PCGFS Faculty Research Highlights

Tom HertelConsequences of Climate Change for Food Security and Poverty

Thomas Hertel
Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics

Over the past decade, much has been written about the consequences of climate change for agriculture and food security. Unfortunately, most studies seeking to link climate change to food security simply assume that higher food prices will lead to diminished food security. Dr. Thomas Hertel, Distinguished Professor of Agricultural Economics at Purdue University, and a member of the Center for Global Food Security, argues that this can be highly misleading. It is important to also consider the links from climate change and prices to livelihoods and the well-being of households living at, or below, the poverty line. In recent research, published in Global Environmental Change and Nature Climate Change, Hertel and his co-authors highlight the differential impacts of climate change and higher food prices on urban vs. rural poverty, and, within the rural areas, the impact on farmer vs. landless households. Based on estimated climate impacts over the next two decades, they find that poverty rates fall for farm households in regions that are relatively less affected by climate change, whereas they rise for the urban poor in parts of Africa and Asia. This research highlights the need for future climate impact assessments to pay closer attention to the future distribution of poverty, both between rural and urban areas, as well as across sectors of the economy.

While much attention has been devoted to the impact of climate change on agriculture, far less research has focused on the consequences of climate mitigation policies on agriculture, prices and poverty. In novel research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences and Environmental Research Letters, Hertel and his collaborators find that, in the near term, the impact of land-based climate mitigation policies could have a more significant impact on poverty than climate change itself. They focus on policies aimed at slowing deforestation, as well as encouraging reforestation (nick-named REDD+), as well as policies aimed at reducing methane and nitrous oxide emissions from agriculture. They find that these mitigation policies tend to boost the prices for land, as well as for food. Since the poor tend to own relatively little land – and often what they do own is held communally – they benefit relatively less from mitigation subsidies. On the other hand, since they spend a large share of their income on food, they are disproportionately injured by the rising food prices. As a consequence, such mitigation policies tend to boost overall poverty in many countries. This suggests that aggressive land-based climate mitigation policies in the developing world must be accompanied by safety nets to insure that the poor are not made worse off as the world seeks to come to grips with climate change.

Sylvie BrouderConservation Agriculture Assessment

Sylvie Brouder
Professor of Agronomy

Conservation Agriculture (CA) is a suite of agronomic managements that developed as a means to combat the terrible erosion from the 1930’s Dust Bowl in the United States. CA’s three principle practices – zero or low tillage, crop residue or mulch cover, and crop rotation – have been promoted globally as an indivisible package without a solid scientific understanding of the impact of each practice, especially in the context of smallholder farmers. Dr. Sylvie Brouder has been on the forefront of research on how the CA practices impact yields, environment, revenue streams and social interactions.

Brouder was enlisted as part of a team by the Independent Science and Partnership Council (ISPC) associated with the CGIAR (Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research) to conduct a study on the role of CA in meeting system level outcomes. In collaboration with a multi-disciplinary team, Brouder examined the impact of CA on yields, ecosystem services and economic viability.

Brouder reviewed literature, analyzed studies and assessed available data on CA with a topical focus on tillage and yields and a geographic focus on Sub-Sahara Africa (SSA) and South Asia (SA). Brouder found that field experiments lacked critical data on soils, weather and crop management practices. The dearth of studies/data on the impact CA component practices – individually and in combination – on yields and agroecological drivers of yields (e.g. soil health, weed pressure, etc.) made it impossible to predict the crop and farming systems where smallholders would consistently reap the desired benefits of boosted yields and productivity with concomitant enhancement of soils and the natural resource base. In many cases, yield losses, at least in the near-term, were observed but experimental data were too sparse or incomplete to quantitatively link real world cause and effect.

Brouder presented the findings of her studies, along with other team members in various forums culminating in the Nebraska Declaration on Conservation Agriculture. The 44 scientists signing the Declaration on CA agreed that strictly applying the three CA practices may not meet the “diverse political, socio-economic and agroecological contexts” of the small-scale farm enterprises in SSA and SA. The consensus of the Nebraska Declaration “suggests that sustainable intensification in smallholder systems in SSA and SA requires incremental positive change brought about by focused and long-term research and development programs”. The collective work of the ISPC CA team has identified knowledge and infrastructure gaps in making CA science useful/relevant to smallholder farmers and led to a refocusing of the CA agenda from a panacea for smallholders to a “tools-in-toolkit” approach that has now been assimilated into the research for development agenda.

Connie WeaverDietary Guidelines for a Healthier World

Connie Weaver
Distinguished Professor of Nutrition Science

Establishing dietary guidance is complex. Dr. Connie Weaver serves on panels and committees that determine nutrient requirements and Dietary Guidelines for Americans. She also dedicates an important part of her research program to conducting the related clinical nutrition research. Her recommendations form the basis for the USDA dietary guidance known as MyPlate. Much of the world uses nutrient requirements and dietary guidance that U.S. panels have determined. Developing countries lack the resources to develop their own databases, and often to convene their own panels. Weaver has advised many governments, scientific societies, and committees worldwide. Through partnerships developed in the International Breast Cancer and Nutrition project housed at Purdue, Weaver and her team are working to determine representative diets, expand food composition databases, and ultimately, link diet to breast cancer incidence in Mongolia, Uruguay, Lebanon, France, Taiwan, Korea, Ghana, and the United States.

Phil AbbottAssessing Food Stocks for a More Food Secure World

Phillip Abbott
Professor Emeritus of Agricultural Economics

After the world food price crisis of 2007-2008, food security issues were elevated to the attention of the G8 and G20 coalitions of nations. A consortium of international organizations recognized the need for better agricultural market information as one of its key recommendations to the G8 and G20. As a follow-up, an initiative of the G20 created the Agricultural Market Information System (AMIS). In 2013, AMIS asked Dr. Phil Abbott to determine current and best practices in grain stocks measurement, the consequences of the existing situation in terms of market information quality, and the prospects for improving market information. Abbott’s review identified serious problems with the approach used in most countries. Market information is generally superior when observation of stocks positions (surveying) is used to estimate their magnitude.

Following Abbott’s initial report, he helped organize a series of international meetings to encourage implementation of the findings. This has influenced the way stocks positions are measured in AMIS-member countries. Abbott’s complementary research sought to identify lessons from research on stabilization policy responses following the 2007-2008 food crisis, and from the research on current and best practices in estimating stocks data.