Agriculture and food security

How will climate change affect agriculture and food security?

Climate change is already negatively affecting agriculture and food production ‒ particularly on the livelihoods and welfare of rural communities and those dependent on subsistence agriculture (Foresight, 2011; FAO, 2013; 2016). Future impacts of climate change on agriculture and food production are likely to be severe. Resources necessary for food production will be placed under greater pressure, and changes in rainfall patterns and rising temperatures will affect crop yields (Foresight, 2011). Fisheries, aquaculture, livestock production, forestry and all agro-ecosystems will be affected by environmental changes, as will related physical structures (Foresight, 2011; FAO, 2016).

The most recent IPCC report (IPCC, 2014) cautions that rural livelihoods will be at risk from reduced agricultural production. Experts indicate that climate change will have a severe impact on food security and nutrition, as well livelihoods (HLPE, 2010; FAO, 2016). Environmental changes are likely to reduce production, increasing vulnerability and resulting in lower incomes, weakening livelihoods and resilience, and lowering consumption (FAO, 2016). Quantitative models already predict an increase in world food prices, particularly for important agricultural crops such as rice, wheat, maize and soybean (Foresight 2011; FAO, 2016). Climate change impacts will be particularly harmful for farmers and pastoralists in semi-arid regions (IPCC, 2014).

Pastoralist systems depend on a balance between people, livestock and pastures. When this is disrupted, the impacts can be devastating for individuals’ and communities’ livelihoods and well-being (Anderson et al., 2010). Observed environmental changes in drylands include lower rainfall, more intense and longer droughts, and higher temperatures. These will have a variety of direct and indirect effects on pastoralist livelihoods, including greater risk of food security, more outbreaks of animal disease, and more soil erosion (Anderson et al., 2010). Despite these challenges, where mobility of people and herds is unconstrained, pastoralism is an effective adaptation strategy (Humanitarian Policy Group, 2009).

Foresight. (2011). The future of food and farming: Challenges and choices for global sustainability. London: Government Office for Science.
This report provides an overview of the anticipated impacts and pressures on the global food systems from 2011 to 2050, drawing on mixed-method empirical research. Pressures identified include an increase in global population (to an anticipated nine billion) and greater competition for land, water and energy. The report identifies five classes of action to address the challenge of balancing supply and demand: acting sustainably; addressing the threat of future volatility in the food system; ending hunger; reducing greenhouse gas emissions from the global food system; and maintaining biodiversity and ecosystems while feeding the world.

HLPE. (2012). Food security and climate change. A report by the High Level Panel of Experts on Food Security and Nutrition of the Committee on World Food Security. Rome: Committee on World Food Security.
Based on a review of existing evidence, this expert panel examines the impact of climate change on food security. The report states that climate change will have detrimental impacts on food security and agricultural systems by: reducing the productivity of existing food systems; harming the livelihoods of those already vulnerable to food insecurity; and increasing the challenges of providing clean water. The report calls for urgent action to address the impacts of climate change at all levels and recommends: integrating food security and climate change concerns; increasing the resilience of food systems to climate change; developing low-emission agricultural strategies; collecting and disseminating local information and knowledge; and facilitating the participation of stakeholders in decision making and implementation.


Anderson, S., Morton, J., & Toulmin, C. (2010). Climate change for agrarian societies in drylands: Implications and future pathways. In R. Mearns & A. Norton (Eds.), Social dimensions of climate change: Equity and vulnerability in a warming world (pp. 199-256). Washington, DC: World Bank.
This chapter outlines the main impacts of climate change on the livelihoods of pastoralists and those living on drylands. Both the physical geography of drylands and political and economic factors can constrain the livelihoods of pastoralist communities. Policies to address climate change impacts should ensure a strong presence of, and voice for, those affected; advance regional cooperation; and focus on improved water management at local, national and regional levels.

Humanitarian Policy Group. (2009). Pastoralism and climate change: Enabling adaptive capacity (HPG Commissioned Reports). London: ODI.
The effects of climate change on the drylands of the Horn of Africa pose difficult policy challenges. This synthesis paper argues that pastoralism is a logical adaptation route in areas of increased climatic variability, and has an important role to play where other livelihoods are likely to fail. However, pastoralists’ resilience to drought and adaptive capacity must be built upon and supported. Evidence suggests policies should support pastoralists to improve drought preparedness, planning, disaster management structures and risk reduction efforts, rather than directly providing adaptation strategies.

Gender, agriculture and climate change

Understanding the gender division of labour in a given context – notably in agricultural activities, care responsibilities, food security and nutrition – is vital to addressing climate change. Analysing gender-specific perceptions and responses to climate risks is also key. Climate change will have gender-differentiated impacts that will require gender-differentiated adaption responses. This is because men’s and women’s roles and experiences vary, as do their abilities to access benefits, their ways of using the natural resource base, and their mitigation strategies. The design of interventions will be heavily influenced by social and cultural norms and by decision-making and bargaining within households (FAO, 2016; Lambrou & Nelson, 2010).

Women play a vital role in agriculture ‒ as producers, processors, traders and agents of food and nutritional security (World Bank, FAO, & IFAD, 2009; 2015). The experience of women and girls in managing natural resources makes them well placed to take a lead in adaptation programmes in the agricultural sector (Skinner, 2011). Policies and legislation are also important to consider when designing interventions. For example, unequal property rights are particularly significant for agricultural interventions, as men and women have different incentives for investments and different levels of access to financial resources (World Bank, FAO, & IFAD, 2009). Gender equality measures need to be taken into account in the food system to promote women’s agency and participation in decision making. Such participation is particularly relevant for climate change adaptation to ensure women share in benefits (Foresight, 2011; FAO, 2016).

Lambrou, Y., & Nelson, S. (2010). Farmers in a changing climate: Does gender matter? Food security in Andhra Pradesh, India. Rome: FAO.
What are the gender dimensions of climate change and agriculture? This report draws on a survey in two drought-prone districts in India. It identifies a strong gender dimension to how climate change is experienced and the response mechanisms men and women adopt. For example, limited water availability increases household work for women, while more women than men indicated they would go without food in times of low rainfall. Gender analysis is recommended to identify differential impacts and mitigation approaches adopted.

World Bank, FAO, &IFAD (2009). Gender in Agriculture sourcebook. Washington, DC: World Bank.
This sourcebook provides a guide for practitioners and technical staff in addressing gender issues, and integrating gender-responsive actions in the design and implementation of agricultural projects and programmes. The sourcebook covers 16 thematic areas, including agriculture, livestock, forestry, and fisheries, and draws from a range of case study examples. The most recent addition to the Sourcebook is Module 18, which focuses on Gender and Climate-Smart Agriculture. The module provides guidance and tools for integrating gender in planning, design, implementation and evaluation of programmes and investments related to climate-smart agriculture.

Agricultural adaptation and mitigation

Agriculture makes a notable contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and so is a prime sector for adaptation and mitigation (IPCC, 2014). Options include both supply- and demand-side measures, including: more efficient management practices of resources such as land and livestock; reduced food losses and waste; and changes in diet and wood consumption (IPCC, 2014; FAO, 2013). Adaptive measures in agriculture can enable higher household incomes, offer greater protection to the asset base, and, importantly, help communities become less vulnerable to extreme weather events (IFAD, 2013). Climate adaptation also presents opportunities for smallholders to diversify production and spread climate risk across different income streams, as well as to build resilience by reducing their dependency on climate-sensitive livelihoods (IFAD, 2014a; 2013; Davies et al., 2009).

Available examples demonstrate success in adopting climate-smart agricultural practices across agricultural sub-sectors and global contexts (FAO, 2014; 2013). Programme mechanisms that have effectively promoted climate-smart interventions through provision of funding opportunities for a range of smallholder adaptation activities include for example, the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP). This programme supports activities ranging from increasing the resilience of rural infrastructure to improving capacity to manage risks from water-related disasters. Some case studies show how ASAP-supported interventions have strengthened women’s empowerment and promoted gender equality – for instance, by increasing women’s asset base (IFAD, 2014b).

IFAD. (2013). The adaptation advantage: The economic benefits of preparing small-scale farmers for climate change. Rome: IFAD.
What are the economic benefits of smallholder adaptation? This report includes case studies from Kenya, Turkey, Viet Nam, Bangladesh and Bolivia, and quantifies benefits using economic evaluations of adaptation measures, such as cost-benefit comparisons. The cases document a range of rural adaptation activities, such as flood protection and economic inclusion, and skill development to improve smallholders’ resilience.

IFAD. (2014a). Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme. Rome: IFAD.
This report outlines of the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), which is a multi-year, multi-donor financing source for smallholders’ adaptation. ASAP aims to: improve land management and promote gender-sensitive and climate-resilient agricultural practices; increase the availability and use of work for agricultural production; increase capacity to manage short- and long-term risks from water-related disasters; increase climate resilience of rural infrastructure; and document and disseminate knowledge on climate-smart practices in smallholder agriculture.

IFAD. (2014b). The gender advantage: Women on the front line of climate change. Rome: IFAD.
This report provides 10 case studies from around the world. These illustrate that gender-sensitive adaptation results in better livelihood options and incomes, more food security and reduced workloads for women and their families, and more informed decision-making about their lives by women and men.

FAO. (2014). Climate-smart agriculture on the ground. Rome: FAO.
This booklet provides successful examples of climate-smart systems supported by FAO in various countries. Cases show the diversity of potential options across different regions and agricultural systems, including forestry, livestock grazing, smallholder farming, ecosystem approaches in the fisheries sector. They also cover subjects such as biodiversity and gender.

IPCC. (2014). Agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU). In O. Edenhofer, R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona et al. (Eds.), Climate change 2014: Mitigation of climate change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge University Press.
How can agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors (AFOLU) mitigate against climate change? Mitigation is derived from both the removal of greenhouse gases, and reducing emissions through the management of land and livestock. The AFOLU sector is responsible for almost a quarter of GHG emissions. Opportunities for mitigation include land and livestock management, reducing losses and waste of food, and changes in diet and wood consumption. Challenges in implementing mitigation options include financing, poverty, technological development, and diffusion and transfer barriers.