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Agriculture 'neglected' at UN climate talks - again

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Sun, 17 Nov 2013 07:30 GMT
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An Egyptian farmer walks past his crops damaged by drought in a farm formerly irrigated by the river Nile, in El-Dakahlya, about 120 km (75 miles) from Cairo on June 4, 2013. REUTERS/Mohamed Abd El Ghany
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WARSAW (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Farmers and experts are frustrated that agriculture has again been sidelined at U.N. climate talks, with no formal decision to move it forward due to be taken at the Warsaw negotiations.

The World Farmers' Organisation (WFO) and Farming First, a coalition that represents farmers, scientists, industry and agricultural development groups, had called for the establishment of a work programme for agriculture at the Nov. 11-22 talks, which would have given the issue a much higher profile - but that prospect did not make it onto the agenda.

"For five years, the world's farmers have spoken with a single voice asking for this, yet the negotiators continue to fail to listen, and agriculture remains completely neglected, despite how interconnected it is to climate change," WFO President Robert Carlson said in a statement on Saturday.

Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR research programme on climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS), noted that a workshop had been held at the talks on scientific knowledge to enhance climate change adaptation in farming, but no substantive talks on agriculture had taken place among negotiators.

"They have been discussing the same kind of thing since 2009 - there has been no major progress," Campbell told Thomson Reuters Foundation. He hoped a push on agriculture would be made at the annual U.N. climate conferences in the coming two years, to be held in Peru and France, so that farming could be part of a new global climate deal meant to be finalised in Paris in late 2015.

Higher temperatures, changing rainfall patterns and increasingly severe weather associated with climate change are expected to have a major impact on food production around the world. Experts believe including formal discussions on agriculture in the climate talks would help ensure farmers get the information and financial help they need to try to maintain food production, especially in the face of population growth.

Campbell said the lack of international agreement on bigger climate issues - including emissions reduction targets and climate finance - is one key reason why governments are not yet prepared to start talking about agriculture.

The other is a false division between the significant problem of greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture - 14 to 24 percent of the global total - and the challenges farmers are experiencing in adapting to more extreme weather conditions and longer-term climate shifts.

"There seems to be a misunderstanding that mitigation and adaptation are different," Campbell said. "Almost everything that you do in adaptation has mitigation co-benefits."

He pointed to a weather-based crop insurance programme in India, covering some 12 million farmers, that enables them to take more risks, put in extra labour and fertiliser, and make their production more efficient. That, he said, reduces greenhouse gas emissions per unit of food produced - although it is a difficult thing to measure, he added.

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Across the developing world, farmers' associations, research institutes and development groups are already promoting techniques that can reduce carbon, nitrogen and methane emissions from agriculture. These include minimum tilling of the soil, planting trees alongside crops, using less water in rice cultivation, restoring degraded land, preventing burning of vegetation, and limiting over-use of fertiliser.

Nonetheless, some developing nations see the lack of progress on agriculture at U.N. climate talks as a victory. They fear that if talks are opened on the role agriculture could play in mitigation, they may be forced into curbing emissions from their farm sectors, limiting their ability to boost crop production and feed growing populations.

India reportedly resisted an initial proposal in Warsaw for a formal decision on including discussions on agriculture in the talks - and won, with the backing of the G77 and China group of developing nations, the Hindu newspaper reported.

"The ability of a few countries to halt negotiations on such an important issue makes the process seem flawed and leaves us wishing for a more effective and transparent negotiation space, where farmers’ voices can also be heard," the WFO said on its website.

Campbell said it could be beneficial for poorer countries if U.N. climate talks start discussing how best to measure and reduce emissions from agriculture.

"If the future (climate) discussions are on efficiency as opposed to absolute emissions, then the developing countries have the most to gain, because they can make the biggest efficiency improvements - which would be good for their farmers and good for the environment," he said.

If agriculture were to make more headway in negotiations, that might also unlock the door for more climate funding to be channeled to farmers, he added.

"If there's an understanding of the adaptation and mitigation co-benefits, there would be real investment in agriculture as a solution to some of these issues," he said.

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