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COP21 Promises Global Agricultural Transition to Boost Resilience to Climate Change

The following is the second post in a series by Peter Gubbels titled “Considerations for the 2015 United Nations Climate Change Conference.” The series highlights the important role of discussions of agriculture at the COP21 conference, especially in the context of Africa’s smallholder farmers. In this post, Peter reviews conclusions from the COP21 half-day focus on agriculture and stresses the importance of initiatives that promote a transition to agroecology.

Groundswell International and our partners and allies in West Africa cautiously welcome the announcement of major initiatives for “reshaping agriculture” at the COP21 meeting in Paris.  

These initiatives include a focus on organic improvements to soil fertility, promotion of sustainable production methods, and support of adaptation techniques that can strengthen the resilience of small scale farmers. Combined, these initiatives will foster what West African governments are calling “a transition to agroecology.This is very welcome!

Agriculture is one of the sectors most seriously affected by extreme climate. As mentioned in the previous post in this series, small scale farmers in the dryland areas of Africa are already coping with erratic rainfall, drought, seasonal floods, and high temperatures. They face potentially catastrophic reductions in yields of staple crops such as millet, sorghum and maize if temperatures increase beyond 2°C.

Ironically, global agriculture accounts for 24 % of the greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions which cause climate change. However, most of this is generated by large scale industrial agriculture, which dominates in developed countries, and which agribusiness, and biotech companies are seeking to expand across the globe through lobbying and investments.

Recognizing that industrial agriculture is a big part of the problem, David Nabarro, the UN Secretary-General’s Special Representative for Food Security and Nutrition, outlined the huge potential to transform agriculture into a solution for climate change. 

“The time has come to reshape agriculture but it must be of the right type: regenerative, smallholder centered, focused on food loss and waste, adaptation, soils management, oceans and livestock,” said Nabarro. 

With this perspective, many governments and food and agriculture organizations at COP21 joined together at the Focus on Agriculture, a half day session organized by the Lima-Paris Action Agenda (LPAA)1. Participants agreed to respond to the urgent climate challenges facing agriculture with cooperative initiatives that will protect the long-term livelihoods of millions of farmers and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

Discussions during the session focused on four key areas: soils in agriculture, the livestock sector, food losses and waste, and sustainable production methods and resilience of farmers.  Together, the partnerships formed involve commitments to deploy money and know-how across both developed and developing nations to help hard-pressed farmers – including smallholders in Africa – to become key actors in the global drive to achieve a low-carbon, climate-resilient future.  

Among the six initiatives of the LPAA Action Agenda, three appear to support small scale farmers in Africa:

1. The “4/1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate”

Over a hundred partners (developed and developing states, international organizations, private foundations, international funds, NGOs and farmers’ organizations) committed to the 4/1000 Initiative at COP21. This initiative aims to protect and increase carbon stocks in soils. Soils can store huge quantities of carbon, and this can contribute to the limitation of greenhouse gas concentration in the atmosphere. Partners decided to reinforce their actions on appropriate soil management, recognizing the importance of soil health for the transition towards productive, highly resilient agriculture. This initiative intends to show that a small increase of 4/1000 per year in the soil carbon stock can improve soil fertility and, at the same time, the resilience of small scale farmers to climate change.

2. The Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP)

Through this initiative, IFAD and its partners commit to investing climate finance in vulnerable smallholder farmers in developing countries to generate multiple benefits. Smallholder farmers are among the best possible clients for climate finance. Investing in smallholders can increase agricultural productivity while at the same time restoring and maintaining a healthy natural resource base and reducing agriculture’s carbon footprint. This initiative is being reinforced by 12 additional countries, in addition to the the current list of 44 country partners, which increases the total amount of committed ASAP funds up to US$285 million. By 2034, this additional funding will avoid or sequester 80 million tons of GHG emissions (CO2) and will strengthen the resilience of 8 million smallholder farmers.

3. 15 West-African Countries Transitioning to Agroecology

The Promotion of Agroecology Transition in West Africa is a regional initiative led by the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). It concerns 15 countries, including Burkina Faso, Ghana, and Senegal – three of the countries where Groundswell works. The main financial partners include the European Union, the World Bank, and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) of the African Union. The intended impact of this initiative is to support both adaptation and emission mitigation benefits. It aims at the adoption of agro-ecological practices by 25 million households by 2025.

Groundswell and our NGO and farmer organization allies on the ground in West Africa welcome these declarations. However, we note that until now, key actors, including the World Bank, the European Union, the G8 Alliance for Food and Nutrition Security, IFAD, and NEPAD, have been largely oriented towards a “green revolution,” with an agro-chemical dependent, export-oriented approach that benefits agribusinesses. Much less attention has been given to adaptation to climate change, sustainable use of natural resources, regeneration of soils, nutrition, and the needs of the most vulnerable small scale farming families. Currently, very little private and public investment in agriculture in West African countries has been going to agroecology or to adaptation of agriculture in the face of climate change.  

In the face of new initiatives, there is an urgent need for civil society, farmers organizations, and all actors within the social movement supporting agroecology to be vigilant and proactive in guiding large institutions to make major changes based off their on-the-ground experiences. There is a continuous need to advocate for the major changes in policies and in institutions that are necessary for successful climate change initiatives.

To read other posts from this series, click here. To receive updates from around the world, sign up for the Groundswell International monthly newsletter. 

1 The Lima-Paris Action Agenda is a joint undertaking of the Peruvian and French COP presidencies, the Office of the Secretary-General of the United Nations and the UNFCCC Secretariat that aims to strengthen climate action in Paris in December and well after by mobilizing robust global action towards low carbon and resilient societies and provide enhanced support to existing initiatives.

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