The first panel discussion at The Chicago Council for Global Affairs’ Global Food Security Symposium 2014 explored the core focus of this year’s gathering: the climate-food nexus.
According to a recent report from the United Nation’s International Panel on Climate Change, “all aspects of food security are potentially affected by climate change, including food access, utilization, and price stability.”
This morning’s panel featured an array of speakers representing science, government, non-profit and farming communities. This diversity mirrored a point of agreement amongst the panel speakers: an inter-disciplinary approach is crucial to facing the agricultural challenges caused by climate change.
Michael Gerson, columnist at The Washington Post and Senior Fellow at ONE, chaired the discussion and opened with a bold confession, stating, “I am a conservative who is not a skeptic about climate disruption.” Gerson went on to describe climate change as a “consensus, not a conspiracy” and relayed how he has witnessed climate change’s effects around the globe. He believes the debate has become “unnecessarily polarized” along political lines.
Cynthia E. Rosenzweig, Senior Research Scientist at the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies, spoke first. She commended three recently published reports, including the Chicago Council’s own Advancing Global Food Security in the Face of a Changing Climate, and described how the focus on climate in agriculture is broadening. Leaders are realizing that “we must expand our understanding of how climate change affects the entire food system,” not just the production side, to create solutions for farmers, consumers and global markets.
William K. Reilly, Senior Advisor at TPG Capital, followed with comments about the state of global food production. Addressing food insecurity, he emphasized, “we’re not going to solve the problem by bringing more land into production.” Deforestation in countries like Brazil has been disastrous to ecosystems, and Reilly believes that between improving agricultural methods and investing in seed development enough food can be produced to sustain global needs. Moreover, he shared that new innovations in seed development may allow crops like corn to grow in places once thought impossible. With climate changing, seeds like these could help ensure food security in the future, he said.
Carolyn Miles, President & CEO of Save the Children, added a human element to the discussion by talking about “the face of the person who is most likely to be affected by humanitarian disaster.” The world’s poor, and poor woman and children in particular, are the most impacted by climate change, yet the least responsible. Of those effected in the Philippines typhoon, 72 percent were women and children. Showing global governments how real people’s lives are altered by climate change may be the best way to incite action, she said.
Recognizing that Africa’s production difficulties will only worsen with climate change, Obinna Ufudo, President & CEO of the Transnational Corporation of Nigeria Plc. brought up the important subject of aid in development. He noted, “aid has been the traditional way of engagement between the [African] continent and the developed world,” and advised, “we must stop treating agricultural as a developmental project but as a business.” Shifting towards “Africapitalism” and away from foreign aid is the best way to spur agricultural innovation in Africa, he said.
Trey Hill, owner of Harborview Farms in Staten Island, expressed a need to “get more people back on the farms” to address the “lack of education all the way around” the food supply chain. Within the farming community, he advocated for “coexistence” between all types of producers in order to address the changing climate that impacts all farmer’s livelihoods.