Agriculture's role in both adaptation and mitigation discussed during climate talks

Access to extension services, technology and finance are a few of the obstacles small-holder farmers face today and which hinder proper adaptation to climate change. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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May 19, 2012

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by Cecilia Schubert

Small-holder farmers in developing countries are expecting urgent, decisive action coming out of the ongoing climate conference in Bonn”, said Manyewu Mutamba (SACAU) yesterday to a full packed audience at the Ministry of Transport in Germany. Mr Mutamba spoke as an official panelist at the United Nations intersession side event “The status of knowledge on how agriculture can contribute to adaptation and mitigation”, co-convened by the CGIAR Research CCAFS side event was held in front of a fullpacked audience. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) at the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

With the inclusion of agriculture as a topic for discussion on the climate agenda, CCAFS took this window of opportunity to map out the importance of including agriculture in the future negotiations, not only for ensuring global food security but also because of its mitigation potential. Mr. Mutamba, together with moderator James Kinyangi, East Africa Regional Program Leader (CCAFS), and panelists Sonja Vermeulen, Head of Research (CCAFS), Henry Neufeldt from World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and Mohammed Asaduzzaman, Vice-Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change therefore showcased interlinked perspectives on how agriculture can contribute to adaptation and mitigation. The panel also discussed the prospects for a work program as a likely outcome from the SBSTA high level meetings. 

Sonja Vermeulen, Head of Research at CCAFS, pointed to food systems contributing between 19-29 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions globally. Agriculture is thus a major contributor of GHG emissions, but at the same time, encompasses potential for mitigation. Mitigation can potentially lead to both increased yields and resilience, as a way to adapt to climate change. However adaptation and food security should be prioritized, and if there are mitigation co-benefits these could be included.

Henry Neufeldt (ICRAF) presenting at CCAFS side event in Bonn, Germany. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)The problem however is that there is still a lack of data and information about GHG emissions from the agricultural sector in developing countries, which are problematic in terms of calculations and follow up in relation to emission reductions, said Henry Neufeldt  in his presentation. “Lack of data means that we might not know if emission reductions are real or not” he said. “Better data is necessary to improve agricultural planning for higher productivity, food security and environmental sustainability”.

Read more:
Baseline GHG Emissions from the Agricultural Sector and Mitigation Potential in Countries of East and West Africa
Mechanisms for agricultural climate change mitigation incentives for smallholders

Context specific variations need to be taken into consideration

With the climate already changing in many parts of the world, adaptation is not only necessary, but urgent for many small-holder farmers in developing countries to sustain food security. Some farming communities that are already at risk of food insecurity are also the most exposed to future impacts on their agriculture, such as reductions in the length of the growing season, and have low financial capital and hence low adaptive capacity.  These geographic "hotspots" of vulnerability were showcased last year in the CCAFS report “Mapping climate Hotspots of Climate Change and Food Insecurity in the Global Tropics” (PDF)

"We need to investigate what types of adaptation practices are appropriate in what context", Sonja said during her presentation, reflecting on the regional variations which mean that climate change will affect countries differently.

Behavior change within farming practices

Mohammed Asaduzzaman addressed the issue of changing practices among farmers. Farmers don’t change behavior easily, he said. But it is crucial that farmers change practices and adapt to climate change. There is therefore a need to understand that there is a lot of sociology involved in changing farming practices, since policies, practices and culture moves agriculture, Asaduzzaman concluded.

What can a work program contribute to farmers?  

The reality is that farmers are already facing enormous obstacles in relation to the changes in the climate. Many have already taken action, but the transition is not at the required scale nor pace Manyewu Mutamba declared in his presentation. The obstacles include a lack of access to technology, extensions services and financing. There is also a large disconnect between research and what information that is actually reached by farmers.

Farmers both expect and need a work program on agriculture”, Manyewu said. “A work program will create a comprehensive strategy and provide consensus in how to tackle the various issues”. A work program will in short mean that agriculture will receive international status and will be discussed to find solutions that will address issues of future food security and livelihoods as well as adaptation to climate change and mitigation co-benefits.

The likely outcome of the current climate meeting in the agricultural context

Moderator James Kinyangi deliberated on the possibility of a work program from the SBSTA meetings. He said that the majority of the submissions, made Moderator James Kinyangi talks about the potential for a work program on agriculture in the climate negotiations. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)prior to the Bonn meeting by the parties, are in favor of a work program on agriculture. And even those opposed point out that United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) does not allow for meaningful participation of smallholder farmers, indicating that they will require this to change.  

He concluded that “the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technologichal Advice should establish a framework for the work programme on agriculture with a clear goal of supporting adaptation actions with mitigation co-benefits”. Agriculture has a role in climate change negotiations, but needs to be addressed as part of the solution, and not only viewed as the problem.  

View the pictures from the side event here.

Click here to see the presentations made during the side event “The status of knowledge on how agriculture can contribute to adaptation and mitigation”.


This story was written by Cecilia Schubert, Communications Assistant at CCAFS Coordinating Unit. Follow the coverage of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) meetings all week on our blog, on twitter at @cgiarclimate and on Facebook.