Kicking off the first day of the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, keynote speakers expressed their fears and optimism for building a strong movement to push key issues to the top of the science and policy agendas, and create practical solutions for farmers in developing countries.
Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, the African Union Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture stressed the need for evidence-based investment plans to support and boost agriculture, which counts for two-thirds of GDP in African countries. For the last three decades, she said, agricultural investment has been the missing link. Small-scale farmers and pastoralists must be included in global carbon markets, a point that emerged from the October African Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change in Addis Ababa.
Kanyayo Nwanze, president of IFAD, also focused on smallholders, in his call for the launch of a new "evergreen" agricultural revolution. Smallholders should be seen as business partners and entrepreneurs if we are truly to address their needs. He pointed out that toolkits exist already for "multiple-win investments", for example payments for environmental services.
Other elements of an evergreen revolution include approaches to reduce smallholder vulnerability to climate change impacts and volatile markets, as well as better climate information systems that farmers and policymakers can actually use. As well, he highlighted that many long term climate change solutions are found in traditional knowledge, for example genetic varieties that are adapted to changing conditions.
Finally, referring to the upcoming UNFCCC Conference of Parties in Cancun, he stressed that delays to the international climate change negotiations should not hold us back from mobilising finances and other resources for agriculture and climate change. Finally, he noted "our complex discussions need to translate into straightforward solutions for a farmer's daily challenges."
For more from Mr Nwanze, read his recent piece on Smallholders, climate resilience and sustainable agriculture
Not all major issues in agriculture are focussed on climate change, said University of Amsterdam Professor Louise Fresco. Drought and famine are results of failing institutions, disincentives to farmers, failures of markets, and pests and diseases. She urged people to think about the issues in the context of Global Change, that is "the impact of human beings on the surface of the earth"
Of course climate change cannot be ignored, and we must confront whether and how climate change make things worse. "What is new," she said "is the speed and the scale at which changes occur, the global linkages and the number of people involved in intensification of agricultural production." The other urgent question is how poor farmers can become resilient, and echoing the other keynote speakers, she noted that many solutions lie in entrepreneurship.
One of the major challenges for agriculture is getting better yield from existing land. This includes finding a way to enhance labour productivity. Agricultural labour, which is frequently carried out by women, can be back-breaking. Professor Fresco cited that 200 hours of weeding are required for half a hectare of produce. As young people move towards urban areas, we must challenge our view that "small is beautiful" and quickly look for some approaches that can enhance labour productivity, including mechanisation.
She noted that genetic modification may also help in specific cases, all other conditions are right. While genetic modification has bee mostly targeted towards bigger and more transportable varieties, the GM sector will need shift its objectives and select for climate relevant traits such as drought resistance.
She also noted challenges including growth in meat consumption in developing countries and deforestation from agricultural expansion and biofuel production.
To see more from Professor Fresco, watch her TED Talk on Feeding the Whole World
CCAFS is at the Hague conference all week.
Read the background paper CCAFS prepared for the conference: Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change: Outlook for Knowledge, Tools and Action (PDF)
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