Marjolijn Sonnema is Vice Minister Agriculture at the Netherlands Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Safety. She's calling for urgent action on food safety and security in the face of climate change.
Urgency for action
In the decades ahead, the agricultural sector will face enormous challenges. The growing global population will need to be fed and, even today, for the first time in many years, the number of people facing acute hunger is increasing. In the last 2 years 44 million people joined the 821 million people facing hunger.
At the same time, agriculture needs to become climate smart, in terms of both adapting to a rapidly changing environment and developing new ways of producing food.
These challenges have been recognised by countries and international institutions. They feature in reports by FAO and are reflected in the fact that more than 90% of developing countries have identified agriculture as the key sector in which to achieve their targets under the Paris Agreement.
Countries are now working on delivering on the commitments they have set for themselves in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). The UNFCCC Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture has put the focus squarely on implementation. Regarding the transformation of the agricultural sector, the time for talking about ‘if’ and ‘when’ is over; the time for action on the ground is now.
One size doesn’t fit all
It almost goes without saying that the actions required can vary hugely depending on local circumstances. Climatic, geographical and physical environments – not to mention societies – differ widely across the globe. The consequences of failing to recognize this, however, are far-reaching. Time and again, agricultural and development cooperation policies have shown that blanket solutions insufficiently adapted to local circumstances are not effective and may indeed be counterproductive.
In a globalised world with problems – such as climate change – that require global action it may seem paradoxical to stress that, for solutions to be effective, they need to be locally relevant. Globalisation has both positive and negative effects on local livelihoods. Local food shortages due to drought, for instance, can be offset by imports. But trade patterns can be disrupted and the countries most affected by climate change are also the countries facing the biggest challenges when it comes to feeding their populations.
Challenges need to be tackled at the relevant level, and for climate change measures – whether adaptation or mitigation – concrete action starts at the local level, with local partners. These partners provide solutions to a global problem and strengthen the position of local communities in a globalised world. A fair income for farmers and a vital rural economy are essential to creating sustainable food systems.
For me, two things are of key importance in meeting the challenges of ending hunger and climate change. One is increasing the efficient use of natural resources and the other is match-making.
The case for match-making; connecting ideas to solutions
I firmly believe that many measures to tackle climate change challenges are already available but that they must be translated into projects that deliver concrete solutions on the ground. We also need to make sure these projects have access to financial resources. Private companies, farmers and farmers’ organisations, knowledge institutions and civil society organisations are springboards for innovation, and they deserve the support of governments and financial institutions like the World Bank.
Bringing together sources of innovative strength is a cornerstone of Dutch agricultural policy. The Dutch Diamond approach, where private and public actors work hand in glove, is well known for delivering innovation.
The Netherlands intends to make the export of knowledge of processes and products a key priority in its trade, agricultural and development cooperation policies.
Efficient use of natural resources
More crop per drop, more yield per hectare and energy efficiency are all concepts that spring to mind when talking about the efficient use of natural resources. And rightly so; a lot can be gained from developing food systems that address these issues.
What I find harder to accept is the fact that post-harvest losses for total agricultural production are at around 30%. That means an enormous amount of produce is being wasted. And all that lost production has contributed to deforestation and greenhouse gas emissions, while failing to deliver for producers and consumers.
Another fact that we need to carefully consider is that we consume, on average, only 30% of the biomass we produce. The rest is considered waste and deemed to have no or little market value. If we can change that paradigm we will not only achieve resource efficiency but could potentially generate additional income for.
What and how can the Netherlands contribute? Partners for climate-smart agricultural development
It’s now time for us to ‘walk the talk’. It is the Dutch government’s ambition to use its resources to help end hunger within one generation, and to help lay the foundations for sustainably feeding nine billion people by 2050. Our focus will be on helping people vulnerable to undernutrition or malnutrition, on enhancing economic prospects for farmers and on making food systems more sustainable.
We will do this together with our partners in the private sector, civil society organisations and knowledge institutions. Promoting innovation, bringing ideas together, using resources efficiently and considering the needs of farming communities are vital for ensuring a healthy climate and vibrant rural communities.
We’re fully aware of the urgency and we have the will to act. The Netherlands is, as always, open for business. So let’s make climate-smart agriculture a reality!