Marking World Hunger Day

By Irish Research Council

Posted: 30 May, 2016

World Hunger Day is an initiative started by the Hunger Project in 2011. It aims to draw attention to the 795 million people in the world who do not have enough food, and to celebrate sustainable solutions to hunger and poverty. To mark this important day, we’ve asked two of our scholars to tell us about their research on how we can improve food security.

Jane Maher is an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholar based in the Department of Geography, School of Natural Science, Trinity College Dublin. She writes to us from Malawi.

Creating a food secure environment in Malawi, as in much of sub-Saharan Africa, is a challenge. Agriculture is Malawi’s biggest employer. 90% of the population are subsistence farmers, and 85% of them rely on rain-fed agriculture.

The country experiences regular food shortages, resulting in food insecurity and malnutrition during the lean season. This is caused by soil degradation through over-use of farmland, over-reliance on maize, high population growth, and limited access to finance and markets.

Food insecurity in Malawi is made worse by an increase in climate-related disasters caused by higher temperatures and unpredictable rainfall patterns, which lead to drought and flash-flooding. Last year Malawi experienced both the worst floods in three decades and drought in many places, caused by the El Niño phenomenon. Food security is now around 30% below the five year average, and the poorest and most marginalised who are the worst affected.

In my research, I think about the role of women in agriculture and the need to increase women’s access to resources that create food security, something that the international community has long been discussing. Women tend to be more vulnerable to the negative impacts of climate change because they are often the main agricultural labourers and responsible for providing food for the family. While recent climate policy has made an effort to incorporate gender-sensitivity within policy formation, the local level impact of gender in agricultural adaptation and its impact on food security needs to be better understood.

Our Irish Research Council-funded project in the Geography Department, Trinity College Dublin aims to examine the current practices of gender mainstreaming in climate change adaptation and climate finance for adaptation (CFfA) from the international and national level to the impacts felt at local level in Malawi. In addition to my team’s in-depth policy and CFfA review at the international and national levels, I am now in Malawi collecting local level data through questionnaires and focus groups with men, women and youth groups. This will help the project provide an overview of differentiated needs and capabilities within two disaster prone districts, Chikwawa and Nsanje. These are areas where gender mainstreaming has been successful, even if there are still some shortfalls. This local level data collection creates an opportunity for the often voiceless in international policy formation to highlight their needs for creating a more food secure and productive environment.

We hope that this will inform future policy formulation with recommendations of greater gender inclusion, and will play a role in successful adaptation to climate change and sustainable development in Malawi and other climate vulnerable societies.

Colm Duffy is an Irish Research Council Postgraduate Scholar at NUI Galway specialising in Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

As we approach 2050, global crop production systems are being challenged like never before. An increasing global population, decreasing availability of resources (land and water), together with the impact of climate change pose a huge problem for agricultural production. This triple threat has shot food security to the top of the global agenda.

Even small changes in climate and weather can impact the lives and livelihoods of millions of the worlds’ poor. And climate change does not affect all people equally. Men, women and children may all experience climate-related challenges in very different ways depending culture and gender norms which influence the control of resources and benefits within a community. It is extremely importance that climate change adaptation strategies, which are adapted to suit the differing circumstances of men, women and other vulnerable groups in a given context, are made available.

In an effort to increase food security and the sustainability of agriculture in a changing climate, the Climate Smart Agriculture approach was developed. This approach is defined by the Food and Agriculture Organisation as agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience, reduces or removes greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs), and enhances the achievement of national food security and development goals. The Climate Smart Agriculture approach attempts to reduce the environmental impact of agriculture, while at the same time ensuring the resilience of agricultural production systems. Investment in sustainable agriculture growth is very importance to global development, as it is often seen as the most effective way of reducing poverty and increasing food and nutritional security in some of the world’s least developed countries.

Our Irish Research Council-funded research in the Plant and AgriBiosciences Research Centre at NUI, Galway seeks to explore the potential and scale-ability of gender transformative climate smart agricultural policies and practices at the national and sub-national levels. In concert with our CGIAR partners, we have been assisting in mapping the entry points, and investment opportunities for gender-sensitive Climate Smart Agriculture in climate vulnerable regions. Many of these practices exist, but not all are appropriate in every context. In order to successfully scale-up Climate Smart Agriculture, decision and policy makers need effective tools to assist in reducing the challenges, while simultaneously maximizing the potential benefits of investment.

To date, our research with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture has allowed us to work on gender sensitive Climate Smart Country profiles, which identify entry points and investment opportunities for Climate Smart Agriculture, in Kenya and Niger. In addition, projects are already underway at the sub-national level in Kenya.

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