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Agriculture and climate change in the dry lands: problems and solutions

Strategies for climate change must include agriculture, an international meeting on food security and dry lands has heard this week. Photo: A. Galie (ICARDA)
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Nov 15, 2012



By Clare Pedrick

With less than two weeks to go before the 18th session of the UN Conference of Parties for the Convention on Climate Change (COP), there have been calls for more focus on agriculture in the negotiations. A detailed treatment of agriculture has yet to enter any of the agreements linked to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). This is cause for concern, especially in the world's dry lands which are already vulnerable to drought and temperature rises.

Prof. Thomas Rosswall, chairman of the Independent Science Panel for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), said agriculture was a key issue for climate change, but risked being sidelined in the upcoming talks on climate change, as it has been in previous COP negotiations.

“Agriculture is part of the problem, but it is also part of the solution,” he told the International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands (FSDL) in Doha, Qatar on Nov 14. “FSDL and COP 18 offer a unique opportunity for governments to ensure that food security gets attention in the negotiations. Without agriculture, there should be no deal.”

Addressing agriculture is critical to achieving global climate change goals, both in terms of adaptation and mitigation, the meeting heard. Agriculture is being severely impacted by climate change. But it can also contribute significantly to meeting mitigation targets and helping the most vulnerable communities that are living in dry lands and most affected by changing climate patterns and severe water and land degradation constraints.

“Agriculture has to be part of the solution to climate change,” said Dr. Patrick Verkooijen, the World Bank’s special representative for climate change. “We strongly believe that there should be an outcome for agriculture two weeks from now.” The COP 18 talks, also in Doha, will open on Nov 26.

Climate change already has a severe impact on rural communities in dry lands regions of the world and poses a major threat to the livelihoods and ecosystems of these fragile areas. Global warming threatens to extend the borders of land classed as “dry land” even further. Extreme temperatures will make it harder for communities to grow crops and keep livestock. If temperatures rise by 4 degrees Celsius, as forecasted by some climate change models, vast areas of dry lands will have their growing seasons cut by more than 20%

The prospect of agriculture continuing to be bypassed in negotiations carries the risk that the sector will lose out on substantial investment to combat the effects of climate change on small holder farmers. The Green Climate Fund, a new initiative discussed in this meeting, is expected to total US$100 billion by 2020.

“Climate change adaptation will be very costly for agriculture,” said Prof. Rosswall. He added that it was “absolutely essential” that the agriculture sector received a share of funding available.

“Agriculture is one of the sectors that will be the hardest hit by climate change, especially smallholder farmers, who have so far had little opportunity to adapt,” he told the meeting. “In the dry lands, additional decreases in rainfall and more drought will exacerbate their already difficult situation.”

Clare Pedrick is a journalist specializing in agriculture, rural development and the environment. She is reporting from The International Conference on Food Security in Dry Lands (FSDL) held in Doha, Qatar from 14 to 15 November 2012. Read more blogs from the conference.

Are you interested in safeguarding our food system in a changing climate? Then be sure to register for Forest Day (2 December) and Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day (3 December) in Doha, and follow #ALLForest on twitter!