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Why agriculture must take centre stage at UN climate talks

Source: Farming First - Wed, 9 Oct 2013 14:29 GMT
Author: Anette Friis
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Infographic from the Farming First "Guide to UNFCCC Negotiations on Agriculture"
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The world is facing unprecedented challenges from climate change and implications are particularly severe in the sphere of agriculture. The sector faces unpredictable and extreme weather patterns, which are having a devastating impact on the lives of farmers in developing countries and global food security.

Agriculture is one of the largest economic sectors in the world, particularly in developing countries - for example in sub-Saharan Africa as much as 60 percent of people depend on agriculture for their livelihoods.

Recent figures from Farming First show that climate change is predicted to cause yields in Africa and South Asia to decrease by as much as 15 percent by 2050. Therefore, not only do farmers face the challenge of producing enough food to feed themselves, but they are also responsible for increasing yields to feed a population predicted to reach 9 billion by 2050.

It is also no secret that the agricultural sector puts great pressure on our natural resources, with 70 percent of the world's freshwater resource and 38 percent of available land being used in farming.

With an estimated 2 billion more mouths to feed in less than 40 years, the relationship between agriculture and climate change needs to be addressed.

A VOICE FOR AGRICULTURE AT COP19

To date, the importance of agriculture within climate change discussions has largely been neglected at a global policy level. To demonstrate this unique relationship, and to enable key stakeholders to follow climate discussions on agriculture, the Farming First coalition has developed a Guide to UNFCCC Negotiations on Agriculture.

The guide collates videos, quotes, infographics, fact sheets and case studies, offering a one-stop source of information on U.N. climate discussions and agriculture. The agriculture sector has not been offered the recognition it needs on this global platform.

The guide hopes to encourage more people to understand the role of agriculture in climate change and presents an easy way to follow future negotiations, including at the next annual conference of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in Poland in late November (known as COP19).

The aim is to enable agricultural experts, farmers and others to campaign for a voice at the talks.

SMALLHOLDER FARMERS

Smallholder farmers must be at the centre of finding working solutions that both support their families’ livelihoods and meet global needs. The guide includes the views of smallholders from around the world.

Dyborn Chibonga, CEO of the National Smallholder Farmer's Association of Malawi (NASFAM), explains the need for urgent solutions for farmers to address climate change, which he describes as their “biggest challenge”.

“Climate change affects our production as farmers, and of course farmers are going to need to learn two things: firstly, to adapt to a changing climate - with which we need the help of researchers and governments; and secondly, we need to learn how to prevent greenhouse gas emissions," he says in the guide.

Climate change programmes are already being implemented across the world, and innovative methods and technologies to alleviate the impact of agriculture on the environment are being developed and used by farmers. One such example is the Participatory Forest Management project in Tanzania, which aims to help farmers profit from protecting forests.

The Forest Policy in 1998 and the Forest Act of 2002 provided the legal basis for communities to own and manage forest resources through Community Based Forest Management (CBFM) on community or private land and Joint Forest Management (JFM) within government forest reserves.

Participatory forest management has passed the governance of forests from those with the land tenure rights to the local villages that rely on them for an income. This has helped farmers sell produce from the forest while protecting the landscape, leading to the preservation of over 4.12 million hectares of forests.  

UNFCCC WORK PROGRAMME

To develop more successful solutions like the Tanzanian scheme, agriculture must be given careful consideration at future COP discussions.

A “Work Programme for Agriculture” under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) would help to inform and shape U.N. climate talks. The SBSTA should ensure that discussions are focused and fully include agriculture, providing the UNFCCC with the most up-to-date and timely scientific research.

A work programme would also support the needs of farmers around the world by ensuring their voice is heard as debates and possible solutions evolve.

Creating a solid foundation for agriculture to inform future UNFCCC discussions is essential to support smallholder farmers throughout the world. As the agriculture sector is pushed to grow more food with fewer inputs, putting farming high on the climate change agenda can help develop the innovative solutions necessary to feed the world sustainably.

Anette Friis is part of the Farming First Steering Committee and manages the climate policy file for the Danish Agriculture and Food Council. She also leads participation in the U.N. climate change negotiations for the World Farmers Organisation. 

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