Investments for Climate Action and Food Transformation
By Louisa Namicheishvili
Around the world, food insecurity is rising due to the effects of COVID-19, conflict and climate change. To address these challenges, robust funding and investments are needed to ensure economically and environmentally sustainable food systems. At the 2022 Norman E. Borlaug International Dialogue, I had the opportunity to participate in the roundtable “Financing and Investments for Climate Action and Food Transformation” where I discussed with a panel of experts from the public and private sectors financial mechanisms and investment strategies for improving climate-smart, gender-smart food systems to support the world’s most vulnerable communities.
Having worked in Georgia for almost two decades advancing food security and strengthening productivity, capacity and competitiveness of the agriculture sector, I have seen first-hand the importance of investing in innovations that address unique and changing agriculture problems. In 2016, for example, the Brown Marmorated Stink Bug (BMSB) devastated the $180 million Georgian hazelnut sector, affecting 40,000 smallholder farmer livelihoods. To address this, investments in specialized solutions covering various sectors were needed.
With USAID’s support, we collaborated with local and U.S.-based entomologists and the Government of Georgia to monitor and manage the BMSB population to carry out context-specific action plans. This included strategies that increase awareness and understanding and train farmers, citizens, and extension agents on the sustainable use of pheromone traps and pesticides. It also included government capacity building, improved access to inputs like traps, lures and spraying equipment, and private-sector engagement. This practical and adaptable investment showed its effectiveness as the sector started to recover with total exports of hazelnuts increasing from approximately $70 million in 2018 to $118 million in 2021.
Although the BMSB is more under control now, Georgia will face further challenges to its food system, especially due to its climate vulnerability. Predictions suggest that Georgia’s agricultural production will be challenged by increasing pests and disease, a lack of water, shifts in production and crop losses during extreme events, and will therefore need significant investments in adaptive and climate-smart innovations to maintain its agriculture sector, which it heavily depends on. The result is that farmers will have to find ways to produce more with less.
As I said in my call to action at the Borlaug Dialogue roundtable, to feed the world in a safe and sustainable manner, we must develop solutions that are environmentally and economically sustainable as well as adaptable, inclusive and reflective of local realities. This is central to many USAID investments, especially in Georgia. In response to the impact of climate change on Georgia’s agricultural production, the USAID Agriculture Program invested in cold storage facilities to help preserve crops, reduce post-harvest loses and increase farmer incomes.
Another solution that is particularly effective is Farm Service Centers (FSCs). These were first developed by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA) in Moldova through the USAID Farm Store Program (1999–2002) and then introduced to Georgia through the Agribusiness Development Activity (2006–2010). FSCs now serve more than 150,000 farmers in Georgia at 54 different locations.
FSCs are one-stop shops retailing a complete range of inputs, services, information, finance, technology and market connections that help farmers participate in market-driven agricultural economies and move from small-scale to commercial farm production. At CNFA, we partner with public and private sector stakeholders to introduce these as platforms for reaching out to farm communities to help them adapt to the impacts of climate change, economic shocks and other challenges. In addition, FSCs operate demonstration plots, offer training and provide access to information on farming best practices. This includes climate change mitigation tools such as systems that provide early warning against disease based on weather forecasts.
These are just some examples of many robust funding and investments needed to ensure economically and environmentally sustainable food systems around the world. We must continue to develop solutions that are adaptable, inclusive and reflective of local realities to support the world’s most vulnerable communities.
The author is Dr. Louisa Namicheishvili, CNFA’s chief of party for the USAID Agriculture Program in Georgia.