A new programme could mitigate climate change and adapt food production for the future. Tracy Gerstle reports.

Tracy Gerstle

Climate change is at the top of the United Nations agenda from 26 Nov to 7 Dec in negotiations at the Eighteenth Conference of the Parties (COP18) in Doha, Qatar.   Since 1995, the annual climate talks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) have served as an important platform to focus global attention on identifying and starting to address the causes and impacts of climate change.

Increasingly in the talks, countries are recognizing the unique role of agriculture in the global climate change response as well as the importance of securing future food security and the livelihoods of hundreds of millions of farming families, despite climate-induced pressures on productivity. In addition, agriculture can be part of the climate solution providing mitigation co-benefits.

Progress on addressing agriculture is slowed by the lack of a cohesive approach and under representation of the sector in the talks. Currently, agriculture is tangentially discussed in various processes including Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation (REDD), the Nairobi Work Programme and the Adaptation Fund.

Countries should agree at COP18 to set up a work programme on agriculture under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technology Advice (SBSTA) to put a cohesive approach to agriculture on the road map of the UNFCCC.

A SBSTA work programme would facilitate better understanding and use of scientific and technological methodologies needed to underpin action and international support for agricultural mitigation and adaptation. It would also help to identify win-wins and trade-offs between adaptation and mitigation strategies.

For instance, there is a growing body of research on farming practices and technologies that can assist farmers to adapt, but this knowledge needs to be synthesized, identifying proven methods and knowledge gaps—particularly as the potential solutions are very contextual.  For example, no-till agriculture (no ploughing) has been hailed by many as a good means of assisting farmers to conserve moisture in soil and therefore reducing water requirements while conserving organic matter which leads to healthier and more productive soils. However, no-till is not suitable for all agro-environments and indeed in countries such as Malawi , India and Zambia recent research has shown that no-till actually reduces productivity.

A work programme that assesses each strategy and determines its viability in different contexts would go a long way to safeguard our global food supply amidst amounting climate pressures. It would also open up opportunities for increased private investments in the means for adaptation and mitigation, as the Green Climate Fund and the Technology Executive Committee will look to this process for recommendations and a base of public-private partnerships on which to build.

The agricultural community convenes

Farmers around the world are experiencing the impacts of climate change today. Productivity is shifting due to changing and more volatile weather conditions and temperatures. By 2050, if farmers are not assisted to meet these changes, agriculture yields will decrease with impacts projected to be the most severe in Africa and South Asia, with productivity decreasing by 15% and 18% (PDF), respectively.

We urgently need to safeguard our food supply and to ensure continued growth in economies where agriculture is an important sector. In addition, while prioritizing the adaptation challenges, we should not overlook agriculture’s significant as part of the solution to climate change. For example, every dollar ($1 USD) invested in agriculture results in 68kgC fewer emissions (PDF).

This is the fifth occasion on which the agriculture community will convene on the sidelines of the meeting to call attention to the sector. In Doha, farmers, scientists, businesses and NGOs will unite at Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day (ALL-5) to share solutions for protecting our food supply and the livelihoods of farmers across the globe in the face of climate change.

At the opening of ALL-5, a new infographic produced by Farming First, in partnership with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCFAS), was launched.  Entitled ‘The Story of Agriculture and Climate Change: The Road We’ve Travelled’, it highlights significant events leading up discussions on the future of agriculture at COP18, including the adoption of the Kyoto Protocol in 1997, the first discussions of the impacts of climate change on agriculture in IPCC studies in 2001, the initiation of REDD in 2005 and the first ever agriculture day in 2009.

Nineteen of the of the world’s leading agricultural organisations, including the World Farmers organisation (WF), the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and CGIAR Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centres, have issued a joint call-to-action to urge negotiators to approve this SBSTA programme.

The momentum for this programme to be approved is there. Let’s make 2012 the year that a cohesive, holistic approach to agriculture is put on the UNFCCC’s road map.

About Tracy Gerstle

Tracy is the Director for Global Public Policy at CropLife International, the trade association for the plant sciences industry. Tracy leads industry engagement on issues in food security, climate change and sustainability to the United Nations, the OECD and the CGIAR. Prior to joining CropLife, she served for over a decade with leading international NGOs including Mercy Corps and CARE as an advisor on economic and rural development, working in over 25 countries. Tracy also served as the lead facilitator on the Economic Recovery Standards for the Sphere Project and the SEEP Network, and has assisted a number of multinationals looking at social, economic, environmental issues in food and agricultural supply chains, including Cargill, the Starbucks Coffee Company, and Kraft.

You may also be interested in: