Story by Christine Negra.
Following the release of The Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change report “Achieving Food Security in the Face of Climate Change: Summary for Policy Makers”, the Commissioners brought their recommendations to the climate change meetings in Durban.
On December 2, at a side event hosted by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) on “Climate-Smart Agriculture – a transformative approach to food security, adaptation and mitigation,” Ethiopian Commissioner Prof Tekalign Mamo, talked about the challenges farmers encounter in taking up agro-ecological approaches. Despite widespread recognition that these approaches are key to building climate resilience, practices such as soil-building through organic material residues can be hard to implement when these materials are needed also for fuel and fodder. As pointed out by the Commission, Prof Mamo emphasized that one-size-fits-all solutions are not the answer given the specific needs and lifestyles of farmers, households and communities. To achieve feasible, integrated solutions, the critical elements are knowledge sharing, institutional support, and gender-focused extension services that interact with empowered farmers organizations. On December 5, Prof Mamo again shared his experiences and the Commission’s findings as a panelist at a climate-smart agriculture side event at the Africa Pavilion, where African farmers, researchers and high-level politicians joined to share opportunities and challenges for Africa.
At Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD) on December 3, Commission Chair Sir John Beddington shared the Commission’s seven recommendations through a keynote note address on “What does the science say? Mobilising sustainable agriculture to meet food security challenges”. Noting that many projections focus on 2050, Sir John said that he is more worried about 2025 when global population is likely to reach 8 billion as well as “three lost decades in agricultural research” and the growing recognition that declining food prices are starting to reverse course. Given that the planet has finite supplies of land and water, Sir John urged the world to prepare for inevitable shocks in the climate and economic systems. In addition to joining the call for a SBSTA work programme on adaptation and mitigation in agriculture, Sir John spoke about the importance of financing ‘early action’ towards resilience and mitigation in agricultural production systems. He said that we must look to leaders in other global processes including the G-20 and the Rio+20 Earth Summit to take concrete steps toward ensuring a ‘safe space’ for the world’s food and climate systems.
In the afternoon plenary sessions at ARDD, the Commission’s recommendations were referenced as critical steps forward by several speakers including Caroline Spelman (UK Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs), Mary Robinson (former President of Ireland) and Tina Joemat-Pettersson (South African Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries).
In his keynote address at the fifth annual Forest Day event in Durban on December 4, South African Commissioner Prof Bob Scholes outlined the scientific case for why forests matter for addressing climate change and sustainable development, emphasizing that forests represent up to one-quarter of the emissions reduction solution. While maintaining core functioning of intact rainforests is critical, he pointed out that dramatic transformations are occurring in dry forests such as the Miombo woodlands in Africa and the cerrado in Latin America. While these forests have only about half the carbon density of rainforests, they cover twice as much area and they are more easily converted into agricultural use. In the Miombo region, conversion tends to begin with removal of high value trees, followed by charcoal production, then low-input, low-output agriculture, culminating in shrubby, low-value land. Prof Scholes stated that fully restricting forest conversion is untenable in places like African dry forests because of the need for improved livelihoods of rapidly growing populations. He pointed to the opportunity to “leapfrog” past the cycle of degradation by ensuring that landscapes are functionally intact through intelligent transformation and sustainable intensification of agriculture. Prof Scholes cautioned, “We can’t kid ourselves about the challenges involved, but it is a cause that it is worth the effort.” Asked at the press conference to provide an example of sustainable intensification, Prof Scholes described the potential for significantly increasing maize yields from the current average of 0.5 tonnes per hectare in the Miombo dry forest region (which cover 2.4 million km2 in Southern Africa) to 5 tonnes per hectare if measures are taken to ensure sustainable production.
At the American Geophysical Union meeting on December 7 in San Francisco, California, Prof Scholes spoke about “Food security and climate change: a perfect storm needing an integrated solution.” He presented a ‘safe operating space’ diagram which illustrates that the challenges of feeding the world and keeping it within a comfortable climate range are fundamentally intertwined. Noting that agriculture is climatically-sensitive, but also has a substantial effect on the climate system, Prof Scholes emphasized that the imperatives of ensuring food security are likely to materialize earlier than those related to avoiding climate disasters. He warned that resulting actions could imperil efforts to ensure we remain within safe climate limits.
Christine Negra coordinates the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change.