Climate Change

Climate smart agriculture proposed at COP 22 raises concerns

Climate smart agriculture has not been defined, giving way for industrial agriculture to be promoted under its name

By Vineet Kumar
Published: Friday 18 November 2016

Most countries consider agriculture among their adaptation or mitigation priorities to help limit global temperature rise (Credit: Flickr)

Climate negotiations are in process at the 22nd Conference of Parties in Marrakech (COP 22). This edition of the conference is being called “Action COP” or “Agriculture COP”. Agriculture is one of the sectors worst affected by climate change. Agriculture is important from adaptation as well mitigation points of view. Most countries consider agriculture among their adaptation or mitigation priorities to help limit global temperature rise, in line with the Paris Agreement. About 95 per cent of all countries include this sector in their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs).

Major agriculture-related initiatives at COP

The major initiatives for the agriculture sector, which have been have been proposed and frequently discussed at COP so far are Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA) and Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA). While GACSA was launched at COP 21 in Paris, AAA has been launched at COP 22 with much fanfare. Both of these initiatives are being promoted by Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) along with various governments, especially African countries.

GACSA claims that it aspires to improve farmers’ agricultural productivity and incomes in a sustainable way. It also hopes to build farmers’ resilience to extreme weather and changing climate and reduce greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture.

The AAA initiative aims to build the resilience in African farmers by promoting sustainable soil management, better water management and risk management linked with tailored capacity development, policies and funding mechanisms. AAA is already being supported by 28 African countries.

Both of these initiatives look very promising and have focused on agriculture, a sector relatively neglected during climate negotiations. Both of these initiatives have one major common element—climate smart agriculture. The term was first coined by FAO in 2010 as a means to attract climate finance to its agricultural programmes in Africa.

Major Concerns related to climate smart agriculture

Civil society, including peasants/farmers organisations from around the world have been highly critical of the GACSA as it does not define what climate smart agriculture is and lacks social and environmental safeguards. Climate smart agriculture must not be confused with agroecology.

Conflict of interest and monopoly

As of September 2016 GACSA had 154 members including governments, industries, institutions and non-profits. The founding membership and steering committee of GACSA also include fertiliser companies, their front groups and partner organisations. Of the alliance’s 29 non-governmental founding members, there are three fertiliser industry lobby groups, two of the world’s largest fertiliser companies (Yara of Norway and Mosaic of the US), and a handful of organisations working directly with fertiliser companies on climate change programmes.

About 60 per cent of its private sector members, as of April 2016, were from the fertiliser industry says an analysis report by GRAIN, a non-profit organisation. Only a handful of corporations dominates the global fertiliser industry and have a powerful lobby. This makes for serious conflict of interests, as they will be influencing the climate strategy in favour of fertiliser industry.

How climate smart agriculture is defined

There is no precise definition for “climate smart agriculture” and deliberately so. The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture instead leaves it to its members to determine what “climate smart agriculture” means to them. There are no social or environmental safeguards.

This leaves a lot of ambiguity and raise serious concerns. For example, CGIAR, a FAO partner in GACSA, promotes climate smart “success stories”, which promote the use of fertilisers and genetically-modified organisms, and make no mention of agroecology. These are controversial  issues. In the current form, there is strong possibility that industrial agriculture will be promoted under GACSA in the name of climate smart agriculture.

Industrial agriculture is more harmful, carbon intensive and adversely impact farmers and food sovereignty

Industrial agriculture has a larger carbon footprint than agro-ecological farming. It requires more chemical fertilisers and pesticides, which are a major source of carbon emission in the agriculture sector. Fertilisers, especially nitrogen fertilisers, require an enormous amount of energy to produce, resulting into more carbon emissions.

Chemical fertilisers are addictive. Because they destroy the natural nitrogen in the soils that is available to plants, farmers have to use more and more fertilisers every year to sustain yields. Over the past 40 years, the efficiency of nitrogen fertilisers has decreased by two-thirds and their consumption per hectare has increased by seven times. Studies demonstrate that chemical fertilisers are responsible for much of the massive loss of organic matter, the world’s most important carbon sink, that has occurred in the world’s soils since the pre-industrial era.

As per a estimate by GRAIN, industrial food system contributes to the climate crisis, as between 44 – 57 per cent of all greenhouse gas emissions come from global food system (Deforestration: 15-18 per cent emission, farming: 11-15 per cent, transport: 5-6 per cent, processing and packing: 8-10 per cent, freezing and retail: 2-4 per cent, food waste: 3-4 per cent).

Why civil societies are worried

Civil society warns that climate smart agriculture can take us in the wrong direction, falling short of ensuring food and nutrition security and undermining the radical transformation of current food and agricultural systems that the world urgently needs, to address climate change.

There is a fear that seeds, fertilisers, pesticides promoted by big corporations multinationals will be pushed in the guise of climate smart agriculture. This will make farmers more and more dependent on market forces and hence increase their vulnerability and reduce their adaptive capacity.

More than 350 organisations from all over the world—including Via Campesina (the world’s largest peasant farmers’ movement), Friends of the Earth, Slow Food and many oppose Climate-Smart Agriculture and its Global Alliance—want agro-ecology to be endorsed as the mainstream pillar of agricultural policy frameworks worldwide.

Jarone Browne from Grassroots Global Justice, USA a member of Via Campesina says that climate smart agriculture is a false solution and we need to give the power of food production back in the hands of food producers by adopting agro-ecology.

Actual solutions to climate crisis: Agro-ecological farming

Agro-ecology is a holistic approach to agriculture, based on principles of ecology as well as food and nutrition security, food sovereignty and food justice which seek to enhance agricultural systems by using and recycling natural resources instead of relying on externally purchased inputs. It encourages local/national food production by small food producers and family farmers, and is based on techniques that are not delivered from the top-down, but developed from farmers’ traditional knowledge and practices as well as from farmer innovations. This approach is based on farmers’ participation and makes nature a powerful ally in ensuring food and nutrition security, building healthy soils and conserving water. It increases farmers’ incomes and resilience in the face of climate change, while improving biodiversity and crop diversity.

Research shows that farmers can stop using chemical fertilisers without reducing yields by adopting agro-ecological practices. This conclusion was supported by the 2008 International Assessment of Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development, a three-year intergovernmental process involving over 400 scientists that was sponsored by the World Bank and other UN agencies. Therefore, the need of the hour is to promote true solutions for climate change and strongly reject the false solutions.

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