When we talk about food systems, it can be easy to see the environment that surrounds us as simply a source of necessary nourishment. But we need to create and take care of sustainable food systems in order to adapt to and mitigate the effects of the changing climate.

Here are some of ways we’re already doing that:

Weather extremes and environmental shocks … will likely occur more frequently in the future. In California, the multi-year drought and recent lifting of the drought emergency after a heavy rain and snow year has had a cascade of lingering effects, calling for greater management of both extremes and making water conservation “a way of life” by executive order. The four objectives of California’s new management plan include educational and policy nudges such as using water more wisely, eliminating water waste, strengthening local drought resilience and water holding capacity, and improving agricultural water use efficiency and drought planning.

I saw compelling evidence in Colombia that farmers who were trying to produce more food per acre of land could intensify production sustainably, weather a changing climate, and make the changes pay off remarkably fast. Fabiola Vega, a farmer in the hilly northern Cauca region, had produced coffee for years but high temperatures and more intense and unpredictable rains made it almost impossible to achieve the yields she needed to cover her costs. She switched some of her coffee production to a plantain and coffee mixed system (shade grown coffee), and used the remaining land for dairy production, raising a small herd of cattle in a silvopastoral system by concentrating them in field richly planted with leguminous shrubs.

And in western Uganda, girls and women enrolled in a high school and a women’s-only agricultural university that prepares them for rural development and agricultural work are trying to reverse the trend that increasing one’s education automatically means a move to an urban area. Based on the notion of land-grant universities in the United States, the university graduates work in rural transformation, and deliver knowledge and practical information to other women, who are the main agricultural producers in their area. The path to high school and university level education acts as a leverage point for women to improve rural employment and agriculture, while building food security, adding value to their families, and developing skills as community leaders.

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