Ag Policy Blog

Global Food Security Requires Action on Climate Change

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
Connect with Chris:

WASHINGTON (DTN) -- Future strains on agricultural production require actions today by nations to build a more resilient global food supply.

The Chicago Council releases a report today, "Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate," that coincides with a daylong forum in Washington highlighting the challenges detailed in the report. National Security advisor Susan Rice is slated to make a keynote address.

The Chicago Council's report marks the third major study on climate change since March stressing the risks to the food supply. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change adaptation study and the National Climate Assessment both also highlighted the challenges to feeding a growing planet because of more volatile weather. As the Chicago Council notes, "climate change could reduce food production growth by 2% each decade for the rest of this century."

Former U.S. Rep. Doug Bereuter of Nebraska served as co-chair this past year of the Chicago Council's Global Agricultural Advisory Committee, along with former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman. The two have been involved in the council's focus on global agricultural production since 2008.

"We're looking at necessary mitigation or adaptation because of climate change, or weather volatility," Bereuter said in an interview earlier this week.

The Chicago Council makes some key recommendations to policymakers. The goal is make global food security one of the highest priorities for U.S. economic and foreign development policies. Congress must pass policies that focus on global food and nutrition. The federal government should integrate its foreign development programs such as Feed the Future with climate policies, as well as aid agricultural research in foreign countries. Food security also should be the lynchpin of any international talks on climate change.

Yet, Congress may not quite be ready to act on food-security proposals tied to climate change. The issue still polarizes both chambers. On Wednesday, nearly 40 Senate and House Democrats called for action on climate change in a rally with groups demanding action. At the same time, House Republicans agreed to attach an amendment to a military funding bill that would prevent the Obama administration from spending any money on climate initiatives.

"We realize that global climate change is a volatile political issue," Bereuter said. "Most of the controversy relates, I think, to what is causing it. Most everybody can agree there are real changes going on in our weather patterns. There is a great deal of volatility in the weather patterns we didn't see before."

Adapting crops to better deal with the changes in weather would be a huge step forward, he said. A global population forecast at more than 9 billion people by 2050 requires increasing production 60% of food and agricultural commodities. Also, as global incomes rise, people will change their diets and demand more meat. It can be difficult to grasp the various pressures that will tax the food supply.

"I do think the increased demand for food by 2050 is a staggering amount," Bereuter said.

P[L1] D[0x0] M[300x250] OOP[F] ADUNIT[] T[]

Currently, more than 840 million people "don't have adequate food to sustain life," Bereuter said. "This is an incredible deficit we have existing. When you look at that future, you realize we have an incredible amount of food to produce."

Increased droughts, floods, crop pests and diseases will stress agricultural production in areas such as the U.S. and Europe. Globally, the biggest challenge will be consistent access to fresh water.

"We think the U.S. can ill-afford to ignore this problem," Bereuter said.

The report focuses mainly on dealing with ways to improve crop production in Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa through research, private investment and cooperation of universities internationally.

The Chicago Council drafted a white paper in 2008 emphasizing the need to boost agricultural productivity in poorer regions of the world. The Obama administration took that concept to convince other major economies to put more focus on global agriculture. The White House committed $3.5 billion to the cause that helped leverage another $18 billion from other countries and foundations. That funding effectively has been tapped, Bereuter said, because it was a short-term commitment under the Feed the Future initiative.

"We don't have an ongoing commitment from the U.S. government to do this kind of work with our foreign assistance," Bereuter said.

The Chicago Council recommends picking up on earlier legislation to create longer-term commitments to agricultural development in poorer parts of the world. "We're suggesting a minimum of $1 billion a year," Bereuter said. "That's not much more than the current case, but it is a longer-term commitment."

USAID announced earlier this week a partnership with the group InterAction specifically to address global food aid and agricultural production. Thirty three organizations agreed to collectively spend $1.5 billion through 2015 to improve food security and resilience in agriculture, according to the announcement.

Bereuter, Glickman and others are trying to lay the groundwork, ideally for the next Congress, to pick up the effort. Bereuter said the U.S. must provide leadership with its research institutions or improving agricultural production and food security in the face of climate change won't happen.

Tight budgets facing land-grant universities and their extension offices have erode agricultural partnerships with researchers from developing countries over time, Bereuter said. Those relationships must be rebuilt. "There is interest in the land-grant institutions, obviously, in seeing some revival of some expanded partnership programs," he said.

The new farm bill increases domestic spending on research priorities for crop production and pests. USDA also has created new climate hubs at seven universities scattered around the country.

Some projects working with basic commodities have led to results in the developing world. Breakthroughs in rice have improved salt-tolerance levels and water efficiency, for instance. Adaptations and improved nutritional values in sweet potatoes and cassava are impacting farmers in African countries as well.

Jerry Nelson, lead writer of the report, worked in the agricultural economics department at the University of Illinois for 20 years before spending time at the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington. Nelson said the Chicago Council's work stands out in its recommendations to policymakers to concentrate on basic science and research to meet global food demands.

"We also need to do a much better job of collecting data and identifying what the problems might be," Nelson said. "You can't understand what you don't have data on."

In adapting to climate change, Nelson said there is a role for trade negotiators to ensure the free flow of commodities and ability of countries to have access to commodities when they have a bad production year.

"We need to have the ability to move grain from one location to another without undue restrictions on one side or the other," Nelson said.

The National Climate Assessment released earlier this month points to extreme weather events that have disrupted crop and livestock production in recent years. Some parts of the country will be more resilient to climate change than others, but the country is expected to face more challenges from heat waves, droughts, intensive rains and disease pressures.

Yet, Bereuter acknowledged there were still problems with the U.S. helping farmers in other countries. The 1985 "Bumpers Amendment" named after then-Sen. Dale Bumpers of Arkansas, still factors into restricting how the U.S. government aids overseas farmers. The Bumpers Amendment prevents the U.S. government from spending money to help farmers grow crops that would compete with U.S. exports. The Chicago Council has repeatedly called on Congress to repeal the provision.

Bereuter also said lawmakers also continue to hamper local food aid by insisting more emergency food aid come directly from U.S. commodities shipped on U.S. cargo ships. The House recently passed legislation seeking to rollback reforms that allowed more dollars to be used buying emergency food aid in the local region. "That is eating up dramatically the resources that otherwise could have been used delivering more emergency assistance," Bereuter said.

A full copy of the Chicago Council report:…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

Follow me on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

P[L2] D[728x90] M[320x50] OOP[F] ADUNIT[] T[]