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The G7 is right to put food at the heart of climate plans. But how matters

This dry season, farmers in Madagascar will dig for water, as bone-dry rivers make it almost impossible to grow crops and keep livestock healthy. Others will be trying to salvage what they can of their harvests following intense rains and floods.

Despite contributing just 0.01% of climate emissions, my country is one of the most vulnerable to its impacts. Climate change is making Madagascar hotter, the rains more unpredictable, and floods, drought, cyclones, and hurricanes more common. Farmers – the mainstay of our economy – are hardest hit.

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We are not alone. African agriculture is under assault from climate change. The combined impact of drought and floods means that 24 million people in southern Africa currently face hunger, malnutrition, and water scarcity. Overseas, consumers are facing price surges in cocoa as global supply chains are disrupted by extreme weather and changes in seasons.

At the G7 Summit this month, world leaders will try to tackle these crises. 

Italy, in its role as G7 President, will launch the Apulia Food Systems Initiative, to reduce hunger and malnutrition, increase climate resilience, and reduce emissions in the agri-food sector.

A more joined up approach to climate change and food security is welcome. But the G7’s track record on food initiatives is patchy at best. Will this one succeed? To do so, three ingredients are needed.

First, their plan must meet the needs of Africa’s 33 million small-scale farmers, who produce up to 70% of the food consumed on the continent, support the livelihoods of millions of people, and are critical to the global supply of commodities such as rice, coffee and wheat. This means involving family farmers’ organisations as expert partners from the outset – not tagging them on as “beneficiaries” at the end of the planning process. It’s telling that the Apulia Initiative was developed without their input. If this doesn’t change, it can’t hope to understand or address the daily challenges they face.

In Madagascar, where more than 80% of farms are family-run, we have seen the value of working in partnership with producers. In 2015, we established the National Committee for Family Farming which provides a forum for family farmers and their organisations to engage with and influence decisionmakers in government and business. It ensures public policy and investments are rooted in the experience of farmers. For example, Madagascar’s new land law gives farmers who have developed their plot for five or more years the right to obtain a certificate of land ownership and, with it, the confidence they need to invest in their farm and their future. The committee provides a blueprint for inclusion that the G7 could adopt.

Second, the G7 needs to get finance to where it’s needed most. The Apulia Initiative aims to mobilise more finance for agricultural adaptation and mitigation. This is vitally important. Climate spending on agrifood systems as a whole is at least seven times lower than the most conservative estimated needs. The extent to which the G7 can close this gap through debt for food swaps, increased investments by development banks, and food insurance schemes remains to be seen. A comprehensive plan for debt relief could go a long way in a country like Madagascar where public debt is 56.1% of our GDP.

Equally important is ensuring the finance gets to the grassroots where it can have the most impact. In 2021, just 3.6% of international public climate finance spending in Africa was targeted at small-scale producers. This means family farmers in countries like mine are missing out on opportunities to adapt or paying from their own dwindling resources. Around the globe, small-scale producers are investing $368 billion a year in vital climate adaptation efforts. But they can’t continue to do this on their own. Family farmers organisations need direct access to affordable, flexible, longer-term finance so they can support farmers to deliver on their priorities.

Last, the G7’s food systems plan must encourage a shift to more diverse and nature-friendly forms of agriculture which is key to food security. In Madagascar, a project to help farmers shift to more sustainable and resilient farming techniques was a huge success. The farmers benefited from access to specialist advice and weather data, as well as financial support to trial new approaches – such as mulching to prevent soil erosion during heavy rains, and planting native fruit trees to provide shade for the crops and new sources of income. The results were striking: food insecurity fell significantly in the space of just five years, and farmers were better able to protect themselves against loss of income from extreme weather.

This is what food system transformation looks like in Africa. This is what the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has said is needed to build a more resilient food system. These are the sort of projects the G7 should be investing in.

For family farmers, droughts and floods are the visible face of the climate crisis. Less obvious but just as harmful is international policy-making that sidelines them and starves them of the resources they need to survive in an escalating climate catastrophe.

The Apulia Food Systems Initiative is a chance to do things differently. To harness the expertise and energy of family farmers across the continent and build a food system that is fit for the future. Let’s not squander it.

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