New initiative to improve food security amid climate crisis

Egypt’s COP27 Presidency and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched the Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation (FAST) initiative to transform agrifood systems with the aim of improving food security in the world’s most vulnerable communities.

The FAST initiative was launched by El Sayyed Al Quseir, Egypt’s agriculture and land reclamation minister, as part of the activities of ‘Agriculture and Adaptation Day’ held on the sidelines of the 27th session of the United Nations Conference on Climate Change (COP27) which took place in the Egyptian Red Sea city of Sharm El-Sheikh from 6 to 20 November.

It aligns with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goal 2 (SDG 2) which focuses on ending hunger through food security and enhanced nutrition, as well as sustainable agriculture. At the same time, several of the other SDGs relate to challenges in food systems.

Experts have welcomed the initiative as an “important and strategic educational move”. Research has indicated that food systems are responsible for a third of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, while the livelihoods of food producers – farmers, herders, foresters, and fishers – are increasingly threatened by climate change. Experts also called for collaboration across continents.

UNESCO Science Prize laureate, Atta-ur-Rahman, the former coordinator general of the Standing Committee on Scientific and Technological Cooperation of the 57 member states of the Organisation of Islamic Cooperation, which has 22 African member countries, told University World News: “It is strongly recommended that the FAST initiative should closely collaborate with FaST, or Farm Sustainability Tool, launched in the European Union to prevent duplication and avoid ‘reinventing the wheel’, and the organisations can work together to achieve common goals and objectives in their respective regions”.

FaST is an EU-supported digital service platform whereby capabilities for agriculture are made available to farmers, EU member state agencies, farm advisers and researchers.

Professor Ahmed Attia, the head of faculty affairs at the faculty of medical technology at the University of Tripoli in Libya, told University World News that the FAST initiative must help universities across the world to establish institutes or centres of food security and the environment to help governments to identify the current challenges, review the food insecurity problems from different perspectives and propose ways or solutions to address the problems of food systems and the challenge of feeding the exponentially growing population.

According to Attia, universities worldwide should establish a faculty of food security by designing a syllabus and education programme that links food security and food systems because they are cross-dimensional subjects and require the coverage of multiple subject areas.

‘Such a structure [a faculty of food security] will help to produce the scientific workforce, including experts in relevant research, economic and policy areas, who are able to design new approaches for solving food security’s global challenges,” Attia said.

Francis Andrianarison, a senior economist and head of the policy and strategy unit at the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Benin, told University World News that he supports the idea of an integrated approach connecting food security and poverty in higher education syllabi. Tertiary education geared towards agriculture and rural development could benefit rural areas, he said.

Andrianarison is the author of the 2022 study “Unravelling the Linkage between Food Security, Poverty Reduction, and Education for Sustainable Development” which highlights the role of education in enabling sustainable development.

Professor Mame Samba Mbaye at Cheikh Anta Diop University in Senegal told University World News that FAST is an opportunity for African universities to improve training to develop adequate human capital, research and innovation, especially digital innovations for food systems transformation, entrepreneurship and community services.

“For African universities, FAST is also a great opportunity for mobilising additional resources and establishing equitable partnerships,” Mbaye added.

Atta-ur-Rahman told University World News: “The FAST initiative will provide African universities an ideal opportunity to contribute to the process of socio-economic development of African countries by working on agriculture projects related to the most recent advances in agriculture sciences.”

Knowledge and capacity-building

Besides enhancing countries’ capacities to identify and increase access to climate finance and investment, the priorities for FAST also include supporting knowledge and capacity-building, as well as developing policy support and dialogue.

The initiative will focus on providing a platform for harvesting, sharing and disseminating knowledge, good practices and lessons learned on climate action within agrifood systems, as well as enhancing countries’ capacity to assess the impacts of climate change on the Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus.

FAST will also develop guidelines, datasets, tools, harmonised approaches and recommendations and metrics, as well as setting up knowledge clusters based on members’ interests, to reinforce existing processes of assessment, guidance and knowledge-sharing, such as the FAO’s Climate Change Knowledge Hub (CC-Hub).

The CC-Hub aims at enhancing the capacity of countries to deliver on their climate and sustainable development goals through knowledge and information resources, data, learning materials and activities, guidelines, policy advice and tools, as well as interactive features that allow users to connect with peers, experts and capacity-building providers.

Policy support and dialogues

In addition, the FAST initiative will focus on ensuring that agrifood systems are fully embedded and given the necessary priority and importance in climate change policies.

This will be done through analysing and synthesising the role of agrifood systems’ current policies to facilitate a better understanding of country priorities, challenges and support needs, and identifying the ‘gaps’ and ‘opportunities’ for enhancing adaptation and mitigation policies, including considering the regional specificities.

FAST will also develop a science-based vision at global and national levels and mobilise a high-ambition collaboration platform for advocacy, outreach and communications.

FAST will focus on using the best available science and innovation systems, including local knowledge and practices, in facing the impact of climate change on hunger and malnutrition and exploring how climate change adaptation could end hunger and malnutrition.

Role of universities in Africa

Mbaye suggested that, in the context of the FAST initiative, universities in Africa should revise, adapt, and expand their curricula to build adequate skills to fill the gaps between skills and needed jobs.

“Relevant capacity-building programmes should be built for community empowerment through building tight relationships with communities, especially rural ones, for food security and safety through smart agriculture in a changing world (climate change, pandemics, socioeconomic and political crises),” Mbaye pointed out.

“In addition, universities could share their experiences and training and research facilities,” he said.