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A Pathway to Climate Smart Food Systems

Foreword by Aly Abousabaa - Director General, ICARDA and CGIAR Regional Director of Central and West Asia and North Africa

Last year's pivot in global awareness of the role climate-smart food systems can play in sustainable food security was dramatic. Throughout 2022, intensifying climate change caused exponential global human suffering and significantly touched the northern hemisphere.

Simultaneously, unprecedented conflict highlighted weak links in the world's interconnected food systems, while the discourse on food systems transformation was amplified at the first-ever thematic day on agriculture at COP27, at which we played a significant role. Leveraging the potential of agricultural systems as an entry point for positive change is now firmly in the global spotlight. But even given a renewed focus and urgency, the planning of resilient and climate-smart agri-solutions should not be hurried. 

ICARDA Climate Smart activities
Mr. Aly Abousabaa at COP27 with (clockwise from top-left) 1) Dr. Saad Moussa, Director of Foreign Affairs Relations at the Egypt MoA, Claudia Sadoff EMD CGIAR, H.E Sayed El-Quseir Egypt Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, H.E Ibrahim El-Dukheri, Director General of the AOAD, H.E. Ambassador Ayman Tharwat, Egypt Ministry of Foreign Affairs. 2) H.E Mariam Almheiri, Minister of Climate Change and Environment 3) H.E Hani Sewilam, Egypt Minister of Water Resources and Irrigation. 4) H.E Sayed El-Quseir, Egypt Minister of Agriculture and Land Reclamation, 5) H.E Akinwumi Adesina, President AFDB 6) Dr. Essam Mohamed DG WorldFish, H.E Sayed El-Quseir, Dr. Mark Smith Director General IWMI, Dr. Martin Kropff MD Resilient Agri-Food Systems, CGIAR, H.E Hani Sewilam 7) Dr. Claudia Sadoff, Dr. Mohammad Soliman, President of ARC-Egypt. 8 & Center) As 6.

More science, less haste

Climate-smart food systems - getting it right from the start.
If we rush the transformation of our agri-food systems, we risk overlooking the fundamental pillars of sustainable agriculture. That’s why over 2023 ICARDA will meticulously review our long-term strategy, while developing a new, CGIAR-mandated dryland strategy. We will carefully refresh our whole approach to agriculture in drylands, where long-term effort in  restoring depleted soils  and nurturing water resources are top priority.  
Already in 2022, given the impact on grain and inputs due to the northern conflict, we set about helping partner-countries reduce their dependence on chemical fertilizers, herbicides, and pesticides, and we invested more effort in neglected indigenous crops that can thrive even in harsh environments, reducing future import dependence on staples, grains, and animal feed.  

Crucial to our effort to develop future-proof and resilient major crops is broadening their genetic base by conserving and utilizing precious but declining biodiversity in genebanks, like our newly opened facility in Morocco.  Wisely implemented sustainable water management is also vital, especially in this region, to avoid the depletion of finite rain or fossil water sources. Without these endeavors, food security and livelihoods of billions of dryland inhabitants and subsequent global security will be threatened.

Effective agri-research must also be carefully guided by the context, knowledge, and demand-driven needs of end-users, so involving producers and consumers right from the start to ensure solutions are relevant, affordable, and adopted is our key objective. Yet even now our studies show how suppliers, technology, and even agri-research still overlook important factors like the feminization of agriculture, continuing to focus on the male farmer as the traditional stakeholder even though 45% of the region’s  agri-workforce are now women.  

Integrated technology, collaborative action
ICARDA Climate Smart activities

Money for something

Key to the puzzle is how to better fund agricultural research and development. To avoid financing 'yesterday's solutions' and make returns on investment, agri-research and implementation must be modernized and accelerated to keep up with the accelerating rate of climate change. More funding for the digitization of research and mechanization of farming must materialize. We hear countless calls for private-sector partnerships to speed up technology development and reduce costs, but we must attract these partners through mechanisms like blended finance and concessional loans that offer bankable research projects that are appealing as profit-making endeavors. 
Essential is developing inclusive international knowledge hubs and sharing mechanisms to deliver better-funded research frameworks while protecting communities and driving innovation. Platforms such as CGIAR's ICARDA-led regional Integrated Desert Farming Regional Hub launched in 2022 can help drive 'joined-up thinking' – working together toward cutting-edge integrated agricultural and food systems at the whole-farm, landscape, or even regional scale. Indeed, this has been a core tenet of ICARDA's approach since its establishment in the 1970s.  

COP28 – Seize the agricultural theme day

Amid the global shift towards climate-smart food systems, we are keen to demonstrate the combined expertise of CGIAR, while highlighting the research opportunities available in the region.  We are thrilled to take the international stage at COP28 in the UAE to showcase how our partner-led climate-smart solutions can stand alone, integrate within collaborative global initiatives, or combine within  the powerful, unified OneCGIAR offer.  
While we applaud the world's recognition of agricultural transformation as a critical component of the climate change solution, it is up to all global partners to continue to build on the progress made in 2022. There are only seven years left to meet our United Nations SDG goals. We must maintain the momentum and ensure that our offer as key knowledge partners and facilitators is recognized and utilized. 

ICARDA Climate Smart activities
Left to right: H.E. Ambassador Mohamed Khalil, Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Aly Abousabaa, H.E. Ambassador Ayman Tharwat, Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Zitouni Ould Dada, Deputy Director General, Office of Climate Change, Biodiversity, and Environment, FAO