As agriculture is increasingly accepted as both a cause of climate change, and as part of the solution, questions arise on how to actually integrate agriculture into climate change policies. At a recent side event at the UN Climate Conference in Bonn, experts from diverse areas including forestry, economic development, agriculture, climate change and food security, shared strategies for mainstreaming climate-smart agriculture into global and national policies. The common message was resounding: agriculture and deforestation are intimately linked, and integrated action across Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and forest Degradation (REDD+) and agriculture is necessary to achieve mitigation and food security outcomes.
Lini Wollenberg of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) highlighted new research (PDF) that finds that countries planning for REDD are not tangibly addressing agriculture as a driver of deforestation, despite identifying it as a major factor. She stressed that countries that are committed to reducing deforestation should identify clear strategies to address demand-side and market pressures; sort out tenure and land access rights; strengthen cross-sector policies; link mitigation to adaptation; and boost efficiency and production of agricultural systems. Her message was simple: "unless we address agriculture, REDD will not be successful".
Peter Holmgren, Director, Environment, Climate Change and Bioenergy Division Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) outlined two important goals for our time: achieving food security and avoiding dangerous climate. He stressed that agriculture, climate and development policies must deal with multiple objectives: to increase productivity, resilience and reduce emissions. He noted that the current level of financing for climate change is only a fraction of current annual agricultural investments, and therefore climate finance alone will not be sufficient to lead to a move to climate-smart agriculture. Instead, agricultural finance should be climate smart. "Want to deal with deforestation?” he asked “It's the agriculture, s****!” He concluded by recognising that biofuels are a difficult topic, which require sophisticated analysis of options and solutions. But, he warned, if we begin to decree what products of land will be used for we will have a big problem.
Joachim von Braun director of the Center for Development Research (ZEF), University of Bonn focused his discussion on the underlying economics of food systems and deforestation. He noted that policy responses to food price volatility are very important; the European agricultural policy, for example shields its sector from the rest of the world, making it less prone to price shocks. He pointed out that rapidly increasing land values puts commercial pressure on forests. In East Africa, for example, value of land is increasing by 3 times while Argentina land value is doubling. He described the shift in attention to food security issues, such as the G20 meeting, which is focused this year on food security to address growing hunger and increased risks to poor people. However, climate change has not been sufficiently addressed in this context. He argued that policies for short-term food security are short-sighted if they don't deal with long term deforestation issues.
He also pointed out that competition for biomass is what makes REDD difficult to implement, but noted that climate-smart agriculture can help drive down the costs of growing food, and helps support productivity. "Agriculture is not the enemy of REDD," he concluded. "Unproductive agriculture is. Show us good project to learn from!"
Frances Seymour, Director General of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR) highlighted the need for better science, better institutions and better governance. She pointed out two fallacies that appear in arguments about agriculture as a driver of deforestation. The first fallacy is that there is a zero-sum tradeoff between protecting forests and enhancing food security. Forests provide essential nourishment, for example the volume of bushmeat harvested from Congo Basin forest is at least the same in volume as beef produced in South America. Coastal ecosystems also offer multiple benefits, as fish is a major source of food, and coastal mangrove forests contain major carbon stocks.
The second fallacy: Agricultural intensification alone is sufficient to reduce deforestation. Depending on relative prices, she said, increasing productivity of agricultural crops can actually increase deforestation.
Finally she pointed to a number of governance concerns that need to be resolved in order to support climate-smart agriculture. For clear payments for environmental services schemes such as REDD to work, there needs to be clear land tenure so that people can be rewarded for properly managing the land. Many studies have pointed to the economic feasibility of REDD but this does not signify political feasibility. Laws that protect the forest need to be implemented and enforced. She emphasized that corporate interests desiring continued unfettered access to forest land for commercial agriculture seek to divert attention from needed governance reforms by cloaking their activities in the name of food security.
George Wamukoya from the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) spoke about the progress that agriculture has made in the UNFCCC negotiations. He described the evolution of REDD from simply reducing emissions from deforestation (RED) to forest degradation (REDD) and now to enhancing carbon stocks (REDD+). Wamukoya noted that a separate agricultural work program was put on hold in order to move REDD+ ahead, but in its current iteration, the REDD+ wording recognises agriculture as a driver of deforestation, thus formalising the links between the two sectors in the climate negotiations. Currently, item 1 (b) (iv) of the Bali Action Plan (PDF) creates an avenue to recognise agriculture's unique contribution to adaptation and mitigation. He concluded that REDD will not succeed without Agriculture and urged negotiators to support an independent framework to advance agriculture under the UNFCCC.
"No Agriculture, No Deal!" Lindiwe Sibanda (front) from FANRPAN and other side event speakers
The audience discussion session included questions about on land scarcity, and whether there is enough land available now and in the next 40 years to meet competing objectives of conserving forests and ensuring food security. Lini Wollenberg noted that recent studies found that there are about 430 million hectares of arable land left in the world, mostly in Cerrado of Latin America or African savannah, areas that currently host high biodiversity. While fertiliser intensification can boost short-term productivity the long term emissions generated by intensive fertiliser use would be very costly.
Peter Holmgren responded that the idea of competition for land must be converted into a complementary situation, where landscape biomass of landscape can be increased along with income to landusers. Joachim von Braun pointed out that competition could be harnessed for positive benefits, if the right institutional frameworks are in place. Competition could help overcome the current tremendous waste of biomass resources. George Wamukoya noted many examples in Africa of trees not competing with agriculture, for example in agroforestry systems.
Peter Holmgren also noted that farmers may need to compete between food prices and carbon prices. But if REDD were approached nationally, and countries were paid for proven incremental annual emissions reductions, nations would need systems to channel money to local farmers to invest in climate-smart agriculture. An audience member noted that certain crop varieties store and emit have different carbon storage and emissions and different food security properties.
The rest of the discussion focused on questions such as how agricultural productivity will be affected by ongoing climate change. It was noted that the CGIAR research program on climate change, agriculture and food security (CCAFS) is currently looking at the impacts of climate change on 50 key crops worldwide. Other discussion points included the need for good examples of new approaches; how to address the international drivers of deforestation; what other policy forums for addressing climate-smart agriculture (see the new report by the Meridian institute); and the need for more research on ecological and distributional consequences of land use changes.
Lindiwe Sibanda wrapped up the event with a resounding "no agriculture, no deal!"
Related: Read the background brief co-written by the side event speakers
Actions needed to halt deforestation and promote climate-smart agriculture. CCAFS Policy Brief No. 4.