To beat hunger and combat climate change, world must ‘scale-up’ soil health – UN
On Sunday, more than 2,000 scientists gathered in Rio de Janeiro under the theme “Soil Science: Beyond food and fuel,” for a week of exploring the increasingly complex, diverse role of soils; grappling with resilient agriculture practices to address environmental and climatic changes; and confronting threats to food security and sovereignty.
“Soil degradation affects food production, causing hunger and malnutrition, amplifying food-price volatility, forcing land abandonment and involuntary migration-leading millions into poverty,” said José Graziano da Silva, the Director-General of the Food and Agriculture Organizaation (FAO), in a video message noting that approximately one-third of the Earth’s soil is degraded
The FAO The Status of the World’s Soil Resources report had identified 10 major threats to soil functions, including soil erosion, nutrient imbalance, acidification and contamination.
Mr. Graziano da Silva stressed the importance of sustainable soil management as an “essential part of the Zero Hunger equation” in a world where more than 815 million people are suffering from hunger and malnutrition.
Soils and climate change
“Although soils are hidden and frequently forgotten, we rely on them for our daily activities and for the future of the planet,” the FAO chief said, underscoring the important support role they play in mitigating or adapting to a changing climate.
Mr. Graziano da Silva specifically pointed to the potential of soils for carbon sequestration and storage – documented in FAO’s global soil organic carbon map.
“Maintaining and increasing soil carbon stock should become a priority,” asserted the UN agriculture chief.
He also noted how soils act as filters for contaminants, preventing their entry into the food chain and reaching water bodies such as rivers, lakes and oceans, flagging that this potential becomes limited when contamination exceeds the soils’ capacity to cope with pollution.
In his message, Mr. Graziano da Silva noted the Global Soil Partnership in which FAO works with governments and other partners to build technical capacity and exchange knowledge on sustainable soil management through the Voluntary Guidelines for Sustainable Soil Management.
“Let us make soils a vehicle of prosperity and peace, and show the contribution of soils to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals,” concluded the FAO Director-General said.
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Disaster risk outpaces resilience in Asia-Pacific, warns UN regional commission
“Disasters can very quickly strip poor people of their livelihoods bringing deeply disruptive impacts that push them back into absolute poverty or trap them in an intergenerational transmission of poverty,” said Shamshad Akhtar, Executive Secretary of the UN Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific (ESCAP), as she launched the report in Bangkok today.
Asia-Pacific Disaster Report 2017 shows that the greatest impacts of disasters are in countries which have the least capacity to prepare or respond to these events. Between 2000 and 2015, the low- and lower middle-income countries in the region experienced almost 15 times more disaster deaths than the region’s high-income countries.
Beyond the human costs, ESCAP research indicates that between 2015 and 2030, 40 per cent of global economic losses from disasters will be in Asia and the Pacific, while the region accounts for around 36 per cent of global gross domestic product (GDP).
The greatest burden of the losses as a proportion of GDP will be borne by small island developing States with average annual losses close to 4 per cent of their GDP while the least developed countries will have annual losses of around 2.5 per cent of GDP.
Ms. Akhtar said that action on early warning systems is critical, and called for cost-effective financing that is needed to decrease the existing resilience gaps.
“The absence of an institutionalized insurance culture and adequate post disaster financing threaten our extraordinary economic and developmental achievements. Promoting more, and deeper, collaboration among countries in the region on disaster risk financing will be an ESCAP priority,” she added.
In recent months, the region has seen Typhoon Hato unleash large scale damage in Hong Kong, and Macau, that stretched all the way to Vietnam, along with torrential monsoon rains in Bangladesh, India and Nepal that claimed more than 900 lives and affected another 41 million people.
ESCAP argues that measures for disaster risk reduction should take account of the shifting risks associated with climate change, especially in risk hotspots where a greater likelihood of change coincides with a higher concentration of poor, vulnerable or marginalized people.
The report – presented at the opening of the ESCAP Committee on Disaster Risk Reduction during the first ESCAP Disaster Resilience Week – aims to assist policymakers, in both public and private sectors, to better understand disaster risk and take action in the context of the 2030 Agenda on Sustainable Development and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction.Back to Top
Haiti: UN agricultural development fund supports hurricane-affected farmers with $11 million
The funds will be distributed through the Agricultural and Agroforestry Technological Innovation Programme, known by its French acronym PITAG, extending its reach to eight additional municipalities in Haiti’s South Department, and spreading sustainable agricultural practices and technologies.
“Haiti’s rural population suffers from a vicious circle of low agricultural productivity, high environmental degradation and poor nutrition,” said Lars Anwandter, who leads IFAD’s programme in Haiti.
Weak agricultural practices in Haiti have been compounded by a series of natural disasters. The most recent, Hurricane Matthew, which struck the south-western part of the tiny island nation on 4 October 2016, left 2.1 million people severely affected, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA).
As of February 2018, some 622,100 are reportedly still in need of food security assistance.
While the situation in Haiti has improved since the hurricane hit, deep-seated vulnerabilities persist. Over the past few decades, Haiti has seen its soils, water reservoirs and woods severely degraded. World Bank data shows that 59 per cent of the total population lives below the poverty line and the figure rises to 75 per cent in rural areas.
Today, Haiti produces only 45 per cent of the food that Haitians need.
“[PITAG] aims to break this cycle and help small farm families improve their productivity, food security and income levels,” said Mr. Anwandter. For example, the programme proposes the combinations of fruit trees and vegetable cultivations as a means to achieve larger harvests and feed more people, all in an environmentally-sustainable manner.
The new technologies and practices endorsed by PITAG will be put in place through farmer field schools, a method of learning which involves community-based and peer-to-peer teaching programmes. After the training, small farmers will get tools, seeds and other inputs to practice the innovations they will have learned.
Currently, PITAG – a $76.8 million programme – is already under way in many areas of Haiti thanks to financial support from the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) and the Global Agriculture and Food Security Program (GAFSP).
With 65,000 small farming households targeted, the project focuses particularly on women, youth and other vulnerable groups.
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FROM THE FIELD: Indian Ocean perfume islands threatened by climate change
Some 200,000 Comorians rely solely on agriculture to make a living from crops such as ylang-ylang, vanilla and clove; fragrant plants which have led many to name the small island nation, the perfume islands.
But, changes to the climate are upending traditional agricultural practices and threatening the islanders’ livelihoods.
UNDP has partnered with the Government of Comoros to mentor farmers in a new agricultural approach.
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