The global financial crisis has shown the gravity of waiting for a disaster before taking action,” former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan warned on Wednesday while speaking at the UN climate summit in Durban, South Africa. “Regrettably, we’re far from the (greenhouse gas emission) mitigation pledges needed to limit global warming to two degrees Celsius. I know we won’t be able to remedy the shortcomings this week, but we should take every possible opportunity to strengthen the institutions that were set up in Copenhagen and Cancun (at earlier climate summits). Developed countries must deliver the promised $100 billion by 2020. They must clarify where the money will be sourced from and how it will be accessed by developing countries.”
Mr Annan, who is now Chairman of the Board of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, was speaking at a meeting organised by the World Bank on the sidelines of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change summit. The meeting was on what is now being called “climate smart agriculture” (CSA) – agriculture that can withstand climate change effects such as higher temperatures, less water and poorer soils. “We must emphasise the importance of CSA,” Mr Annan said. “Up to now agriculture has been sidelined in climate talks, despite compelling evidence that climate change poses real threat to agriculture and food security in Africa.”
Today, one person in seven does not get enough to eat. Mr Annan warned that “climate change is set to increase this dramatically, as global food production is predicted to go down by 25 per cent by 2050, while the FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation of the UN) says it needs to grow by 70 per cent to feed the nine billion people we will have by then.”
Mr Annan said any new agriculture strategy must have “smallholder farmers – many of them women – at its heart. With their full involvement we can achieve global food security and combat climate change.”
Prime Minister of EthiopiaMeles Zenawi, who has been in power while his country has faced two famines, said, “Let us assume that a miracle happens and we limit global warming to below two degrees Celsius. Does that mean African agriculture will not be affected? We are already being affected. And no matter what happens in mitigation, we will be affected. We are in it, we are going to face it, and we better recognise that. So CSA is not an option, it is a must that is beyond the mitigation efforts at COP (the climate summit).
Climate change undermines the resource base of agriculture – water and soil – so any new farming strategy must start by protecting those, Mr Zenawi said.
Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Managing Director of the World Bank, said, “Investments in agriculture have fallen short in the last several decades. We have got to reverse that. We need agriculture that can move from being part of the (climate) problem to being part of solution.” She held that CSA would provide a “triple win” in agriculture, environment and food security.
South African President Jacob Zuma said, “CSA seeks to improve productivity by improving resilience. We need to link climate change, food security and poverty.” He supported the idea of moving to organic agriculture, pointing out that it has a “smaller footprint on the natural resource base”.
But not everybody is happy with the CSA initiative. International NGO ActionAid has warned that “the initiatives on the table are false solutions, fraught with social, environmental and economic risks.” ActionAid’s Climate Justice Coordinator Harjeet Singh said, “Climate Smart Agriculture is the latest in a number of decoys designed to divert attention from filling the Green Climate Fund with public money.
Farmers need reliable and constant streams of revenue to effectively climate proof their harvests. It is dangerous to leave the fate of farmers in poor countries at the mercy of financial markets in rich ones.
Soil carbon capture – the core of Climate Smart Agriculture – is the process of transferring carbon dioxide from the atmosphere into the soil through organic material such as manure. Markets are being set up alongside the schemes that will allow rich nations to buy carbon credits in poor ones and count these towards their own carbon emission cuts.”
ActionAid’s report Say No to Soil Carbon Markets says that the long-term contracts farmers will be expected to sign will prevent them from having the flexibility they need to climate proof their harvests in the long term.“
Climate Smart Agriculture could tie farmers to contracts for up to 20 years. When bound by one farming method, how can farmers adapt their crops to changing weather? Soil carbon capture is easily reversible. One hailstorm, drought or other extreme weather event will not only destroy their crops, but will render the soil carbon void,” said Mr Singh.
The report says, “Most smallholders own less than two hectares of land. This means they will earn less than $3 a year from soil carbon markets at the current rate. How is this financially viable?” The NGO called on governments to halt the World Bank plan “until the social, economic and environmental benefits to the poor have been proven.” It said governments should “focus on providing smallholders with access to weather forecasts, climate (change) resistant local seeds, schemes to improve soil quality, irrigation services and appropriate green technology.”