Impending food crisis not incentive enough for climate negotiators

Baaba Maal inspects failed corn crops in Mauritania
Crop production in 2012 fell short of total human needs making it necessary to increase yields, while adapting to a changing climate next year. Despite reality, climate negotiators are still not taking action on agriculture. Photo: P. Tosco (Oxfam)

by Cecilia Schubert

We are facing one of the largest challenges yet - feeding 230,000 additional human beings every day, under a changing climate. According to Robert Carlson of the World Farmers’ Organisation, the United Nations has never before been faced with such a critical and enormous challenge. But despite the impending crisis, the COP18 still hasn’t delivered anything concrete on agriculture. At least not yet.

“We already know that farmers need to adapt to a more variable climate,” said Robert Carlson in the opening high-level session dialogue at Agriculture, Landscapes and Livelihoods Day (ALL5) in Doha, Qatar. According to the organisation, food production in 2012 fell short in meeting demand and food prices are increasing worldwide (PDF). See how much we need to increase production by 2050 - Big Facts on Global Food Demand.

But farmers normally don’t wake up thinking about global issues. Instead a farmer thinks about what will happen in the field, and how they are going to feed their family. Moderator Lindiwe Majele Sibanda emphasized that we need to make sure that they take up the information and technologies that can boost production, so that they can step up to the challenge as a key team player. But first of all, “we need to speak their language.”

Dr. Sibanda

We also need to “put the farmers first, invest in technology transfers and research and take a holistic approach,” said Dr. Sibanda. Because at the end of the day, “it is all about the people,” she told the hundreds of participants who joined the event in person and online. The day-long event focused on food security and agricultural landscapes in a changing climate, and was co-organised by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, together with partners  

Without government support and financial means, large-scale transformation of the food system might not be possible. The hurdle at the negotiating table still revolves around adaptation versus mitigation. Some developing countries don’t want to find themselves in a situation where they need to investigate in mitigation activities, while their farms are in dire need of adaptation. Some countries also fear that negotiations will turn into an issue of trade, explained Tony La Vina, from Ateneo School of Government in the Philippines.

The struggle between adaptation and mitigation is postponing a clear work programme on agriculture. It normally takes time to get new issues included on the UNFCCC agenda, said La Vina, but this time, the need for action is most acute. The key question that everyone must involve themselves with is getting countries, Prime Ministers and Presidents, negotiators and other legislators to do the right thing on agriculture? We lack a good answer at the moment. Is an impeding international food crisis not incentive enough?

Leave your creative comments below – how can we get negotiators to commit to agriculture?

Learn more:

What do we really mean by rural food security?

What will happen to some of our most common commodities and natural resources under a changing climate?

Cecilia Schubert is a communications assistant at the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Follow the latest developments from the UN climate talks in Doha on our blog, on twitter @cgiarclimate and #ALLForest