A farmer taking cattle to the livestock market, Garissa, Kenya. Farmers are facing the challenges of climate change. <br/> Photo: ©FAO/Thomas Hug

A farmer taking cattle to the livestock market, Garissa, Kenya. Farmers are facing the challenges of climate change.
Photo: © FAO/Thomas Hug

Climate action in agriculture discussed at COP 23

A wide range of topics surrounding climate and agriculture were discussed in an official side event at COP 23 in November 2017 in Bonn, Germany. Representatives from countries, organisations and businesses across the world came together to focus on the transformation required in the agricultural sector.

In 2015, public finance to support mitigation of and adaptation to climate change peaked at 437 billion US dollars. On average, however, only two-and-a-half per cent of this money goes into agriculture.

Given the threat climate change poses to food security, it is crucial to provide more financial support for agriculture to undergo a fundamental transformation, according to Margarita Astralaga, Director of the Climate Change Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

Astralaga explained her organisation’s efforts to raise more finance for climate mitigation and adaptation measures at an event held on the fringe of the World Climate Summit in November 2017 in Bonn, Germany.

Supporting small-scale farmers

“Agriculture Advantage: The case for climate action in agriculture” was hosted by seven organisations and institutions, including IFAD and the German Development Institute (DIE), and organised by a further twelve, among them CGIAR, the Climate Policy Initiative and the World Agroforestry Centre. The week-long event covered areas ranging from climate-smart agriculture through private-sector climate actions and policy engagements to breeding and water issues.

Astralaga reported on her organisation’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), which runs 42 projects in 41 countries with a financial volume of USD 300 million (see also Rural 21, No 4/2017, forthcoming). ASAP has set in place programmes reaching 6.6 million farmers.

It has increased water availability for nearly 180,000 households and launched actions to avoid and/or sequester 30 million tonnes of CO2 emissions by 2034. The programme applies a systemic approach integrating aspects such as nutrition and gender.

“For example, we have observed that violence decreases if women are empowered and work in the fields themselves,” Astralaga explained in Bonn. “At the same time, their involvement has proven to ensure better nutrition.” One of ASAP’s targets is to have three million women adopting sustainable and climate-resilient practices by 2025.

Keeping an eye on women

Around two thirds of the world’s 600 million livestock farmers are women. However, Sophia Huyer, Gender and Social Inclusion Leader in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), pointed out that at local level, the majority of women were only using land together with men or after the men were finished with their work.

This also contributed to an increasing gap between men and women regarding climate information. Women working the land later than men needed different weather forecasts from those of the men.

Huyer maintained that gender had to be mainstreamed in the climate and agriculture debate. “We are still at a point where women’s access to areas like credit, knowledge or land is poorer than men’s,” she noted. “There could be a huge increase in productivity if this gap were closed, although that requires strong steps to be taken.”

Women’s decision-making power had to be raised at all levels. More involvement in community groups gave them better control of their income, increased productivity and decreased the workload. Women also needed to be involved more in non-traditional activities, including various levels of the value chain, as agro dealers or providers of tractor services.

Nitrous oxide emissions because of inefficiencies

Nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas (GHG) with around 300 times the warming power of carbon dioxide. More than half of the amount in the atmosphere is emitted by the soil, while the rest comes from the oceans. Nitrogen originating from nitrogen-rich fertilisers is dissolved in the groundwater and ends up in the sea, where microbial action combines it with oxygen.

According to Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini, Costa Rica’s Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, nitrous oxide coming from agriculture represents nitrogen that has not contributed to productivity. Like other GHG emissions, the build-up of nitrous oxide results largely from system inefficiencies.

Cavallini reported that several GHG mitigation strategies had been introduced in Costa Rica, including live fences, rational grazing and improved pastures. Most CO2 emissions could be offset by trees. Good fertilisation practises were being employed in coffee growing, which was also combined with agroforestry. Further mitigation elements included solid waste management, residual water treatment and gasification of farm waste to produce energy.

Grasping the overall situation

Outlining a farmer-based approach to climate action in agriculture, Ishmael Sunga, CEO of the South African Confederation of Agricultural Unions, noted that engaging farmers in discussions on climate had to be based on an understanding of their needs.

“Finance programmes often miss the point here and set out from the assumption that farmers are all the same. But they are heterogeneous,” Sunga explained. “And a farmer is only a part of the whole, the community, so we have to grasp what the overall situation is like. Other parts of this whole could be more important.”

Aspects like diversity, levels of education or appreciation of science needed to be taken into account. “When we talk about investment, our considering necessary action for the farmers is not enough. They themselves have to demand an enabling environment,” Sunga concluded.

Mike Gardner, journalist, Bonn/Germany

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