How to Combat Hunger in Times of Climate Crisis?

'We got to manage risks, not disasters.' Development cooperation in times of climate change: Focus on mitigation, on adaptation and food systems is needed. Martin Frick, chief of the World Food Programme (WFP) Bureau in Berlin, on the future of the global fight against hunger.

Teilnehmende der Studie aus dem Lebensmittelsektor sind besonders von Nahrungsunsicherheit betroffen. (c) SLE
Agriculture accounts for 20 percent of global emissions. The WFP asks OECD-countries to transit to climate positive agriculture, for instance through improved soilmanagement. © GIZ/Carolin Weinkopf

Dr. Martin Frick

Since November 2021, Dr. Martin Frick is Chief of the WFP-Bureau for Germany, Austria and Liechtenstein in Berlin. Previously, he served as special envoy of the UN Secretary-General at the Food Systems Summit 2021, Executive Director of the UNFCCC-secretariat tasked with the implementation of the Paris Climate Agreement and as FAO-Climate Chief.

UN World Food Programme (WFP)

World Food Programme

Jan Rübel

Jan Rübel is author at Zeitenspiegel Reportagen, a columnist at Yahoo and writes for national newspapers and magazines. He studied History and Middle Eastern Studies.

How does the WFP assess COP26?
Gradual progress: not the big breakthrough the world really needs to stay below 1.5 degrees, but a step in the right direction. One of our criticisms at the WFP is the continuing lack of focus on adaptation, and that there’s not enough discussion of food systems on the whole. Nor did it really emerge what the OECD countries have to implement in relation to climate-positive agriculture, for example through better soil management.

 

What did the countries of the Global South get out of it?
A very sobering result: the promised compensation for losses suffered from climate change is still up in the air.  In Madagascar, for example, 1.4 million people are on the verge of famine – not because of any conflicts, which are the usual cause of starvation, but mainly because of climate change.

 

Why has this obligation not been established so far?
It is due to a great fear that the OECD countries could face huge demands for money, but also to a lack of understanding of what is actually meant by this compensation: the climate is an accelerant for existing crises.

 

We are already paying for climate damage in the form of humanitarian aid.

 

I hope that we will consider the whole thing in a more integrated way. Any great efforts we make today will alleviate the problem we will have to face in the future, anyway.

 

You speak of the gradual progress made at COP26: that won't be enough for Madagascar and other countries, will it?
Absolutely not. That's the short response. The long response is: we are faced with an environmental problem that we can’t solve quickly, like we did with the acid rain we had in the past. We have been accumulating CO2 emissions in the atmosphere over decades, and this has the property of staying there for a very long time. Even if we step on the climate brakes now, the climate will continue to heat up. So, if we are now making a great effort to stay below global warming of 1.5 degrees, then that’s a limit that we must not exceed. Otherwise, we risk the collapse of entire ecosystems.

 

If we allow global warming of 2.0 degrees, that will mean 189 million more starving people.

 

And that in a situation in which a tenth of the entire world's population is already affected by hunger.

 

Do you remember when you first heard about climate change?
I don’t remember. However, I can remember one moment very well, from the first half of 2007, when Germany held the EU Council Presidency. At the time, I was the EU's chief negotiator for the creation of the Human Rights Council. The Maldives was already calling for human rights and climate change to be included in the resolution for the Human Rights Council. Then I understood: climate change isn’t just about polar bears; it’s also affecting human rights.
 
Since when has climate change been on the WFP’s agenda?
For a long time. We didn't call it climate change at the time, but the southward expansion of the Sahara, for example, was a longstanding concern for the WFP. Or the weather phenomena El Niño and El Niña, which have preoccupied us for years, and with ever increasing vehemence.
 
How much money is the WFP currently mobilising to help combat and adapt to climate change?
It is difficult to put a figure on that because we basically want to take climate change into account in all of our programmes. And we are planning some comprehensive packages: in the Sahel zone, for example, infrastructure measures go hand in hand with food security, school meals, etc. This holistic approach combines humanitarian aid with development cooperation and peacekeeping.

 

Does climate change mean that development cooperation needs to be rethought?
It works just as it always has. But climate change must always be taken into account; above all, we have to create greater resilience. It can anticipate impending disasters so that we can then buffer the effects with relatively little money. It also ensures that long-term development successes are not jeopardised.   
 
Will climate become the most important trend in fighting hunger? What interactions are there with other trends, such as conflicts and governance?
These other drivers of poverty and hunger are not reducing in strength – on the contrary.

 

With intelligent politics and anticipation, we can prevent climate shocks from turning into climate catastrophes.

 

The point is to prevent them from becoming accelerants. We have to manage risks, not disasters.

 

How might that happen?
For example, in July 2020, four days before the severe flooding that had been forecast, we gave cash to 120,000 people in Bangladesh. This enabled them to bring property and cattle to safety. This kind of joined-up thinking, long-term development and the ability to act quickly and in the short term help immensely.  It creates crisis resilience.

 

You have extensive experience as a diplomat. Once a military conflict takes hold as a starvation driver, it is difficult to resolve. It’s much easier to be proactive when it comes to climate change: you know what’s to be done. So, why are we still playing catch-up?
On  the one hand, there are very strong interests at play, for example the argument of historical emissions, which developing countries bring in. I think it will be very important to create perspectives that are not based on realising the same development model, but on using new technologies directly. Let me give you an example: The almost comprehensive network coverage for mobile phones on the African continent – without a significant number of households ever having had a landline connection. These possibilities are huge; photovoltaics, for example, will play an incredibly important role.

 

Quinoa könnte in Zentralasien ein riesiges Potenzial haben, wo das Aralseebecken besonders stark von der Versalzung betroffen ist. Foto: ICBA
When stabilizing sand dunes, straw is assembled in squares and a tree planted inside. As soon as the trees take roots, the dune stops moving and the dune can be farmed on. © GIZ/Hilmar Foellmi

The WFP wants to work increasingly with early warning systems in the fight against hunger in the shadow of climate change. What role will they play?
We now have very detailed knowledge of the climate. We have built incredible capacities, for example satellite observation, sensor technology and communication channels, so that we can predict exactly how situations will develop. We are also seeing long-term trends – in Afghanistan, for example, periods of drought occur more and more frequently and last longer. There’s an opportunity to combine the new technologies with traditional techniques, such as in the Sahel: there, old planting practices are being revived and crescent-like depressions are being created in the ground – they are better at absorbing the often very sudden heavy rainfalls and offer a good basis for planting trees; this is monitored by drones and satellites.

 

It all costs money. It cannot be ruled out that international funds for the fight against hunger will not increase. If they now also have to support measures to respond to climate change, could this risk devaluing other areas of hunger control?
There will always be classic humanitarian aid, just as there will always be situations in which people need food quickly and their lives must be saved.

 

On the other hand, we realise that we cannot save the same people every year.

 

That is why we and our donors are investing in prevention, in models that create resilience.  

 

You just touched on Afghanistan. Since the Taliban came to power, the WFP has been one of the few organisations that has stayed in the country to support the growing number of starving people. What are the staff on the ground reporting? How do you assess the development of the situation?
It is a very worrying development at the moment. The number of starving people has skyrocketed across the country, across all segments of the population. The federal government has helped us to increase aid significantly, and we’ve already reached 13.7 million people this year. That’s four million more than in 2020. We’re currently expanding our logistics so we can help almost 23 million people in the coming year. The need is enormous.

 

Because of the political situation?
Not only: it’s also because of the droughts and the economic impact of the pandemic. The logistical aspect will become even harder when the winter sets in.

 

The number of people in need in Afghanistan is the highest we have ever seen.

 

Half of all children under five, i.e., 3.2 million children, are at risk of acute malnutrition.   

 

How is dealing with the Taliban government going?
So far, humanitarian access has been secured in all 34 provinces. Our Executive Director personally campaigned for this in Kabul. Fortunately, we have been able to reach people.

 

Have there been any restrictions since they came to power?
Not for humanitarian aid. However, access was not equally rapid in all provinces.

 

Do you also see an opportunity for development cooperation in Afghanistan?
That is also a political question, which is currently on pause.

 

We are currently trying specifically to alleviate the suffering of the people by supporting them with nutritional aid that is essential for survival.

 

Quinoa könnte in Zentralasien ein riesiges Potenzial haben, wo das Aralseebecken besonders stark von der Versalzung betroffen ist. Foto: ICBA
An UNHCR refugee camp in iraq. The climate crisis fuels hunger: A rise in global temperature by 2 degrees celsius would result in 189 million more hungry people. © GIZ/Markus Kirchgessner

Is Afghanistan a paradigm for the fact that humanitarian aid will be needed more and more and that this will replace development cooperation more and more often in the future?
I wouldn't see that in black and white terms. But the fact is: if we don’t provide intelligent, forward-looking and climate-sensitive development cooperation, humanitarian needs will continue to grow. That’s the problem we need to solve. It speaks in favour of a very strong network of different communities, including different funding circuits, from emergency aid to crisis prevention and development cooperation, including all the transitions in between – we have to think together and shape it dynamically.

 

The WFP is mostly active in the Global South. What does the North have to do to address climate change?
Up to now, in the climate debate, we have often had to consider whether to reduce more or to adapt more. Aggressive mitigation is an absolute imperative.

 

Each tenth of a degree of atmospheric warming translates into human suffering.

 

We have to change our societies now, and we have to act quickly. It is making its way into politics, but slowly. If we get below a limit of 1.5 degrees, we will still be able to manage these crises; beyond that, no more. The peaceful, rules-based coexistence of humanity is also at stake. At the same time, climate change is already affecting millions of people – and we are called upon to rapidly reduce this suffering. A hundred billion dollars in annual funds were promised at the 2009 climate conference in Copenhagen, half of which was for adaptation measures. We still don't have that.

 

You spoke of aggressive mitigation: in your opinion, was it a good idea for the new federal government to integrate climate protection into a strengthened Federal Ministry of Economics under the Green Robert Habeck?
I don't want to comment on politics. However, this federal election has also been described as the climate election. Naturally, it’s very promising that climate issues are moving up the political agenda in the new federal government. Together with the new federal government, we hope to be able to use our expertise against hunger and climate change.  

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The 'Grey Gold'

A contribution by Maria Schmidt (GIZ)

The Cashew Council is the first international organisation for a raw material stemming from Africa. The industry promises to make progress in processing and refining cashew nuts - and answers to climate change

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(c) Privat

Borderless food security

A contribution by Christine Wieck

Enabling smallholders to trade across regions and borders promotes food security and economic growth. Although everyone is calling for exactly that, implementation is still difficult

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(c) Privat

Small Farms, big money

A contribution by Agnes Kalibata

Agnes Kalibata, AGRA president since 2014 and former minister of agriculture and wildlife in Rwanda, is convinced that Africa's economy will only grow sustainably if small-scale agriculture is also seen as an opportunity.

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What do you expect from this Pre Summit, Mr. Haddad?

Interview with Lawrence Haddad (GAIN)

Nutrition experts from all over the world are coming together in Rome. They are not only distilling 2000 ideas to improve food systems - they are also preparing for the big UN summit in New York in September. An interview. 

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Mr. Campari, how do we create sustainable food systems?

Interview with Joao Campari (WWF)

Journalist Jan Rübel spoke with Joao Campari ahead of the UNFSS Pre-Summit. The Chair of Action Track 3 highlights key challenges in transforming existing food systems towards sustainable production and shares his expectations for the Summit.

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The fight against illegal fishing

A Report

The oceans are important for our food supply, but they are overfished. To halt this trend the global community is now taking action against illegal fishing. Journalist Jan Rübel spoke with Francesco Marí, a specialist for world food, agricultural trade and maritime policy at "Brot für die Welt," and others.

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How do you campaign “Food Systems”?

Interview with Paul Newnham, Director of the SDG 2 Advocacy Hub.

The UN Food Systems pre-Summit in Rome dealt with transforming the ways of our nutrition. How do you bring that to a broad public? Questions to Paul Newnham, the Director of the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 2 Advocacy Hub.

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The Rice Sector in West Africa: A Political Challenge

New insights on trade and value addition in the rice sector in West Africa

Low import tariffs, smuggling activities, unpredictable tax exemptions and weak enforcement of food safety standards: The potential of local rice value chains is undermined in West African countries.

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UNFSS Pre-Summit: What did it achieve?

Interview with Martina Fleckenstein (WWF), Michael Kühn (WHH) and Christel Weller-Molongua (GIZ)

After the summit means pre-summit: It was the first time that the United Nations held a summit on food systems. Martina Fleckenstein, Michael Kühn and Christel Weller-Molongua reviewed the situation in this joint interview.

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How can the private sector prevent food loss and waste?

An interview with David Brand (GIZ)

From a circular food system in Rwanda to functioning cooled transports in Kenya: The lab of tomorrow addresses development challenges such as preventing food loss and waste

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From lost products to safe food - Innovations from Zambia

A contribution by GIZ

In Zambia, innovative approaches are used to address the problem of post-harvest losses in the groundnut value chain. GIZ's Rapid Loss Appraisal Tool (RLAT) can help to develop more such approaches.

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(c) GIZ

Land Rights for Secure Livelihoods: My Land is My Life

Three quarters of the world's population do not have secure land rights, which hinders investment and innovation. The project "Improvement of Livelihood and Food Security" supports smallholder farmers in acquiring land.

A project of GIZ

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The Future of Development Politics: Voices from the Parliamentary Groups

A Contribution by Journalist Jan Rübel

Representatives of the six parliamentary groups offer their views on the future of German development cooperation.

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Cooperation and Effective Incentives for Sustainable Land Use

A Contribution by GIZ

The second GFFA expert panel highlights the need for governance action to reverse global trends of land degradation.

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GFFA for New Perspectives on the Planet’s Soils

A Contribution by Journalist Jan Ruebel

For five days, the 2022 Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) in Berlin is all about strategies for a more sustainable land use.

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Together towards Sustainable Development: Private Sector Cooperation

A Multimedia-Toolbox by GIZ

Achieving the Sustainable Development Goals through responsible investments in the agri-food sector of emerging countries.

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German G7 Presidency – fighting hunger with all our might

A Contribution by Welthungerhilfe

In the run-up to the G7 summit, experts from politics and civil society discussed sustainable and more effective options for action by the G7 states to combat hunger.

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Poverty Power Hunger

Publication of the Heinrich Böll Foundation and TMG ThinkTank for Sustainability.

The global community is failing in the fight against hunger and malnutrition. This is shown in the factsheet "Poverty Makes Hunger" published by the Heinrich Böll Foundation and the TMG ThinkTank for Sustainability. Read the full report here.

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