The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) defines food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food to meet their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.  Food security is a matter of paramount concern for developed as well as developing nations. Climate change has resulted in a rising global mean temperature, changing rainfall patterns, rise in the events of natural calamities, unfavourable seasonal variations, and over extraction of renewable resources

The recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) highlights the importance of achieving food security and zero hunger by looking into the domain through a nexus approach. The second goal, ‘End hunger, achieve food security and improve nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture’ is key to achieving the first ‘End poverty in all its forms everywhere.’ SDG six ‘Ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all’, coupled with SDG seven ‘Ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable, and modern energy for all’ and SDG 13 ‘Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts’ shows the urgency in highlighting the importance of water-food-energy nexus approach in the sustainable development discourse.

The latest International Food Policy Research Institute’s (IFPRI) report, Global Food Policy Report 2016, examines major food policy issues, global and regional developments, and commitments made in 2015, and presents data on key food policy indicators.  The report takes a special look at how food systems can best contribute to meeting the Sustainable Development Goals. Drawing on rigorous research, IFPRI researchers and other distinguished food policy experts consider a wide range of crucial questions. The most salient are the  contribution of small farmers towards food security; and causes and solution for managing food loss and waste in developed and developing nations.

How can we support the critical contributions of small farmers to food security in a world facing climate change? 

Since millions of small/marginal farmers are responsible for the majority of food production in developing nations, it is imperative to protect their interests in the wake of climate change.

One of the major driving forces in this direction is to link them into a diversified rural economy and agriculture value-added chains, along with access to water and energy resources that are directly linked with food production. Policy and institutional efforts, domestic and international, need to be promoted to ensure that marginal farmers have full and fair access to pre and post harvest materials, equipments and institutions.

This includes letting famers have full access to seeds, fertilizers, tools and equipments, climate resilient technological innovations, better extension services through diversified market access points-post harvest, access to warehouse and storage facilities, providing price competitiveness, access to credit at low interest rates coupled with insurance schemes and monitoring through other safety net measures like Minimum Support Price, etc.

Since these farmers are more vulnerable to climate change shocks, investments must be made in climate change mitigation and adaptation measures like adoption of smart agriculture that include:

  • Promotion of climate resilient crops through directed research and development. 
  • Countries sharing similar climatic zones should invest in joint research and development (and knowledge sharing) of crops having enhanced resistance to various  stresses such as floods, droughts, cyclones, unseasonal rains, heat and cold wave, etc. 
  • Adoption of farmer-managed natural regeneration in order to restore degraded land or forests, specifically in dryland tropical areas. This technique gained universal recongnition with Niger experimenting this method in order to restore arid and deforested land.
  • Zero Tillage, a method in which soil is not disturbed through tillage process resulting in greater soil moisture and nutrient content. 
  • System Root Intensification (SRI) techniques to increase the yield of rice with low water usage
  • Integrated Pest Management to reduce pests through sustainable use of pesticides without endangering humans and the environment. 

Yield difference in rice cultivation for farmers in India practicing SRI versus non-SRI

Farmers practising Climate Smart Agriculture in Colombia with the support of international research institutions 

Overall, in order to support critical contributions of smallholder famers to food security, country and world specific efforts needs to be made:

  • To invest in agriculture research and development,
  • To support efficient and inclusive food value chains, scale up productive social safety nets;
  • To invest in efficient agriculture produce marketing;
  • To increase equality in access to and control of land;
  • To increase women’s access to inputs, finance, and insurance;
  • To support efficient water management systems;
  • To invest in modern irrigation technologies;
  • To promote climate-smart agriculture; and
  • To improve access to climate finance

What are the causes and costs of food loss and waste within food systems, and how can this loss be reduced?

Food wastage and loss is one of the most pressing concerns that have baffled food security experts worldwide. As per the research done by IFPRI, lack of a clear definition along with lack of clear knowledge about the real magnitude of food loss and waste has become the biggest problem in addressing this serious issue.  

Food wastage and loss occur in the different stages of food value chain: production, postproduction procedures, processing, distribution, and consumption. A list of causes of food wastage and loss is provided in the below figure below which has been extracted from the IFPR’s Global Food Policy Report 2016.

In developing countries in South Asia and Sub-Sahara Africa, most of the food waste and loss occur in the prepproduction phase mainly because of monsoon dependency, which is further exacerbated by climate change negative externalities, and lack of diversified irrigation infrastructure. Post-production food loss and waste is another hurdle because of lack of adequate storage infrastructure for perishable commodities, produce spoilage (mainly vegetables and fruits) due to lack of processing units and developed road infrastructure to transport the commoditises to the processing units and so on. In developed nations, food loss and waste are more prominent in the processing, distribution and consumption phase as compared with developing nations as presented in below figure.

In order to reduce food wastage and loss, a combined effort needs to be put in place by national and local government agencies, international organisations, civil societies, private players, farmers and individuals at household levels. On the whole, there is need of international commitment for curtailing food loss and waste; and in identifying the magnitudes, causes, and costs of food loss and waste across the value chain.

Some of these efforts to reduce waste and loss are:

  • Setting of concrete targets at regional and country levels to reduce food loss and waste needs to be set.
  • Developed countries needs to focus on the issue of reducing food waste while developing countries needs to the focus in the short term on reducing food loss, but should also consider best practices for reducing waste in the longer term.
  • Smallholder producer who are more prone to food losses needs public sector intervention for better storage facilities.
  • Public investments should be directed towards information on best practices, food safety, education, storage infrastructure, roads, regulations and standards, and addressing market failures.
  • Private sector should make appropriate interventions in areas like choosing appropriate crop varieties, dealing with pre-harvest pests, etc.
  • There is a need to analyse the factors affecting food loss and waste at the micro, meso, and macro-levels which can help in identifying effective reduction interventions. Some of it includes- more access to credit, better education facilities, better infrastructure, etc.
  • Finally, international organizations should work on creating platforms for information exchange—such as the technical platform on measurement and reduction of food loss and waste which was launched by the IFPRI and FAO as a result of G20 summit in Turkey in December 2015.

(This article has been contributed by Akshat Mishra who is the Founding Editor of Pathways to Development- Journalism about the environment, sustainability, and policy from researchers on the ground. Akshat is also working as a Senior Research Associate with CUTS International)