UN official: We need to put people at the center of agri-food system
Decision Makers

Editor's note: Decision Makers is a global platform for decision makers to share their insights on events shaping today's world. Carlos Watson is the United Nations' Food and Agriculture Organization's Representative to China. The video reflects the authors' opinions, and not necessarily the views of CGTN.

CGTN: The world has been experiencing a quite volatile period of  extreme weather events. There's wildfire. There's heatwave. There's typhoon. Basically, the whole northern hemisphere has been impacted. So, my question is, how have these extreme weather events impacted global food production?

Carlos Watson: Among all the sectors, climate change is expected to hit agriculture the hardest. For instance, following drought, agriculture absorbs up to 84 percent of the economic impacts. The State of Food Security and Nutrition in the World (SOFI) report of 2023 published by the FAO and several other UN agencies informed that 735 million people face hunger last year. The climate crisis was the very key driver of this food insecurity. 

The impacts of climate change are already affecting food security and are expected to continue to threaten crop production and livelihoods, then create food crisis and negatively affect nutrition, biodiversity, and labor productivity. Changing climate conditions also increase pressure on natural ecosystems and resources such as land and water, and contribute to soil erosion, deforestation, water scarcity, pollution and overall land degradation, just to mention a few.

Meanwhile, agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. The agricultural sector, together with the forestry and land use change, is responsible for roughly 20 percent of anthropogenic greenhouse gases (GHG). So, you see the importance. Agrifood systems must become more resilient to the current and future impacts of climate exchange, learning from good practices to promote transformative adaptation, policies and plans of action.

CGTN: The Economist published an article recently saying that because of these extreme weather events and climate change, we may need to move some of the crop production to other places or bring more indoors. That's the case for China and maybe I imagine that'd be the case for a lot of the places in the world. So, are we prepared for this kind of major shifts in global food production?

Carlos Watson: Before I answer your question a little bit more in detail, let me just mention keywords that are related to this question: Adaptation, mitigation, innovation, produce more with less. Addressing the impact of extreme weather and greenhouse gas emissions, as mentioned in your question, belongs to the mitigation against climate change.

The changing of farming patterns, as you also were describing, refers to another dimension of climate change which is responsible. We call it: Adaptation. In addition to extreme weather which is experiencing a more obvious way, there are longer term changes in climate, such as the increasing mean temperature already seasonally, water stress, changes in the occurrence of pests and diseases, sea level rises and ocean acidification and so on. These will all have impacts on the agricultural sectors and related value chains, livelihoods, and ecosystems. Research indicates that adaptation through changes in food production management, especially planting dates, cultivate choices and irrigation have an estimated potential to increase yields by 7 percent to 15 percent.

CGTN: As you are undoubtedly aware of, food security is not just affected by climate alone. We have geopolitical conflicts; we have major power competitions. All of these could impact the global food production. So, with all these disruptions, what should individual farmers and small food production companies do to offset these disruptions?

Carlos Watson: You're absolutely right. We can see it in our daily lives today with everything happens and everything, in many cases, happen at the same time. We are at the time of cascading crisis with hunger in climate crisis. And conflicts are prominent among them. Agrifood system already faced the challenge of sustainability, providing sufficient, accessible, affordable, safe, and nutritious food that contribute to healthy diets, as well as other raw materials, bio energy, processed products and services, to a growing urban and rural populations.

As a result, our chances of achieving SDG2 (Zero Hunger) and SDG13 (Climate Action) and many other SDGs are becoming more and more challenging with this cascade of crisis. We have to basically step up and get our act together and take actions that will accelerate the implementation of the 2030 Development Agenda right on time. And the communities that produce our foods, including farmers, fishers, forest dependent people and pastoralists are hurt the most. And the impact of this crisis intensifies at their level.

Meanwhile, farmers are the primary custodians of knowledge about their environment, agroecosystems, crops, livelihoods and local climate patterns, for example. They adapt to climate change with smart agricultural practices. All these initiatives should always be geared towards supporting local farmers, knowledge, requirements and priorities. We need to transform our agrifood systems, an agrifood system that put people at the center, people including farmers, men, women, owners of individual farms, food production companies as you mentioned, people who hold the key drivers to adapt and implement new practices, innovations and technologies for food security and sustainable production.

Looking forward, China is expected to, together with FAO and other countries, consistently make joint efforts in ensuring food security and good nutrition in the context of the climate change and crisis. FAO is looking forward to seeing China play an increasingly important role in ensuring that world food security and continuing our journey with China in pursuit of the sustainable development goals.

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