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FEATURE: Holistic approach vital for managing issues of food, wealth and the environment


Michiel van Dijk of LEI-Wageningen UR reports on the growing need for policy makers to be aware about and balance trade-offs among food security, poverty, climate change and sustainable development.

Food security, poverty, climate change and sustainable development are closely linked and can no longer be considered separately. This key message emerged from the 2nd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change held in Vietnam this month. The gathering of some 500 government representatives (including more than 50 ministers of agriculture), international organisations, civil society groups and the private sector concluded that agricultural policies have an important role to play in helping to meet these challenges.

A new CDKN-supported study analysing the interplay among future land use, food security and climate change in Vietnam, presented at the meeting, echoes these findings. Undertaken by LEI-Wageningen UR, Aidenvironment, the Terrestrial Carbon Group, plus Vietnam’s National Institute of Agricultural Planning and Projection (part of the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development), it highlights the potential trade-offs that occur among these issues. If decision-makers are to balance such trade-offs, they must be aware of the complex interaction among land use, food security and climate change, and adopt a forward-looking and integrated approach when formulating policies.

For example, the report indicates that economic development, structural change and urbanisation will lead to a reduction in the area of land able to produce paddy rice, the main food staple, of around 23% between 2010 and 2030. Such a reduction will threaten the target of 3.8 million hectares of paddy rice that is fixed under food-security policies in Vietnam. The finding that 57% of land currently used to grow paddy rice will be vulnerable to flooding by 2030 further jeopardises the target. Meeting national food security requirements will therefore demand policies that safeguard those paddy areas at risk from flooding.

The expected contraction in land growing paddy rice will, however, help Vietnam achieve its objective of decreasing greenhouse gas emissions by 20% before 2020, as laid out in its national climate change strategy. This seems to be particularly important for implementing the national Green Growth Strategy that is currently being developed in Vietnam.

Global-to-local approach

The study employed an innovative global-to-local modelling approach that combined a global economy model and a spatially explicit land use model to answer the following questions: “what is the impact of socio-economic development on land use and land use change for the period 2010 to 2030 using different scenarios, including climate change?”; “what is the spatial pattern of land use change in Vietnam?; and “what are the implications for food security and greenhouse gas emissions?”

Under all three scenarios, Vietnam will undergo a profound structural transformation. Its economy will become increasingly oriented towards services and manufacturing, while the agricultural sector becomes less important. Vietnam has already experienced rapid growth in recent decades, and the forecast growth pattern is a continuation of this trend. It echoes the shifts experienced by other emerging economies, such as South Korea and Taiwan in the 1980s, and has important consequences for future land use change.

The models show that commercial forests and built-up land will expand at the expense of paddy rice-growing areas, non-plantation forests and shrub land. Future land use maps reveal most of the urban growth will be concentrated in the Red River and Mekong River deltas. The growth of commercial forest lands will mainly take place in the central highlands, plus north-central and south-central coastal regions.

Climate change has a negative effect on economic growth in Vietnam, particularly within the agricultural sector. Flooding induced by climate change poses a serious additional threat to rice production. The paddy rice fields in the low-lying Mekong delta and, to a lesser extent, the Red delta are susceptible to floods. This presents a risk to domestic food production and the international rice trade.

The scientists assessed climate mitigation options for paddy rice, the largest greenhouse gas emitter in the agricultural sector. The forecast contraction in paddy rice land will lead to around 23% decrease in greenhouse gas emissions from the cultivation of rice. The authors suggest that a further reduction of between 14% and 19% could be achieved by improving agricultural practices and restricting the burning of rice straw. This analysis could be greatly improved by combining future land use maps with more detailed information on  greenhouse gas emissions factors that take spatial variation of soils and crop inputs into account.

Good data is vital

Although modelling and analysing potential future scenarios can be very powerful tools to assess the trade-offs among policy options, they nonetheless simplify a complex reality; outcomes rely on the coverage and quality of available data. Another important finding of the study was that serious inconsistencies exist among the various land use and land cover data for Vietnam. Policy-makers urgently need to develop a consistent classification system that harmonises the different sources of spatial data in Vietnam.

Only three scenarios were analysed in the report, and many more “potential futures” may be relevant. For example, the impact of the EU-Vietnam Free Trade Agreement, currently being negotiated, could have major consequences for economic growth and development. The results of this study therefore represent a first approximation of possible future pathways for socio-economic development and land use change in Vietnam. The same approach could be taken to support policy-making on land use, food security and climate change issues in other developing and emerging economies.

Note: A policy brief with main results was presented during a side event at the 2nd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. This CDKN-supported policy brief and the full report will be available through www.lei.wur.nl/UK in December 2012.

Find out about CDKN funded project Land use policy optimization: integrating global to local approaches to enhance land use planning capacity and governance in Vietnam

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