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Agriculture and climate are closely connected

Farmers harvesting potatoes in the Bolivian Andes

Agriculture and climate change are connected in two ways. On the one hand, climate change is posing a great threat to agriculture. When water becomes more scarce, when devastating rainfall becomes more frequent or crops fail to flourish under changed climatic conditions, this has major repercussions on harvests and yields. Erosion and land degradation are exacerbated.

On the other hand, agriculture is itself a source of greenhouse gas emissions: cattle farming and certain production methods, such as paddy cultivation of rice, release the greenhouse gas methane. Excessive use of fertilisers, certain forms of tillage and the conversion of grassland into cropland are other practices that are detrimental to the climate. Moreover, agriculture is by far the biggest driver of deforestation, as forest is cleared for conversion to farmland.

However, agriculture can also contribute to climate action. Sustainable farming and good agricultural practices, such as the use of organic fertilisers or crop rotation, the integration of fruit trees and other trees as well as targeted irrigation on farmland, protect the increasingly scarce resources of soil and water. Simultaneously, they improve soil fertility and can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Conservation agriculture, for example no-till farming, and activities to increase humus content facilitate carbon sequestration in the soil. This is a powerful opportunity for using land as a carbon sink to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and it has not been used very much so far.

Increase in food production needed

The challenges are being exacerbated by the growth in world population: according to a recent United Nations estimate, the global population is expected to increase from 7.5 billion in 2017 to 9.7 billion in 2050. Most of this growth will occur in developing countries and emerging economies, which at the end of the century will be home to an estimated 87 per cent of the global population.

But there are already more than 800 million hungry people in the world. About two billion people are malnourished. They suffer from "hidden hunger": in other words, their diet provides sufficient energy but insufficient nutrients. In order to enable the planet to provide adequate food for nearly ten billion people by the middle of the century, global food production will have to be increased by about 60 per cent. Simultaneously, food losses resulting from factors such as pests and pollution must be reduced.

The necessary increase in production can only be achieved through holistic, sustainable measures in the agricultural sector that are appropriate to the local context and environmentally sound. Such measures have to take account of the conditions of production in a given setting, for instance in sub-Saharan Africa. In that region, 80 per cent of all food is produced by smallholders. They are the backbone of food security and nutrition, and their access to land must be supported through secure tenure. But they also require knowledge on sustainable production methods.

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