Food Systems Account for One-Third of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions

A new study published in the journal Global Food Security reports that food systems are associated with one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions induced by human activity. As such, agricultural yields are at risk because of impacts caused by climate change.

Food Systems Account for One-Third of Global Greenhouse Gas Emissions
Researchers measure and weigh forage grasses in field trials to find better forage feed varieties project together with the Kenya Agricultural & Livestock Research Organization. Image Credit: CIAT / Georgina Smith.

However, there is still a lack of a complete picture of the various elements of the agricultural research and food production ecosystem.

To tackle this issue, the researchers performed a survey of 262 attendees of the 2019 Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) in Bali, Indonesia, which included researchers, end-users, and funders. The aim was to evaluate the main leverage points required to radically shift the food system to a new place.

According to Dhanush Dinesh, a CIAT researcher and head of partnerships and outreach at CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), one of the key findings was that to realize climate and sustainability goals, it is necessary to consider farmers as partners in research. They should contribute while also being beneficiaries.

Shift in Thinking

Dinesh adds that conventionally, farmers have always been “policy takers” and not “policymakers.”

Researchers can design new tools for research but to help farmers, we need to know what their financial and policy needs are. All this is a shift in power from researchers as the powerful knowledge providers to a place where funders, farmers and researchers everyone is equal and shaping it in an equitable way ... It’s not happening now , but we are recognising this needs to change.

Dhanush Dinesh, Researcher and Head of Partnerships and Outreach, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, CIAT

According to Bruce Campbell, a CIAT researcher and director of CCAFS, a considerable part of the research effort must shift to an action mode—participatory action research or “learning by doing.”

By working closely with farmers to trial things they are interested in testing, researchers can present a basket of possibilities for testing and farmers can select what they want to test and also bring their own knowledge to what should be tested.

Bruce Campbell, Researcher and Director of CCAFS, CIAT

Campbell added that experience shows that the study can then take unexpected directions.

For example, research may have planned to look at the dominant maize crop, but on speaking with the farmer, the research shifted to examining intercropping, with more effort focussed on the intercrop than the maize crop,” he noted.

Novel Funding Models

Dinesh explained that another crucial aspect for the success of future food systems was innovative funding models. He added that RaboBank, a leading international bank, had already come up with a new fund called AGRI3. The Netherlands government has invested, thereby minimizing the risk to the bank.

They can then loan to the farmers to implement climate-smart agriculture, but to deliver at scale, they need to develop monitoring systems,” he added.

As explained by Laurens Klerkx, a co-author on the study and Professor of Agrifood Innovation and Transition at Wageningen University in the Netherlands, certain examples of innovative funding models that enhance outcomes for researchers and farmers are models that include joint agenda setting where farmers can decide on priority setting, proposal focus, and decision making, as well as induce ownership.

These include levy-funded R&D systems, farmer jury’s, etc.,” added Klerkx, noting that though these are not completely innovative, they may be a part of the agricultural for development (AR4D) context.

Campbell adds that combined finance models can promote high-impact transformative projects in areas that are at first unable to obtain commercial finance but have the prospects to become commercially viable as time passes.

There is a nice example in Rwanda with Africa Improved Foods: They put up a food processing plan for the production of nutritious foods (e.g. cereals) with the raw material sourced from smallholders and the first phase of the project costs approximately $65 million in capital expenditure and working capital.

Bruce Campbell, Researcher and Director of CCAFS, CIAT

This would not have taken off without a blended finance model, with a mixture of funding sources, some concessional ... It also included technical support to farmers to rise to the challenge of producing high-quality products for the value chain,” Campbell concluded.

Journal Reference:

Dinesh, D., et al. (2021) Enacting theories of change for food systems transformation under climate change. Global Food Security.


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