapt and become resilient to the uncertainties of climate change. The process of adaptation requires that countries have access to a greater range of solutions that can be customized and evaluated as fit-for-purpose–and in greater numbers than ever before.
As reported recently at the UK Global Food Security Summit, the Juno Evidence Alliance study explored the relationship between the countries that have the highest levels of hunger and their ranking on Global Adaptation Index, compared to the overall scientific output measured by the volume of scientific research focused on that country over the past 22 years. It found that the countries with the lowest amounts of scientific output are also the most vulnerable to climate change, the least equipped to respond to it, and have the highest numbers of hungry people.
Immediate action is needed to support scientific innovation focused on climate adaptation
Current levels of scientific publications are not sufficient to support adaptation to the changing climate in a way that minimizes negative impacts on humans and on built and natural systems. Additional investment is needed in scientific and research systems that can drive innovation in these countries, including the development of new and novel solutions that promote on-farm productivity of both people and animals despite uncertain and changing weather conditions.
Stay tuned for the full report, State of the Field of Agricultural Research, to be released in January 2024.