FAO’s Zitouni Ould-Dada on what was achieved at COP27 on food systems and road ahead
Agriculture has not been a top priority for many countries when they look at climate change adaptation. For the first time this year, the topic of food systems and agriculture was extensively discussed at the annual conference of parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and made it to the main agenda.
It was also the first time the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) had an agriculture and food systems pavilion, where the linkages between climate change and agriculture were discussed.
Down To Earth spoke to Zitouni Ould-Dada, deputy director of FAO’s climate and environment division, on what was achieved at the 27th COP (COP27) held in November this year on this front and the road ahead.
Shagun: What were your expectations from COP27 and how much do you think was actually delivered?
Zitouni Ould-Dada: Things have changed and now we are in a new reality. The whole world is worried about food and energy security. There was a lot of expectation from this COP because we’ve been living through the pandemic, climate change crisis, biodiversity loss and the war in Ukraine.
The pandemic showed that the agrifood systems are vulnerable to shocks and we’ve seen a big disruption of supply. There has been so much damage caused by climate change through the floods in Pakistan and in other parts of the world, and also the droughts that we've seen, particularly in Europe. In countries like the United Kingdom we’ve never seen that intensity before.
And all these have been affecting global food security. It is the first time that we see food security really given a big attention at COP. We had seen a little bit in Glasgow, but this is really the first time that it was visible.
The first week started with the World Leaders Summit where there was a roundtable on global food security. Even at the highest political level, the attention was visible. And for us, this is really good news because we’ve been waiting for this recognition of food and agriculture to be discussed much broadly at COP27.
I think from now on, it is definitely going to receive more attention in trying to fix the agrifood systems, because we still have rising hunger around the world and almost 830 million people who go hungry every day. And then, we have a big issue with food loss and waste. So, there are so many contrasts that need to be fixed.
S: Progress on Koronivia joint work on agriculture, which was set up in 2017, has made tardy. This time at COP it was expanded for four more years. How do you think it will be different?
ZOD: The Koronivia joint work on agriculture carried out a number of workshops on various areas that concern different aspects of agriculture. It was a good achievement at that time, because it recognises the important role of agriculture in addressing climate change.
Now at COP27, it was agreed to expand that, but it's called ‘The Food and Agriculture for Sustainable Transformation’ (FAST). The focus is to shift gear and move into implementation on the ground.
The FAST initiative that we launched with the Egyptian presidency at COP has been designed to help particularly with mobilisation of finance and to support the transformation that we’ve been talking about.
And second is the facilitation of the knowledge exchange, so we can speed up the deployment of innovative solutions, see some results really in tackling the climate crisis for mitigation or adaptation, for building resilience and also for attracting more investment in the agricultural sector, particularly in relation to adaptation. That has been neglected and now it's time really to invest more in adaptation than we have been in the past.
S: The loss and damage fund that was set up was considered a win at this COP. How do you think agriculture can feature in it at the country-level or at a regional level when it is actually finalised.
ZOD: I hope so (that agriculture is factored in). Agriculture is one of the most vulnerable sectors to the impact of climate change. So, it makes sense to consider the losses and damages in relation to the agricultural sector.
And also, for smallholder farmers from all around the world that produce 80 per cent of the food for human consumption. So those are the vulnerable communities and the vulnerable countries that need to adapt and need to have the support to minimise or avoid those loss and damages.
So, of course loss and damage fund has to include the loss of agricultural production of land and the impact on food security. Once it is established, we can work with the countries to make sure that access also reaches the most vulnerable countries, the most vulnerable communities, including smallholder farmers and women in rural areas in particular.
S: Till now we have seen that food systems receive a meagre climate finance, between 3-5 per cent. How can this be changed, moving forward?
ZOD: While the overall finance for addressing climate change impacts has been increasing in the last two decades, the proportion of climate finance in agriculture and land use sectors have been decreasing.
Current flows of public international climate finance do not coincide with the priorities that developing countries have specified in their nationally determined contributions.
Between 2000 and 2018, the share of global climate finance in the agriculture and land-use sector has decreased, from an average of 45 per cent of the total flows at the beginning of the millennium to 24 per cent in 2013 when it has since stayed stable.
In the past year, there was less focus on financing in the sector. But now, there are many reasons for shifting that and giving more attention to investing in agriculture, for mitigation and for building adaptation and resilience. The agricultural sector has a lot to offer in terms of solutions.
S: What were some of the prominent solutions and adaptation measures discussed at COP27? Organisations working in the sector have expressed dismay about the negotiations, saying they did not address sustainable food systems as a whole and also left out small scale farmers.
ZOD: Our narrative was that agriculture is not just an emitter of greenhouse gas emissions, it is an important part of the solution to the climate crisis because of the big potential for emissions reductions.
The FAO pavilion was an opportunity to invite various players and stakeholders to present their solutions, case studies, things that have proven to be working and how we can scale them up.
We are in this emergency situation where we need to do much more to be able to stay below 1.5 degrees Celsius. We need to understand this in terms of the action that we need to take, both in the negotiations and outside the negotiations.
We want to deploy more climate smart agricultural practices that facilitate increased production of food. But at the same time, we want to respect the environment and biodiversity. So, we’re talking about solutions that put sustainability really at the heart of practices.
Solutions like climate-smart practices, efficiency in the use of water and nutrients, precision agriculture and the use of renewable energy on farms that can allow access to electricity can go a long way. Access to water and using water through drip irrigation and efficient practices are also helpful.
The other solutions we were looking for was in livestock, particularly with regard to methane reductions. There again, there is a big potential for innovative solutions, innovation for animal feed that can facilitate the reduction.
And in the application of practices, for example, we’ve seen some innovative solutions like in rice fields where you grow rice and at the same time, use the space to grow fish as well or to have ducks to diversify the incomes to the farmers.
The point about these is that we need to scale them up more broadly so that countries and farmers around the world benefit from these.
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