The COP21 climate talks are underway this week in Paris, France with Friday being focused on the challenges and needs of the private sector. While world leaders are discussing how to mitigate future climate change risks, agriculture remains a key industry in the negotiations. Farmers are the definition of a frontline community for business, meaning it is an group that is currently being most directly affected by climate change. Globally, small farmers make up one of the most important frontline communities who are already facing the challenges of a rapidly changing climate due to our dependence on them to provide the world food supply. The negotiations should result in partnerships that will deploy investment and education to help frontline farmers become key actors in the global drive to achieve a climate resilient future.
With the earth’s population projected to reach nine billion by mid-century, the planet can no longer afford an unsustainable food system. Empowering farmers to lead as global actors will be an crucial turning point. With many small farms struggling to break the poverty line, development and financing of these adaptation projects opens up a whole new list of issues. Currently, only about 16 percent of climate change finance currently goes to adaptation and resiliency measures. But adaptation projects help address farmers’ immediate needs, like dealing with unpredictable rainfall, include improved water management practices, and afforestation/rehabilitation of degraded land.
Climate change and agricultural productivity are the most important environmental challenges confronting our food system. With rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall, many crops are failing, pest and disease outbreaks are becoming more common and many traditional farming systems are no longer viable. Dr. Evelyn Nguleka, President of the World Farmers Organization says farmers across the globe are seeing these changes, “There is a complete change in seasonality, when we expect it to change, and when we expect it to stop”.
When looking at the impacts of climate change, the agricultural sector will see the biggest effects by mid to late Century. At the same time agriculture also accounts for a large part of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Typically, estimates of GHG emissions from agriculture lie around 11-15% of global emissions. But looking at food production more broadly to include emissions from land-use change and processing, packaging, transport and sale of agricultural products the number jumps to nearly 50% according to the UN’s 2013 Trade and Environment Review. While you would not think it when opening your pantry, most of our food results from a lengthy supply chain. Big multinational companies buy shiploads of farm products from all over the world (i.e. cocoa, sugar and wheat). Our very much global food system will be put in a threatening position with growing climate impacts. As small global farmers are those who stand to lose the most they should hold an important seat in this discussion.
Smallholder communities across the world are responding robustly to these challenges. The Ugandan smallholder farmers that make up Kayonza Growers Tea Factory Ltd launched a farmer leadership program to identify challenges, assess conditions and identify solutions using existing data and climate modeling. The results are impressive with upwards of 4,000 farmers trained, improved access to clean water and over 20,000 indigenous trees re-planted. Energy efficiency measures have led to reduction in local fuel wood consumption.
Using their expert knowledge of the land, smallholder communities have been at the forefront for developing a range of innovative approaches to adapt to climate change’s adverse effects. And these efforts often yield lasting results. A recent study found that investments in smallholder adaptation can deliver mitigation co-benefits. The study, done by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, also confirmed that some of the most cost-beneficial options for mitigation in agriculture are cropland and grazing land management, and restoration of organic soils. Through adaptation smallholders can yield agricultural productivity while restoring degraded ecosystems and reducing carbon footprint.
Smallholder farmers are an essential part of the solution to climate change. We need the COP21 negotiations to result in collaboration among stakeholders to deliver much-needed investments in these frontline communities. As many other industries and businesses begin to face the challenges of a changing climate, local farms across the globe are dealing with it in this growing season. Innovative and cooperative policies will be the key driver to generating solutions across the small farm value chain, from field to fork.
Special Thanks to Kisilu for talking with us and helping with this piece. To learn more about Kisilu’s story check out The Climate Diaries