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Finding the financing to grow enough food for all God’s children

Ecumenical Advocacy Days webinar suggests solutions as food insecurity grows worse

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Photo by Tshedza Muvhango via Unsplash

LOUISVILLE — As they prepared to lobby Capitol Hill solons Thursday about the climate crisis, food insecurity and other significant ills, Ecumenical Advocacy Days participants took in an online session on the role that climate finance can play in securing enough food for everyone.

Across the globe, more than 345 million of God’s children suffer food insecurity. Climate change has made the problem worse through the loss of arable land, disruptions to ecosystems, depletion of water sources and other factors. “As the international community seeks to ramp up climate finance for mitigation, adaptation and loss and damage,” organizers wrote in the webinar description, “how can financing modalities better target synergies with food production and the most vulnerable?”

Aldo Caliari, senior director of policy and strategy at Jubilee USA Network, moderated the two-member panel of Jordan Teague Jacobs, co-director of the Policy & Research Institute at Bread for the World, and Dr. Tinashe Gumbo, program executive for economic and ecological justice at the All Africa Conference of Churches.

Aldo Caliari

Food prices are up about 50% over the last four years, Caliari noted, “and climate change is a significant factor.” In Africa, climate change has driven down food productivity by one-third. “Developing countries face this crisis,” Caliari said, “with budgets depleted by the pandemic.” More than two dozen countries now pay 20% or more of their gross domestic product in debt service.

“Pastoralists face high barriers,” Gumbo said. “We need more systemic ways to address their plight. Resources are needed at the very local level.”

Gumbo, who’s from Zimbabwe, said the situation in Africa “is not detached from the situation in Latin America and other places.”

The most recent UN climate conference in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt, did provide one reason for celebration, Gumbo said: a Loss and Damage Fund, the culmination of decades of pressure from climate-vulnerable developing countries. “It has been on the agenda for several years,” Gumbo said. “Climate finance is one way of funding our food processes.”

Over the previous three decades, world hunger has been cut in half, according to Jacobs, who called that “unprecedented progress.” But climate change “is quickly affecting the planet,” and along with armed conflict, the impacts of Covid and many other factors, “hunger is now on the rise again in our world.”

Jordan Teague Jacobs

“Adapting to the impacts of climate change on agriculture and food security are immediate needs that must be addressed,” she said. Many more farmers are now reporting disrupted planting and growing seasons than in previous decades. “One only needs to look to the Horn of Africa right now,” Jacobs said.

Climate change is also damaging food quality. Increased carbon dioxide levels affect soil and reduce the nutrient content of crops. Climate change causes people to leave their homes and farms, and “if agriculture is no longer viable, they need to find other ways of making a living,” she said.

Climate change also disproportionately affects “those who are or have been marginalized,” she said. “Many who did the least to cause climate change are now experiencing the most impact.”

Considering the impacts of climate change, improving agricultural productivity “is essential, but by itself is not enough to end hunger,” Jacobs said. “In a world where we produce enough food, we need to focus on equity. Unless we do something, climate change is going to reverse the progress we’ve made.” By 2030, a projected 100 million people will be experiencing extreme poverty as a result of climate change, Jacobs said.

Possible solutions

“There are policies that can help reduce the human costs” of climate change, Jacobs said. One area of emphasis for ensuring food availability and accessibility is by “better preparing farmers and the land to the effects of climate change. We call this climate-smart agriculture,” she said. A second way of ensuring food availability and accessibility is to establish “well-functioning systems of social protection that save lives and livelihoods even in difficult circumstances.”

At Bread for the World and other organizations, “we ask donors like the United States to invest in more assistance to small farmers so they can adapt using these techniques,” Jacobs said. Multilateral development, such as that provided by the World Bank, is also “an important partner in this process.”

National governments “must also invest in their own people and in agricultural sectors to help [producers] adapt” to climate change, she said. “But with existing debt burdens, many don’t have the financial space to invest in agriculture. That’s why we need all these players to step up and step in to address adaptation needs.”

Dr. Tinashe Gumbo

As Gumbo noted, last year African faith leaders launched a model called the Africa Faith Actors Network for Climate Justice. The goal, according to the World Council of Churches, is to “amplify the work of African churches and faith communities against climate change, and to accompany African leadership and churches in climate change processes.”

“They can engage their governments and other key players to keep the government on track in terms of allocations and making sure they are engaging the key players,” Gumbo said. “They are starting with small projects, engaging discussions, and connecting with international players, especially from faith communities, so we amplify our voices.”

As for people in the United States ready to push hunger back into decline, “we as faith communities and constituents of the U.S. Congress need to make our voices heard,” Jacobs said. “I’m glad folks are going to the Hill to meet with their members. We need to make sure [elected officials] understand the importance of [proposed budget] cuts.”

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