If we look at why we need food—that is, for our bodies to receive the nutrients they need to perform at their best—then food security is really about nutrition security. When we look at how climate change affects whether “all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient safe and nutritious food” we must keep nutrition at the forefront of the conversation.
This World Food Day, take a look at five ways climate change affects nutrition:
1. Climate Change Affects Availability and Access to Nutritious Food
Changing climate patterns are already affecting food production and will continue to do so, leaving smallholder farmers who can’t adapt food insecure. If farms of all sizes fail to adjust, it will result in changes to the quantity, quality, and diversity of foods available to households and to consumers.
2. Climate Change Affects Dietary Diversity
Having enough food to eat does not imply adequate nutrition.To perform at their best, people need to consume macro- and micronutrients from a range of foods: staple crops, fruits and vegetables, and animal-sourced foods like meat, eggs, milk, and fish. If local food systems don’t have the capacity to produce diverse crops due to environmental obstacles, families without the means to purchase food are at risk of not having access to the variety of foods their bodies need.
3. Climate Change Affects Income for Nutrition, Health, and Education
The likelihood of environmental shocks and stresses has risen as a result of climate change. The frequency and magnitude of these shocks increase the risks for smallholder farmers, affecting already-fragile ecosystems and the livelihoods of most rural households in the developing world. In addition to potential loss of income, farmers face real costs from needing to adopt new technologies to adapt to changing climate patterns. These demands on finances can make, meeting daily needs like food, health care, child care and basic education much more challenging for families.
Consumption of food that is spoiled or contaminated due to pests, mold, or poor storage can also negatively impact nutrition and health. Better post-harvest processing and storage technologies can mitigate these health risks, protect households from food shortage, and mitigate the need for increased food spending during unpredictable harvests. Less food waste is also better for the environment.
4. Climate Change Affects Women and Families
Because they often do not have access to the resources to recover when their crops or income are negatively impacted, women—and female-headed households, in particular—are among the most vulnerable groups affected by climate change and environmental shocks. We know, however, that when women have a say over how family income is spent, it is more likely invested in the well-being of children and families.
Efforts to build resilience to shock through group savings and lending schemes can mitigate negative impacts on nutrition so that women and men are better able to make good decisions about managing their household income. Technologies that reduce parents’ labor or time demands may also result in positive outcomes for their children because more time can be set aside for caregiving. When these technologies use renewable and carbon-neutral energy, they are also much more climate-sensitive and would mitigate negative environmental impacts.
5. Climate Change Affects Consumer Demand
As agriculture changes in response to climate change, the food basket shifts, forcing households to adapt their food choices and preferences. Nutritious foods that may have been gathered from forests or grown in communities for generations may no longer be available, requiring rural families to purchase other, potentially less nutritious foods instead. When households don’t know what foods can replace the nutrients lost from foods they can no longer grow or find locally, nutrient-poor substitutes, such as highly-refined grains and high fat, high sugar, processed foods, can too easily become dietary staples. These lower quality foods are often less expensive, challenging consumers’ knowledge about what they should purchase for their well-being compared to what they can afford to purchase.
To maintain quality diets, marketing, media, and professional and peer counseling can provide households with information about what to consume as part of a nutritious diet.
Nutrition-Smart Agriculture is Climate-Smart Agriculture
Individuals, households, and the food system are part of a larger ecosystem that must be cared for regardless of sector.
SPRING, USAID’s multi-sector nutrition project, is collaborating with country governments, farmer co-ops, local women’s groups, community entrepreneurs, and international NGOs to address nutrition challenges at all levels of the food system. Through our collaborations we have identified five ways for agriculture to contribute to improved nutrition, especially for those most at risk. None of these, however, are sustainable without attention to the effects of climate change.
By addressing these opportunities in current and new agricultural activities, the global community can more effectively improve nutrition security, improving the health of children for generations to come.
To learn more about how agriculture can improve nutrition outcomes view SPRING’s Five Ways to Improve Nutrition through Agriculture infographic, explore what it means to use nutrition-sensitive agriculture, and join the conversation online using the hashtags #WFD2016 and #EndHunger.