Focus on Climate Change and Food Security

Session Description

Only plants, including plankton and bacteria, can remove carbon dioxide (CO2) and, in crucial situations, nitrous oxide (N20) from the atmosphere. Thus, a build- up of vegetative land cover is imperative to reverse the mushrooming build up of these two, principal greenhouses gases (GHG) from the global warming skies above us.  But a quadrupling of human populations in less than a century, and a tenfold increase in their livestock herds and flocks, has put that land cover under unprecedented strain.  As that vegetative cover is cleared and eaten away, the AFOLU (agriculture, forestry & other land use) sector now contributes, through deforestation, degradation, and methane (CH4) release, close to a third of the planet’s annual GHG emissions.

Yet any abatement of current levels of anthropogenic global warming requires that the AFLOU sector be a net remover of GHG (CO2 through carbon bio-sequestration and N2O through nitrogen fixation).  Protected and enhanced vegetation will continue to sequester carbon instead of going up in CO2 smoke.  The soil bacteria under this vegetation can then proceed to fix nitrogen, thereby reducing the need for N20 emitting chemical fertilizers.

So how can this abatement scenario catch up with the degradation one when there could be 9 billion people to feed in less than 40 years? For some, a perennial agriculture, including food producing trees, is one answer.  But the agricultural research establishment, backed by a new wave of global food security policy makers, remains mesmerized by the intensified yield possibilities from the further genetic manipulation of annual cereal staple crops such as rice, maize and wheat.  Insufficient thought is being given to the deepening “carbon footprint” that will be made by this annual cereals crop intensification.  The lengthening GHG shadow of livestock methane, overgrazing and (cereals) feed production further compromises the sustainability of a food security strategy the neglects the global warming mitigation potential of AFOLU.

- Moderator (click to collapse)

John Van D. Lewis

John Lewis is the Managing Director of Terra Global Capital and an adjunct professor in the School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) of The Johns Hopkins University. He currently teaches a course, “Forests, Climate, and Civilization,” as part of SAIS’ Energy, Resources, and Environment Program. He has 29 years of experience combining ecological anthropology with international development management. While serving in Senegal, Mali, Cameroon, Egypt, Tunisia, and Haiti, he was able to design and implement path-breaking new approaches to community-driven sustainable development in rural settings.

Dr. Lewis’ career with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) spanned 22 years, culminating in his positions as Agency Senior Agriculturalist and Director of USAID’s central (Global Bureau) Office of Agriculture and Food Security. Since retiring from USAID in 2000, he has worked as the Executive Director of both the Near East Foundation and Pro-Natura USA. He has also served as a consultant for ARD, Inc., and advised Cantera Partners, LLC, as an independent consultant to structure its agribusiness investment strategies for particular countries in sub-Saharan Africa.

Dr. Lewis specializes in sustainable agriculture sector planning and rural development project design; application of community-based natural resources management best practices; local organizational development, decentralization, non-governmental organization capacity building, and land tenure security policy and practice; range tenure, pasture resource reclamation, and integrated livestock development planning; peasant economics and analysis of rural food security strategies; integrating participatory conservation with sustainable development; community-driven buffer zone management; alternatives to slash-and-burn agriculture; and carbon sequestration measurement and CO2 offset contracting.


Ph.D., Anthropology, Yale University, 1979
M.A., Cultural Anthropology, New School for Social Research, 1972
B.A., Medieval and Renaissance History, Columbia College at Columbia University, 1969


Speaker's slides

Slides are attached in pdf.