STORY INLINE POST
It is official: the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) announced the beginning of the global climate heating event El Niño on July 4, which means that extreme weather events will affect the lives and livelihoods of millions of people on all continents from now until midyear 2024. El Niño is considered the biggest climate oscillation on Earth. It occurs when winds and water temperatures change periodically in the Pacific Ocean. The last occurrence was in 2016, which according to the WMO remains the hottest year on record.
El Niño typically brings flooding to the south of the US, South America, Eastern Africa and Central Asia, while heatwaves and dry spells hit Central America, South Asia and the South Pacific. There is a serious risk that these extreme weather conditions will push millions into poverty and acute food insecurity in the most vulnerable parts of the world. The fallout from El Niño could dramatically increase forced migration from South America, Central America and Mexico to the US. In Africa and South Asia, millions who are already food insecure could go hungry.
What can we do to mitigate El Niño’s effects in the food systems that sustain livelihoods in the Global South?
There is growing consensus among agricultural researchers and development practitioners that an ambitious and comprehensive transformation of food systems needs to occur globally to build resilience and achieve a development model that succeeds in abating hunger and food insecurity by delivering healthy and affordable diets to all within planetary boundaries. The good news is that this community of practice has been working closely with small- and medium-scale farmers across the world on successful participatory research initiatives over the past decade. These experiences have greatly increased our understanding of how diverse farming communities can work with local authorities and stakeholders to overcome the shortcomings of food systems that degrade the environment and greatly contribute to climate change.
At the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) and the CGIAR – the world’s largest nonprofit international research network on food, land and water systems – we have made a systematized effort to learn from these successful participatory research experiences that have built consensus among multiple stakeholders in food value chains. By working in partnership with the Alliance of Bioversity International and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, we designed an Integrated Agri-food System Initiative (IASI) methodology that generates strategies, actions and quantitative Sustainable Development Goals-aligned targets and effectively garners support for medium- to long-term research and capacity development projects from public and private sector partners.
The IASI methodology is based on a successful, integrated development project called MasAgro, which has been implemented in Mexico and Colombia. MasAgro engaged multiple public, private, and civil sector partners that worked together on enhancing local maize and wheat systems by scaling up sustainable farming practices and improved, high-yielding and climate-resilient varieties adapted to the effects of climate change in both countries. To increase our impact and build farmers’ agency and resilience to recurrent climate shocks like El Niño, CIMMYT and CGIAR partners are applying the IASI methodology to build a global food systems transformation network that co-designs and co-implements agricultural development projects in which multiple partners and donors contribute to the much-needed transformation of global food systems.
IASI Projects in Africa, Latin America and South Asia
The Southern Africa Accelerated Innovation Delivery Initiative Rapid Delivery Hub (AID-I) will cushion the impacts of shocks on small-scale farming in Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia by leveraging existing agricultural interventions to expedite the delivery of support to 3 million smallholder farmers in selected value chains with potential for quick results and long-term and long-lasting impacts. Through a value chain approach, AID-I interventions include targeted investments in fertilizer production, distribution, and efficient use; seed sector support and strengthening to enhance access and availability of a range of climate proof seeds, including improved nutrient-dense and stress tolerant crop varieties; credit and finance for smallholder farmers to support their access to quality inputs via small- and medium-sized enterprises that play a key role in seed and fertilizer markets; and agricultural advisory services that deliver critical information on improved crop, soil, and water management deep into rural communities.
AgriLAC Resiliente is an initiative from the CGIAR that aims to increase the resilience, sustainability and competitiveness of food systems and value chain actors in Guatemala, Honduras, Colombia, Mexico, and Peru. This initiative also seeks to co-develop solutions to equip at least 200,000 women and men of vulnerable farming households and communities with enhanced knowledge, farming practices, tailored agroclimatic information and decision-making tools to meet urgent food security and nutrition needs, mitigate climate hazards, stabilize conflict-stricken communities and stem forced migration from the region to the US.
The Transforming Agrifood Systems Initiative in South Asia (TAFSSA) initiative aims to deliver a coordinated program of research and engagement across the food production-to-consumption continuum to support equitable access to sustainable healthy diets, improve farmer livelihoods and resilience, and conserve land, air and groundwater resources in Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan. TAFSSA will deliver ambitious outcomes over a three-year period by helping farmers in target countries implement improved farming practices and diversify their production systems on at least 710,000ha, thereby reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 8.21 million tons CO2 equivalent. Diversified farm production, better retail environments and nutrition-sensitive social protection programs are expected to improve overall nutrition for 49.9 million people in South Asia.
All these examples have something in common: a strong methodological underpinning and the empowerment through networks that can be scaled and deployed rapidly.
Bram Govaerts is CIMMYT’s Director General. He is an international authority in maize, wheat and associated cropping systems who works for a successful transition to sustainable intensification of small-scale farming in Africa, Asia and Latin America. Govaerts advises public, private and social organizations worldwide and is an active member of research groups and programs including the Knowledge Systems for Sustainability platform, the A. D. White Professor-at-Large program at Cornell University, and the American Society of Agronomy.