Hunger, Nutrition, and Climate Justice: A New Dialogue

By Kati Garrison, Dominican Volunteer

In April, I received an invitation to attend the Hunger, Nutrition, and Climate Justice conference in Dublin, Ireland. This particular meeting aimed to place key global development leaders alongside individuals who experience the harsh realities of climate change and nutrition insecurity on a daily basis. A few of the policy experts present included:

  • Mary Robinson, president of the Mary Robinson Climate Justice Foundation
  • Olivier De Schutter, UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food
  • Ertharin Cousin, executive director of the UN World Food Programme
  • Amina Mohammed, UN Secretary-General’s Special Advisor on Post-2015 Development Planning
  • David Nabarro, special representative of the UN Secretary General for Food Security and Nutrition
  • Al Gore, former vice president of the United States and a leader on the campaign to raise awareness of global warming thorough the documentary “An Inconvenient Truth”

More importantly, more than one-third of the conference participants were individuals characterized as living and working on the frontlines, or “on the ground,” to address the issues of hunger, nutrition and climate justice. This proportion is remarkably notable in contrast to the representation of practitioners at conventional UN meetings. The event organizers made a substantial effort to achieve this presence in order to encourage and inspire innovative thinking and solutions, open new dialogue, and to invigorate and broaden the debate at all levels, as opposed to the maintenance of the diplomatic status quo. As stated by Mary Robinson:

By affording local practitioners, farmers’ organization representatives and vulnerable households the opportunity to tell their stories to key international policymakers, the conference [takes] an important step in enabling these voices to influence new international development strategies; while ensuring that the linkages between hunger, nutrition and climate justice are reflected in future policy decisions.

In other words, the voices of these individuals were not only meant to be heard and listened to at the conference but also incorporated into the policy and implementation outcomes.

Overall, the development discourse between these stakeholders predominantly focused on two objectives:

  1. A review of the progress on Millennium Development Goals, and
  2. A commencement of the policy discussion in regards to the post-2015 development agenda.

Let us take a step back for a moment to briefly discuss the interconnected nature of the issues of hunger, nutrition, and climate justice in an attempt to better comprehend why they constitute increasingly important components of the development debate. According to the conference document “A New Dialogue: Putting People at the Heart of Global Development,”

Climate change impacts on food and nutritional security are exacerbating existing vulnerabilities and inequalities in resource access, especially for women who are primarily responsible for food production and for feeding families. This is unjust, because those who have done least to cause climate change will suffer disproportionately from its effects. Climate change is undermining the rights of vulnerable and marginalized people, including their right to food, to health, to water and to life itself.

It is estimated that climate change causes an average of 400,000 deaths each year, mainly due to hunger and communicable diseases that particularly affect children in developing countries. Generally, the poorest and most food-insecure people living in marginal and fragile environments have the least ability to manage increasing climate-related risks. When climate-related disasters occur, they often devastate livelihoods and assets, leaving long-term consequences. Climate justice seeks to highlight and remedy these impacts through a rights-based and human-centered approach. It aims to safeguard the rights of the most vulnerable and share the burdens and benefits of climate change and actions to resolve it equitably and fairly.

An animation produced for the purposes of this conference excellently encapsulates this relationship between hunger, nutrition, and climate justice.

One of the highlighted voices at the conference was that of a case study on Nyando, Kenya, where the effects of climate change and variability manifest as drought, floods, and unpredictable rainfall. Here, poverty is prevalent, and farming remains the primary source of income. A lack of crop diversity and land degradation, due to soil erosion in the rainy seasons, increase the vulnerability of the community to climate risks, thereby reducing household food supplies and the increasing the prevalence of malnutrition in its inhabitants.

To address these matters, people in Nyando established a community-based organization with smaller self-help groups as members. Together, these groups utilize community empowerment and collective action to address food insecurity and malnutrition. (It is interesting to note that 70 to 85 percent of the active members are women). The groups work with local farmers, research development partners, and government extension agents to test methods of effective climate change adaptation, mitigation, and risk management interventions.

A few of the outcomes of this collaboration include, but are not limited to:

  • Diversification of livelihoods. This empowers individual households by providing them with a range of income-generating options (i.e., beekeeping, small livestock production, and polyculture farming) to increase income and thus food security
  • Crop diversification. The introduction of sorghum, pigeon peas, cowpeas, green grams, and sweet potatoes now supplement the traditional maize, cassava, and bean staple crops. These new crops offer disease resistance and varying climatic resilience.
  • Mitigation interventions. Agro-forestry and land and water management practice are now being taught and implemented to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Nyando. Examples of this include composting, terracing, and the erection of water storage devices.
  • Building resilience. Through the efforts of a collective financial savings program, the local communities have established an agricultural supply shop that is able to offer farmers high quality inputs (e.g., seeds), affordable prices, and agricultural advice/information.

In the Nyando, Kenya case study outlined above, local knowledge worked together with scientific knowledge to enable farmers and those most affected by climate change to access knowledge, shape how this knowledge was developed, and be involved as decision makers to change their future. In sum, “linking climate risk management, mitigation, and adaptation interventions through a broad partnership has diversified enterprises, empowering farmers to become more resilient.”

As the United Nations moves forward in its formulation of the post-2015 development agenda, case studies such as Nyando, Kenya, aid in the cultivation of learning from practical local experience and evidence to inform a new approach to development that responds to people’s lives and supports their strategies for coping with hunger, nutrition, and climate injustice. As Simon Coveney, the Irish Minister for Agriculture, Food, and the Marine, succinctly described, “We need to find new ways to do more with less that do not undermine traditional practices and knowledge.”

Accordingly, the key development leaders at the conference are advocating for the following:

The post-2015 development agenda must adopt a more holistic agenda that acknowledges the inter-linkages between hunger, nutrition and climate justice. It should strive to support and establish new integrated approaches to include, for example, universal human rights, more workable systems of global governance, fairer regimes for taxes and trade, and provisions for both social protection and environmental wellbeing. The post-2015 agenda will only be relevant and useful if it is developed through an inclusive and bottom-up approach.

It is my hope that the voices from the grassroots present this conference will not only be heard and listened to, but I hope they will also be incorporated into the policy and implementation outcomes of the post-2015 agenda to address the issues of hunger, nutrition, and climate justice.