Accelerating Climate Action: Nature-Based Solutions for Children’s Health and Nutrition

PI J.J. Strouse, School of Medicine, Department of Medicine

Lawrence David, School of Medicine, Center for Genomic and Computational Biology

Jennifer Swenson, Nicholas School of the Environment Environmental Science & Policy 

Gabriel Katul, Pratt School of Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Randall Kramer, Nicholas School of the Environment 

Ranaivo Rasolofoson, Nicholas School of the Environment

James Herrera, Duke Lemur Center

Charles Welch Duke Lemur Center 

Wenhong Li, Nicholas School of the Environment 

Mark Borsuk, Pratt School of Engineering, Civil and Environmental Engineering

Climate change will shape the future health of all communities, and it will deepen inequities. Climate adaptation and mitigation planning by countries cannot ignore health; doing so would result in tradeoffs and unintended consequences including disproportionate adverse impacts on women and children. As a result, a systems-based approach is needed toaddress climate, health and equity together –so that we can see the big picture, integrate knowledge, and identify interdependencies to target interventions while minimizing any adverse consequences. Undernutrition is responsible for 3.1 million deaths in children under 5 annually. Childhood undernutrition, from conception to a child’s second birthday, is associated with motor and cognitive development problems that have adverse effects later in life, such as poor school performance, and limited long-termwork and economic productivity. Maternal undernutrition, particularly during pregnancy, is associated with difficult labor, maternal mortality, and fetal growth restriction. Smallholder farm households in low-and middle-income countries (LMICs) are especially at risk because their subsistence strategies, which rely on predictable weather patterns, are not adapted to the changes we anticipate in future climates. The climate crisis is highlighting unsustainable food and nutrition policies and practices thatare not only non-resilient to shocks, but also increase the likelihood of future shocks and exacerbate inequities. Half of the world’s habitable land is used for agriculture, with food production accounting for 26% of global greenhouse gas emissions. The impacts of unsustainable food policies and practices on natural systems (e.g., forests, climate) feed back to affect food production and ultimately food and nutrition security, particularly of vulnerable groups such as women and children. With future climate change, the frequency and severity of droughts and tropical storms are predicted to increase, which amplify existing nutritional challenges, hunger and poverty crises in low-income countries

To break this feedback loop, comprehensive research and intervention programs should study and predict the likelihood of future shocks, and promote policies or interventions that reduce the frequency of shocks and strengthen resilience to those shocks when they occur. This can be achieved by integrating climate change mitigation and adaptation strategies that include forest conservation, landscape restoration, food production, and nutrition interventions to ensure that nutritional goals are not achieved at the expense of compromising the basic functions of natural systems (or “ecosystem services”) on which human health depends. Multi-functional landscape mosaics characterized by patches of forests or trees intermixed with small-scale agricultural production systems have huge potential for reconciling climate change mitigation and human nutritional needs. Indeed soils and forests, including agroforests, are among the largest carbon sinks in the world. Multi-functional landscape mosaics also provide nutrient-rich foods and support diverse diets for women, young children and families, especially those living in rural communities. Integration of forest conservation, landscape restoration, food production, and nutrition interventions therefore offers a unique opportunity to deliver multiple co-benefits to human health, nutrition, livelihoods, the environment, and the climate. Moreover, many forest conservation activities are often located where rates of undernutrition are high. The explicit integration of food and nutrition interventions into forest conservation can therefore provide public health benefits for some of the world’s most vulnerable communities. The tropical island nation of Madagascar is renowned for its unique, but highly threatened, biodiversity. In the latest several years, the already high level of undernutrition has been exacerbated by more frequent and intense extreme weather, such as droughts and tropical cyclones. Madagascar is therefore a microcosm and early warning signal of what may happen to food security and nutrition of the world’s vulnerable population when climate changes. Madagascar also presents a case study that is representative of global challenges, especially faced by the tropical LMICs and marginalized communities, and is an ideal site for integrating research and development on undernutrition, biodiversity conservation, and climate change. We propose to: 1) model the impacts of short-and long-term crises, especially natural disasters anticipated to worsen with climate change like droughts, floods, and tropical storms, on the resilience of rural communities in Madagascar. We will especially quantify resilience in terms of food and nutrition security, in relation to the services provided by forests, watersheds, and across the landscapes. By understanding the system dynamics of the feedbacks among livelihood strategies, forest conservation, public health, and the climate crisis, we can identify levers of action on which we can intervene to develop sustainable and restorative systems; 2) design, test, and evaluate the use of community forest management as a delivery platform to agriculture and nutrition programs. By offering a community-based delivery platform to agriculture and nutrition programs, community forest management will increase the likelihood of success at delivering food security and nutritional outcomes. Community forest management, in turn, can leverage the social co-benefits provided by agriculture and nutrition programs to incentivize local communities to participate in long-term forest management and conservation as mitigation and adaptation strategies.