Science & Environment

Farming and science 'vital for sustained development'

Woman walks with her livestock, India (Image: Reuters) Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Gathering storm: Uncertainty over future climate change means farmers face the risk of increasing volatility

Scientific advances can help "climate-proof" farming systems around the globe, especially in developing nations, a conference will hear.

The Development Dialogues meeting will consider the role agriculture can play in delivering food security, poverty alleviation, health and nutrition.

CGIAR, a leading research body, says it will invest 60% of its US $1bn budget in helping the world's poorest farmers.

The gathering will take place on Thursday in New York City.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Improved scientific knowledge can help identify more resilient food crop varieties, experts say

The event's organisers, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), said that 250 participants - including leading scientists and politicians - will demonstrate how agriculture is fundamental to achieving the emerging UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

These are the successors to the UN's Millennium Development Goals.

"Not everyone working in other areas of development sees the role of agriculture or food systems as critical to the Sustainable Development Goals," explained CGIAR chief executive Frank Rijsberman.

"We believe [this sector is] critical to a number of the SDGs and we would like to explore those linkages.

The process of developing the UN SDGs began at the Rio 2012 Summit, where a number of areas where identified:

  • Green jobs, youth employment and social inclusion
  • Energy access, efficiency, sustainability
  • Food security and sustainable agriculture
  • Water
  • Sustainable cities
  • Management of the oceans, fisheries and other marine resources
  • Improved resilience and disaster preparedness

"By and large, I think that many of the other sectors have not come to grips with how central agriculture is and how food, food systems, nutrition, health and well-being are all interrelated," Dr Rijsberman told BBC News.

Time to act

The Development Dialogues, which will be streamed on the web, coincides with the inaugural meeting of the UN High-Level Political Forum on Sustainable Development and shortly after UN secretary-general Ban Ki-moon's Climate Summit.

Image copyright AP
Image caption Unpredictable weather patterns could disrupt tradition farming methods

Dr Rijsberman said the potential impact of future climate change on agriculture was dominating research priorities of CGIAR, which has 15 research centres around the globe and partnerships in 96 countries.

"We have looked through our portfolio and concluded that some 60% of everything we do is directly related to climate-smart agriculture," he observed.

At Tuesday's Climate Summit, CGIAR was among a group of organisations that launched the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. It to invest at least 60% of its annual US $1bn budget in "helping 500 million farmers adapt to more stressful growing conditions".

Dr Rijsberman said: "The alliance has set a goal to reach at least half-a-billion farmers with climate-smart agricultural practices - a mark we need to reach if we are to avoid climate shocks to our food systems.

"CGIAR can meet its goals expanding the breadth of our research endeavours and breaking down communication barriers that block millions of smallholder farmers from taking advantage of existing innovations."

The recently published 2014 African Agriculture Status Report warned that many small-scale farmers faced the threat of "failed seasons" and risked being overwhelmed by the pace and severity of climate change.

Another report by Cafod, the development agency, said failure to tackle climate change would make it impossible to lift millions of people out of poverty and threatened decades of development and aid investment by governments.

Dr Rijsberman said that in the climate change policy debate, there were people who wanted to focus on mitigation measures and there were others that wanted to focus on adaptation, to make things more resilient to potential impacts.

"We are straddling both worlds," he explained, "and are in touch with countries like the Netherlands and France and their mitigation policies.

"But we are also closely aligned with countries such as India, for example, who want to focus more on adaptation.

"We think we can only have real solutions if we bring both elements to the table."

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