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Community Advocacy Organization

Climate Change Dramatically Impacts Global Nutrition, New Report Says

WASHINGTON, D.C. (MAY 8, 2024)Climate change has dramatic, negative impacts on global nutrition, and challenges are especially acute in low- and middle-income countries where large proportions of the population rely on agriculture, according to a new report commissioned by Farm Journal Foundation.

Extreme weather events over the past several years have led to lower harvests, lost agricultural incomes, and soaring food prices, all of which contribute to increasing rates of malnutrition, according to the report by Dr. Ramya Ambikapathi and Daniel Mason-D'Croz, senior research associates at Cornell University’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences’ Department of Global Development. Today, about 3 billion people around the world are unable to afford a well-balanced, healthy diet that includes whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and animal-sourced foods. People in low- and middle-income countries, where farming is often the main source of income, have been hit the hardest, as families struggle to purchase sufficient nutritious foods.

“Climate change exacerbates existing inequities, so it’s important that fixes to existing challenges focus on making food systems more resilient to shocks – whether it’s climate change shocks, or other shocks, or even multiple shocks at the same time,” Ambikapathi said. “Many food systems contexts have multiple challenges, and climate change is just one of them. Climate change offers an opportunity to unite people, as we need to mobilize momentum, money, and human capacity.”

“Low- and middle-income countries, which have contributed least to climate change, are unfortunately feeling the brunt of its effects when it comes to food security and nutrition,” Mason-D'Croz continued. “Small- and medium- sized farms produce the majority of the world’s food, and particularly in low- and middle-income countries, farmers suffer disproportionately from poverty, making them especially vulnerable to food system shocks.”

Low- and middle- income countries often have limited capacity to adapt to climate challenges, due to a lack of safety net programs, robust infrastructure, and technologies that would enable farmers to produce good crops amid increasingly difficult conditions, according to the report. Women are particularly vulnerable to food and nutrition insecurity, according to the report. This is because they generally have lower incomes compared with men, and studies show that during times of financial pressure, they often reduce their food intake or skip meals so that other members of their household can eat.

“Farmers and our global food system face unprecedented challenges from climate change, and unfortunately this is already having significant effects on nutrition, especially in low- and middle-income countries,” said Katie Lee, Vice President of Government Affairs at Farm Journal Foundation. “More investments are needed in agricultural development, research, and innovation, to ensure that farmers can produce enough safe, healthy food for everyone, and that consumers have access to nutritious foods at affordable prices.”

Improving nutrition outcomes and shoring up the global food system to deal with climate change will require a whole of society and government approach, to ensure that policy solutions work both for nutrition security as well as the natural environment. The report offered nine recommendations for the U.S. government to consider to support global nutrition in the face of climate change:

  • Support greater investments in agricultural research and development. Research funding should be focused on areas including: solutions to retain or enhance the nutrient content of food, food crops beyond major staple grains, solutions to support smallholder farmers, and solutions to improve value chains for nutritious foods.

  • Invest in programs that benefit women’s nutrition. This includes investing in value-chain sectors that are dominated by women (e.g. fruit and vegetables), strengthening the collection of gender-disaggregated data in the agri-food sector, and enhancing access to girls’ education within the context of climate change.

  • Incentivize governments to expand access to technical assistance and extension. This can facilitate the adoption of conservation agriculture practices, which can help reduce risks, manage water, improve soil, and increase productivity in the face of climate shocks.

  • Provide adequate financing for agricultural development programs that take a whole of society and government approach. Programs such as the U.S. Feed the Future initiative support agricultural-led growth by helping to build more resilient food systems. Feed the Future and similar programs deserve more support.

  • Identify financing mechanisms for governments to increase access to safety net programs. Social protection programs such as insurance mechanisms, cash transfers, and school feeding programs can improve both food security and healthy diets.

  • Invest in programs that strengthen value chains and infrastructure. Infrastructure such as storage, transportation, inputs, and seed technology can help connect farmers to markets, improve incomes, and reduce the costs of healthy foods.

  • Improve farmers’ access to finance. Programs that improve smallholder farmers’ access to capital, resources, feed, and seed markets can enable them to invest in their livelihoods, including crops and purchases that would improve household nutrition.

  • Strengthen agricultural data gathering and climate monitoring systems. Climate information services and local traditional knowledge can help farmers improve their farm management practices and make cropping decisions.

  • Invest in solutions that enable regional food trade. Enabling regional food trade can improve market demand, profits for the intermediate sector, and access to healthy diets while potentially reducing food loss.

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