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Published on 27/06/2014

Climate-Smart Agriculture: Innovative Solution or Political Issue?

On 23 September Ban Ki Moon will be inviting heads of state and government – along with mayors and business, finance and civil society representatives – to take part in an exceptional climate summit in New York. One year before the Paris Conference of Parties on Climate Change (Cop 21), the United Nations (UN) Secretary General wants to spur those governments which “promised a new climate agreement next year in Paris” into action. With the International Year of Family Farming in full swing, an alliance should be created during the Climate-Smart Agriculture Summit intended to provide a response to the issues of climate, food security and poverty. What is this emerging concept? Why another alliance whereas we already have the UN? What do the NGOs think of it? GRET reviews the situation…

The Impact of Climate Change on Agriculture: The Example of Tanzania
In the poor and underdeveloped countries, climate change is a real poverty trap. The impacts on agriculture/farming, especially family farming (which plays a key role in ensuring food security), have been more than sufficiently proven: drought, rising sea level, soil salinity, natural disasters, etc. The poorest and most vulnerable farmers are the ones who are the most affected by the consequences on their production and their economic wellbeing. To combat this poverty trap the NGOs defend two parallel approaches: mitigation (reduction in greenhouse gas emissions so as to lessen the climate changes) and adaptation (bolstering the abilities of these populations to confront these changes: practices, anticipation, securing food sources, reactions, etc.). A development NGO covering work on the ground all the way up to devising policies with the aim of finding innovative solutions to combat poverty and inequality, GRET began tackling these problems several years ago using an ‘adaptation’ approach in its development projects.
Taking Tanzania as an example, GRET has just completed a climate change adaptation project – for which it teamed up with the Sokoine Agricultural University (SUA) – in the Uluguru mountains. Tanzania is one of the countries most seroiusly threatened by climate change, with an economy heavily dependent on agriculture/farming (45% of GDP) from which 82% of the population draws its subsistence. The effects of climate change directly threaten the most vulnerable populations, especially those living in mountainous areas, whose livelihood depends essentially on agriculture/farming and natural resources. Damaging effects have already begun appearing in the Uluguru mountains, worstening an already-occurring degradation of natural resources and impacting very negatively on water, the forest, migration, etc., for all the populations living downstream and including the two million inhabitants of the economic capital Dar Es Salam. Surveys carried out by SUA have shown that the current practices of intensive farming are leading to soil degradation and erosion, and that management of natural resources could not last owing to poor governance and a low degree of decentralisation policy implementation. GRET and SUA have set up a project to teach new farming/agricultural practices to 1,500 farmers in seven pilot villages, making maximum use of irrigation and guarding against soil erosion (rehabilitating irrigation channels, building terraces, introducing the practice of contour stripping with plants such as pineapple), and testing new revenue-generating activities (beekeeping, fish farming, market gardens). GRET and SUA have pushed for collective organisation methods to be set up for managing natural resources, and especially preservation of the forests and irrigation water management (water provided by canals and rivers). A second phase of the project is being considered over the next four years, involving local and regional authorities, and enabling the most promising initiatives in terms of natural resources management to be upgraded in scale.

What is Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA)?
From field work all the way up to thinking out policies, the subject has got people moving. In November 2010, the World Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change held in the Hague was the first international meeting to bring up the problem of interaction between these three key hurdles to development, at the initiative of Ethiopia, Mexico, New Zealand, Norway and Vietnam backed by the FAO and the World Bank. It was this initiative which gave birth to the idea of Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA). This concept defines “an agriculture which increases long-lastingly production and resilience (adaptation), reduces or eliminates greenhouse gases (mitigation), enhances national food security and contributes to achieving development targets”. GRET and NGOs approach this concept carefully. In February several French NGOs asked their Foreign Affairs Ministry and Agriculture Ministry to bear in mind this International Year of Family Farming, and “support peasant family farming as a priority sector for research and funding for mitigation and adaptation to climate change during the upcoming Climate Conferences (in Peru this year and in France next year), rather than the climate-smart agriculture vaunted by the FAO but whose fuzzy outlines leave the door open to models of agriculture/farming which pollute and lead to exclusion”.
Among others, CSA – which would allow the use of pesticides, chemical inputs, GMOs etc., sees only agricultural/farming production as impacting on food and nutritional security, and disregards agroecology. In any case, CSA does not meet the idea of agriculture/farming promoted by GRET and the NGOs, and defended by France (orientation law for French development policy, the AFD’s sectoral involvement framework regarding food security, etc.). GRET defends the development of agribusiness value chains based on a certain number of principles not taken into account in the CSA concept, in particular diversified agricultural/farming production and breeding/rearing, with enhanced work and soil productivity, and agroecology-based approaches; but also secure land tenure for small-scale producers, sustainable management of natural resources and a central role for small enterprises/companies. See GRET’s position on the International Year of Family Farming

The World Alliance: A Bogus Good Idea?
If the NGOs are not convinced, the international community is interested in CSA. During the Climate Summit coming up on 23 September in New York, a World CSA Alliance (ACSA) is expected to be created to get public and private funding rolling, and to create a political environment favourable to CSA. This month, whereas this alliance project is appearing on many event calendars due to a number of preparation conferences being programmed, GRET, ACF, AVSF, the CRID, Oxfam France, Secours Catholique, the CCFD and Friends of the Earth have drawn the French government’s attention to weaknesses in this alliance project. The ACSA would be created outside United Nations authority, at the same time as – and in parallel to – negotiations happening under the UN’s aegis, which is the only framework able to guarantee that the voices of the poor countries will be heard. It remains fuzzy as regards methods of governance, its objectives, the participation of civil society and farmers’ organisations, but gives centre stage to private players and investments, with no reference to the already-existing international regulatory frameworks. The ACSA does not put forward any structural thinking on low-carbon production models which play a key role in food security, but seems to condone an agricultural model based on intensification, export crops intended for world markets and the use of biotechnologies, and overlooks food and nutritional security. Bearing in mind these reserves, the NGOs have asked the French government not to commit itself to this alliance in its current state, and to ensure that the ACSA is not launched at the expense of the negotiations in progress within the UN, especially since France will be hosting the Conference of Parties for Climate Change (Cop 21) next year.

from 18 to 20 June, GRET, which has been operating in Vietnam since 1989, was in Hanoi to take part in the Asia region’s consultative meeting on the ACSA project. Organised by Vietnam, South Africa and the Netherlands, this meeting brought together a hundred or so participants from regional and international institutions, bilateral financial backers and representatives of research organisations, civil society and farmers’ organisations to get ready for the Alliance’s launch in September. All the players who spoke, whether from governments, the world of research or civil society expressed support for the ACSA project. Nevertheless, two questions went unanswered: 1) interest in the fate of the small-scale farmer, and 2) the difference between the private sector’s and the Alliance’s visions. GRET took part in a workshop on the environment that encourages CSA, which concluded with a too-fuzzy definition of CSA and a lack of visibility regarding CSA implementation for all the stakeholders, not enabling clear expectations to be formulated. Each country already has relevant programmes (Low Carbon, sustainable agriculture/farming, etc.) and the ACSA’s added value with regard to these already-existing programmes or initiatives has not been pointed out, nor have the resources to be allocated to coordinate them. The players agreed on the need to clarify the ACSA’s objectives and, to do this, create a focal point in each country, list the practices, develop a communication plan on the concept, improve knowledge of CSA to encourage information sharing, and have an inclusive CSA. There was no discussion of issues concerning organisation, management or governance. Ban Ki Moon’s representative repeated the UN Secretary General’s concern for the iniative, and announced that on 23 September eight subjects (climate change, agriculture/farming, renewable energy, pollution, etc.) would be submitted for debate with the various players/operators, including those from civil society, but that CSA would not be debated “officially”. Next stage: the preparatory summit in The Hague from 8 to 10 July.