Side event at COP17: how climate-smart agriculture must benefit the poor

Poor farmers will not adopt climate-smart agricultural techniques if they do not offer the farmers clear and immediate benefits.

During a side event at the UN Climate Change meeting in Durban on 1 December 2012, World Agroforestry’s Henry Neufeldt highlighted the need to transform agriculture because extensification and intensification have had significant negative effects on agricultural land, as well as contributing to climate change.

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) means increasing the productivity of agricultural land while reducing emissions and increasing the resilience of the system. Climate-smart techniques include intercropping with legumes, improved livestock-feeding strategies, conservation agriculture techniques, use of nitrogen-fixing trees on farms, and integrated food energy systems. All these practices improve food security and lead to higher productivity, but their ability to address adaptation and mitigation varies.

Poor farmers who are food insecure do not have the means to invest in innovative new techniques, even though they are the most interested in reducing food insecurity. Those who are food secure are more open to innovation. Innovation costs time and money, so the introduction of improved management practice can lead to a short term loss of income that can lead very poor farmers into a poverty trap.

Marja-Liisa Tapio Bistrom from the Food and Agriculture Organization noted that CSA demands adaptation to climate change, especially as the 2 degree goal requires major emission cuts. There are three different policy processes going on in the three different UN Convention negotiations, even though there are overlaps. However, at the national and local level, they are increasingly linked, especially by farmers who make day to day decisions. CSA has a number of goals, but they all go hand in hand. CSA means agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. All of this has to enhance national food security and development goals.

Mitigation is not possible without successful adaptation, increasing productivity and carbon content on the existing cultivated area. The landscape approach with comprehensive land use planning is a must for maximum mitigation, with a comprehensive land use planning from the land-based sectors.

Agriculture is fundamental for Kenya as it supports 80% of the economy and 98% is not irrigated, said Esther Magambo, from the Kenya Ministry of Agriculture. The National Climate Change Response Strategy seeks to mainstream climate change mitigation into all agricultural activities. The main point of CSA is that the adaptation process leads to increased productivity, resilience and mitigation, with farmers getting better returns. The farmers should not need to make a conscious effort to sequester carbon if they introduce sustainable production systems. Therefore there is nothing new for them to do; rather they are building on what is working.

Anne Tarvainen, the Counsellor for Natural Resources and Energy, Ministry for Foreign Affairs in Finland said that that Finland has been investing in CSA. Climate proofing is taken into account in all Finland’s aid projects, with special efforts being placed on equality and the promotion of the status of women, because women secure and process most household foods, so the impacts of climate change will hit them hardest in developing countries. They are especially vulnerable but it also makes them a powerful agent for change. Mutual commitment at all levels is needed, but concrete results at all levels are needed, with priorities in the order of increased productivity, resilience and adaptation, with mitigation as a core benefit.

Bernard Giraud, from Danone, described the Livelihoods Fund. Large companies produce a lot of emissions, and Danone intends to reduce their emissions by 30% in 4 years. That leaves 70%, so they have partnered in investing in agriculture to increase the resistance of farmers and reduce emissions. They want to mobilize $50 million for the Fund to reduce 12 million tonnes of carbon. The first criterion is farmer involvement, especially women, and generating sustainable income. They are looking to work on a large scale, to maximize efficiency and impact: the average scale being 6000 hectares. Agroforestry is a sound technology as it is easy to implement at low cost on a large scale. Pre-financing, other than public funding, is not available, so they work to combine their funding with that from the public sector.

Planting coffee under fruit trees has been very successful in India, providing extra income from the fruit, as well as carbon benefits. The key success factor is how to select the local partner, especially their effectiveness in mobilizing thousands of farmers with the right incentives.

In summary, it was clear that climate change mitigation will never be the main goal for agriculture. It can contribute, and for poor farmers to join in, there must be very obvious short-term incentives and benefits for them.'

Paul Stapleton

Paul Stapleton is the Head of Communications at the World Agroforestry Centre.

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