Like many others, I am deeply heartened by the global community’s resolve in Paris to work through innumerable differences and national interests to agree on concrete steps to collectively address the menacing threat of climate change.
Of particular resonance were the discussions in Paris around how inextricably linked the world’s food supply is to weather and climate, as I have personally experienced the need to adapt to climate change as an owner of a smallholder agribusiness in Asia. Because of this, I am acutely aware that in today’s global marketplace, climate change makes our food chain increasingly vulnerable to droughts, flooding and plant diseases, which has ramifications for individuals, communities and businesses alike.
In Africa, Asia and Latin America, climactic changes are already limiting the ability of many smallholder farmers to grow enough food to feed their families and rise out of poverty. Rice farmers in Bangladesh, for example, are struggling with increasingly saline soils and saltwater flooding caused by climate-induced hazards like cyclones and rising sea levels. If this trend continues, income from smallholder cash crops like coffee, cocoa and many other commodities will also be in jeopardy.
This can be seen in Ghana, a major source of the world’s cocoa supply, where vulnerability maps developed by climate scientists predict that the country’s growing regions will be unsuitable for the crop in just a few decades. These impacts should not be viewed simply as local challenges, since they connect to food supply chains that increasingly cross national, regional and continental borders. A new U.S. Department of Agriculture-led report highlights future challenges that farmers, agribusinesses and consumers in the United States and around the world will face as they seek to adapt.
These are complex problems that require involvement by multiple actors to develop tailored solutions. International donors, local governments, civil society and non-profit organizations all have a role to play.
So does the private sector.
Food and agriculture companies are feeling the heat: Climate and weather changes pose a long-term threat to their global supply chains, particularly the agricultural commodities at the core of their businesses. So, these companies are increasingly playing a leading role in finding solutions that will keep them and their smallholder farmer suppliers in business.
In fact, leading companies in the World Business Council for Sustainable Development—including PepsiCo, Monsanto, Olam and Kellogg Company—recently chaired a working group on climate smart agriculture where companies committed to a shared vision for 2030 of increasing food availability by 50 percent while reducing greenhouse gases emissions by 50 percent while strengthen the resilience of farming communities.
That’s where we come in. USAID, which leads the U.S. Government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, is helping smallholder farmers address the negative impacts of weather and climate changes to ensure gains in food security, nutrition and poverty continue. We are also forging partnerships with private companies, which are critical to expanding our reach and effectiveness as we work to find solutions that benefit farmers in developing countries.
This week, USAID will launch a new program that sets the stage for deeper engagement with private food companies to develop strategic solutions to these pressing issues.
Through this program, USAID is partnering with a consortium led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture, the Sustainable Food Lab, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture, and Root Capital to work closely with the World Cocoa Foundation and other coffee and cocoa partners, including private companies. Together, we’ll co-develop a learning community that provides business cases, strategies and action plans for agribusiness engagement in climate smart agriculture.
Our goal is to increase understanding of how private companies, in coordination with governments and civil society, can increase the adoption of climate-friendly practices that improve the lives of the farmers our global food system depends on.
Working together, we can ensure that progress in global food security lasts for years to come.