Agriculture should be included in climate change negotiations. Why? Because agriculture is one of the most heavily affected sectors. Climate change is already happening for millions of smallholder farmers in Africa. Growing periods are changing and droughts and floods caused by erratic rainfall are already having an impact as seen in the crisis in the Horn of Africa.
The future effects of climate change on agriculture are likely to be even more serious. Southern Africa, for example is predicted to lose 30% of its maize yield, its main crop, by 2030 due to climate change. Making agriculture more resilient and adaptable to future shocks and stresses will not only aid sustainable food production but will improve the livelihoods of smallholder farmers. It will also ensure smallholder farmers are part of the solution to the problem of feeding a growing population.
Agriculture also has great potential to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions, the total of which account for some 10-15% of global GHG emissions. Conservation farming, Systems of Rice Intensification (SRI), agroforestry and production of bio-gas are just a few practices that can, where appropriate, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Many fall under Climate-Smart Agriculture, an agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience, reduces greenhouse gases while meeting food security and development goals. These are known, existing and available technologies that could reduce the impacts of climate change.
But mitigation will not happen without reward and adaptation will not happen without help. So how can high level global leaders help farmers adapt to and mitigate climate change?
Global leaders can stop neglecting agriculture in formal climate change negotiations and national development policies. It is a complex sector to regulate and improve, as seen in the stalled Doha trade negotiations, but it has the potential to address a wide range of problems, from hunger, poverty and nutrition to economic growth and climate change. In addressing climate change through agriculture the UNFCCC has a unique opportunity to tackle other complex and interacting global challenges. So why not grasp the opportunity with both hands?
Working through the UNFCCC, governments could provide financial incentives to encourage farmers to invest in mitigation through, for example, expanding the Clean Development Mechanism to include soil carbon sequestration activities. The UN REDD+ programme (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation), which aims to create a financial value for the carbon stored in forests, could be a model for incentivising farmers to conserve and sequester carbon in agricultural soils. Initiatives such as the Green Fund must be sustained through committed donor funding and modified to include both mitigation and adaptation activities in agriculture. New innovative financing mechanisms and ways of supporting African countries in engaging in voluntary programmes must also be explored. Equally important is north-south knowledge sharing and in-country farmer education and partnerships with, for example, agricultural research centres.
We have the knowledge and expertise to tackle climate change through agriculture, and to protect agriculture from climate change. What we need now is political will, responsible governance and strong leadership.
A global legally binding treaty on climate change may look unlikely at present but incorporating agriculture into a new COP work stream (one for which the text has already been prepared but so far blocked) would be a huge step in the right direction. This issue is critical and I hope we will not miss out on the opportunity to make real progress in tackling both climate change and world hunger. As the world looks to Durban for progress, I’ll be modifying my own battle cry: No Agriculture, No Deal, No Hope for the Future.