Time for farmers to act on climate change

No one is more vulnerable than farmers to the effects of climate change. Because they bear the brunt of climate change, very few farmers question its existence, impact or urgency. Farmers also have the greatest potential ability to address the causes and mitigate the effects of climate change while adapting to the altering landscape.

There was hope at the recent Marrakech COP22 that agriculture would finally take its place in the global climate debate. But it was not to be.

Now it’s time for farmers to act to reduce emissions in the sector and to present concrete proposals to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) and to COP23, in Bonn, in 2017.

Farmer designed

For far too long farmers have pleaded for the inclusion of agriculture in a global agreement, to replace the Kyoto Protocol, and for a Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) on agriculture.

For far too long the farmers’ constituency has relied on parties and governments to come up with, and agree on, a climate change plan that fits agriculture.

In 22 years, nothing has happened.

We need to unite, and plan farmer-driven solutions in our farmer-driven sector.
A plan like this could be a real game-changer if it were mandated by the world’s largest representative farmers’ organisations: the World Farmers’s Organisation (WFO), the Pan African Farmers’ Organisation (PAFO), the International Foundation for Organic Agriculture (IFOAM) and the Asian Farmers Association (AFA).

The logical vehicle for a broad-based solution is to allow global, organised agriculture to secure the sustainability and profitability of the sector through a farmer-to-farmer planning session.

Here, we could tackle urgent matters like sectoral emissions, and strengthening farmer resilience and adaptability. Inclusive discussions that would take in the whole spectrum from the giant industrial producers to the smallholder farmers in the world’s forgotten rural corners.

Primary producers, world-wide, have convened an open debate on climate change which is a good sign. But debates, while encouraging, are not enough.

We need action.

Agriculture is the second biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions (after energy) and is responsible for 21% of all emissions.

Source: IPCC (2014) Exit based on global emissions from 2010. Details about the sources included in these estimates can be found in the Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change

Farmers don’t need to shy away from their responsibility and accountability for emissions. Climate-smart agriculture does not have to be a burden to the sector; on the contrary, it can increase the profitability and sustainability of farming operations across the board.

High tech innovations, no-till cropping, nature friendly and awareness-driven agricultural practices all have the potential to produce more, on less, with less.

Nature and agriculture

For farmers in Africa, and Asia, climate-smart farming comes with a new paradigm.
For the poorest in our sector, farming on less than a hectare, planting unimproved seed, using a hand hoe to cultivate, and driving annual expansion through deforestation, ‘climate-smart’ could mean mechanisation, modernisation and commercialisation.

Poverty is a major driver of climate change. If climate-smart agriculture does not offer a concrete solutions to poverty and hunger, it has no chance of winning the hearts and minds of the vast majority of the world’s farmers, for whom household food security is a daily issue.

Different targets, differently pursued, for different places on the earth, could help reduce emissions, and get buy-in to nature-friendly practices. .

In the smallholder environment, stopping the fires that burn more than half of the area of Central-, West- and East Africa every dry season could be a realistic goal. These fires put the worst kind of black carbon into the atmosphere and strip the soil of vital nutrients.

Even though farmers must eliminate competition, predators and diversity, and constrain the elements through which nature restores balance they remain the primary custodians of nature’s resources in the modern world.

Nature has no surpluses, but surplus production is the essence of commercial farming.
This is the complex, imperative tension between agriculture and nature. It’s also the reason why farmers owe nature their best, and most diligent, efforts to protect the natural system.

Farmers plan for farmers

No multi-national institution, government, NGO or random interest group, can successfully dish up solutions for climate change, and serve it to the global agricultural sector.

No expert assembly, or exclusive group of influential farmers, can design a road map for climate-wise agriculture either; the sector’s diversity would never allow for that.

We need an intensive workshop informed by experts and manned by farmer leaders, to map out strategies. In this process farmers themselves would contribute, question, endorse or reject principles, proposals and strategy. Without this, there will be no firm mandate, no consensus, and no commitment to change from farmers.

And though it may be cumbersome and consume time and resources, we desperately need it. The alternative is too ghastly to contemplate.

The petty politics that have kept agriculture out of the climate debates and COP agreements for the last 22 years, must go.

In the long term, global food security is threatened; in the much shorter term, farmers’ livelihoods are threatened.

The good news is that we can do it.

I call for a comprehensive workshop of farmers’ leaders, world-wide, to develop a plan for agriculture; a plan as practical and sensible as only farmers can make it.

And I call for the global sector to change tack in its approach to the UNFCCC and COP.
A united sector, ready to engage COP with a tailor-made plan, mandated by the most representative farmers’ organisations on earth, would be difficult to refuse.

It has been said that bad things happen because good people do nothing, so let us not sit back
and wait to see what outcomes the current process generates.

Dr Theo de Jager
President of the Pan African Farmers’ Organisation

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