Food security research priorities in extreme events

by The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture

Ask questions, seek answers. Credit: CIAT/Neil Palmer

Fighting hunger is as challenging as ever. Many food producers, including farmers, hunters and fishermen, are food insecure; meaning they are not always sure where their next meal will come from. More than 50% of the approximately 600 million people with food insecurity live in conflict zones. The risk of multiple setbacks, such as war in one region and crop failures in others, increases the stakes for the most vulnerable, who generally have a hard time withstanding a single blow to their food supply, let alone multiple.

How can researchers help? To determine what questions to ask and how to prioritize, 69 food security experts, including scientists, governments, international institutions and NGOs, have published a comprehensive set of research questions on various food-related domains that can strengthen food security. Their work was recently published in the magazine one earth.

“While similar exercises have been undertaken in a wide range of areas and topics, this work is, to our knowledge, the first attempt to reach and build consensus on the key threats and priorities to food security research in the face of extreme events. . from experts working from diverse backgrounds and expertise and geographic focus,” the authors wrote.

The experts identified 32 threats to watch out for over the next two decades, and 50 research questions to better understand and mitigate the threats. The threats were divided into three categories: 1) compound events and cascading risks, 2) vulnerability and adaptability, and 3) cooperation and conflict.

“Cascading risks can include things previously unimaginable, such as multiple granary failures in a single year, migration due to climate change, and disruptions such as those caused by war and pandemics,” said Liangzhi You, a researcher at CGIAR’s International Food Policy Research. Institute and member of ClimBeR, the leading CGIAR initiative on climate resilience and food security. “But today with climate change, anything is possible.”

Vulnerability and adaptability refer to the food risk levels of farmers or communities and how well they can respond to shocks. The cooperation and conflict category includes war, cross-border policy and cooperation between government and international organizations.

Other major threats include outbreaks of pests and diseases and heat waves at sea, which can simultaneously and severely affect cropland and fisheries.

A matter of questions

With limited resources and numerous lines of research that can be pursued to increase food security, prioritization is critical. The authors categorized questions into three areas and rated them for feasibility in terms of time and investment, and the impact unlocking the answer could have.

Better maps and forecasting, farm-level interventions and food system transformation are the three categories of research questions.

Better maps and predictions before, during and after extreme events will be crucial to enable better responses. The “standard basis for identifying risks, predicting and responding to the impact of extreme events on food security is high-quality data,” the authors wrote. Unfortunately, validated real-world data on food security have not kept pace with available technology.

Questions in this area include “What are the likely impacts of specific critical infrastructure failures on food security?”; “To what extent can early warning systems identify and inform people who are most exposed, vulnerable and unable to adapt to food insecurity challenges in the face of extreme events?”; and “Are there tipping points in the intensity of extreme events that will cause global food shortages?” Consult the full list here.

Farm-level interventions are critical because they have the potential to both stabilize food supplies by resisting extreme events and improve living standards. But issues related to poor access to finance and markets can hamper resilience. Examples are the slow adoption of crop varieties resistant to drought and flooding, and the slow uptake of irrigation in developing countries.

Farm-level research questions include: “Which farm practices increase drought resistance, are cost-effective, and easy to adopt?”; “To what extent can greater crop diversity improve the adaptability of smallholder farmers?”; and “How does the loss of biodiversity make farming systems more susceptible to extreme events?” Consult the full list here.

Food system transformation refers to global and local actions that reduce the negative impact of food on the environment, increase equitable access to complete and nutritious diets, and imply major changes in the way most people eat in much of the developed world. . The authors consider the related questions to be one of the most difficult to answer, but a better understanding of governance, food producers and consumers are crucial parts of the research agenda.

Questions about food system transformation include: “How does crop diversification on a household, community and regional scale mediate food insecurity during extreme climate events?”; “In what ways does insurance improve or undermine food security in extreme events?”; and “What policies are needed to ensure that efficiency gains in food distribution systems enable widespread food security without harming local and regional producers?” Consult the full list here.

CGIAR’s Climate Research Agenda

“Many of these questions will be addressed in CGIAR’s new research portfolio, especially the CGIAR Climate Resilience Initiative,” said You, who leads the initiative’s work to reduce agricultural risks for smallholder farmers. The initiative, called ClimBeR: Building Systemic Resilience Against Climate Variability and Extremes, aims to help 30 million smallholder farmers in six countries improve resilience to climate extremes by 2030.

The authors recognize that effective implementation of an ambitious research agenda and ensuring food security will be greatly aided by mitigating armed conflict. Finally, they write: “Our findings support the idea that the path to peace worldwide remains essential for ensuring global food security in the face of extreme events. Conflict and lack of cooperation – in different guises and on different political scales – remains a major impediment to global food security and is a key factor that predisposes communities and nations to post-shock disasters.”

“But despite these challenges, we see a great opportunity to address these issues through a focused long-term research agenda and advancing peaceful societies,” You said.

Amid climate change and conflict, more resilient food systems are a must, reports show

More information:
Zia Mehrabi et al, Research priorities for global food security in extreme events, one earth (2022). DOI: 10.1016/j.oneear.2022.06.008

Provided by The Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture

Quote: The Food Security Research Priorities Under Extreme Events (2022, September 21) retrieved September 21, 2022 from

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