COP23: Long overdue UN agreement clears path for talks on transforming agriculture

Photo: Michael Major (the Crop Trust)
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Release date

Wednesday, November 22, 2017
Experts say there is no time to lose in taking climate action to rapidly transform agriculture.

BONN, November 22 – Innovations to transform agriculture in the face of climate change are ready and waiting to be deployed now that UN negotiators have finally committed to discussing them.

After six years of talks, negotiators agreed to request SBSTA and SBI, the two divisions of the UN’s climate framework (UNFCCC), to jointly review issues associated with agriculture.

The decision was welcomed as recognition of the opportunity offered by the sector, which contributes around a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions but currently receives as little as 2.5 per cent of public climate funding.

“It’s a good outcome,” said Bruce Campbell, director of the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). “The negotiations have caught up with what is happening on the ground, where we have seen many new innovations help manage the adaptation and mitigation challenges in agriculture."

“But we have to reach scale within a decade. This outcome is an important step that we hope will now kick-start much greater implementation of solutions we know can be effective at sustainably feeding the world.”

Throughout COP23, organizations calling for a transformation in the agricultural sector, including CCAFS, the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) and the German Development Institute (DIE) co-hosted a series of side events that highlighted the advantages of climate action in agriculture.

In a session on land and water use, researchers demonstrated how farmers could meet the 60 per cent increase in demand for food by 2050 while using fewer resources. Technology such as solar water pumps and methods like rainwater harvesting was demonstrated by the International Water Management Institute (IWMI).

Improved varieties of crops, which are tolerant to stressors such as drought, heat and salinity are also crucial in terms of addressing the growing pressure on agricultural land. For example, in Mozambique, 19 varieties of drought-tolerant, orange-fleshed sweet potato have been developed by the International Potato Center (CIP).

“For smallholder farming, managing agricultural water availability, access and use is key to success,” said Alan Nicol, Sustainable Growth Program Lead at IWMI. “It's really about blending water-smart agricultural techniques and approaches, but also social and institutional environments in which they exist, into climate-smart agriculture.”

Highlighting the opportunities for gender equality of climate action in agriculture, Ilaria Firmian, Environment and Climate Knowledge Officer at the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), presented the Adaptation in Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP). The program, which is the world's largest fund helping smallholders adapt to climate change, ensures half of its beneficiaries are women, who are often key to adopting new farming practices.

Priscilla Achakpa, a member of AWGGCC and Nigerian delegate, said gender mainstreaming was not an end in itself but a strategy.

“Women’s inequalities in access to and control over resources will undermine equitable adoption of adaptation actions in agricultural sector," she said.

At the policy session, Ms Firmian highlighted the three ingredients for bringing science into policymaking: generating and communicating the evidence to inform the policy, strengthening the local institutions and supporting local governments to operationalize local and national policies.

"The evidence produced by science and research is needed also for private sector to invest in agriculture," she added.

At the session on low emissions, investing in sustainable livestock production was a key solution offered by Gabriela Weber de Morais, Environmental and Social Compliance Associate at Finance in Motion.

Ash Sharma, Senior Adviser to the NAMA Facility, also called for more private sector financing to support low carbon approaches.

“We're hoping to achieve transformation; we aim to shift a sector in a country toward a sustainable, irreversible low carbon pathway. We'd like to see more of the private financing,” he said.

Meanwhile, Olga Speckhardt from the Syngenta Foundation made the case for better, farmer-focused insurance to incentive smallholders to invest in more sustainable practices. Weather protection encourages smallholders to invest more in their crops.

“We need farmer-centric solutions in agriculture insurance,” she said. “We need to involve smallholders in product design so that we can offer them the best and most affordable cover.”

Ms Speckhardt and other experts welcomed the announcement of additional funding for the InsuResilience initiative was so important at this year’s climate talks.

At an event focused on the climate-smart potential of crop breeding, the Crop Trust, CIAT and ICARDA joined calls for greater investment in biodiversity to produce more drought and disease resilient crops.

Many crops stand to suffer with global temperature increases of 2oC with, which could make 60 per cent of bean growing areas unsuitable this century.

"Agriculture must transform over the next 30 years in order for us to avoid mass famine," said Charlotte Lusty, CGIAR Genebank Platform coordinator at The Crop Trust.

Finally, the business case for climate action in agriculture was made by IFAD, the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) alongside government officials from Costa Rica and farmers from Southern Africa.

IFAD supports renewable energy technologies that help rural communities to achieve labour savings and economic efficiency while cereal processor Kellogg has committed to 100 per cent renewable electricity by 2050.

“Sustainable agriculture, resilient food systems for us are not just nice to support but we rely on them to ensure we have business going into the future,” said Diane Holdorf, Chief Sustainability Officer at Kellogg Company.

To coincide with the climate talks, CCAFS and partners identified 10 of the best-bet innovations that are ready to be scaled up: 

To achieve the agricultural advantage Stefan Schmitz, head of the Directorate Food, Agriculture, and Rural Development at the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), called for closer partnerships between research and implementation partners.

Dr Schmitz added that “we need to do more and deliver tangible and wide-spread impacts on the ground for the many”. In order to do so, he stressed we must think beyond the farm-level and about rural development.

“We already know what is working and the time for talk is over,” Dr Campbell added. “It’s time for action. It’s time to realize our agriculture advantage.”


Donna Bowater | Marchmont Communications | +44 (0)7929 212 534