Countries prioritise agriculture in climate plans, but is the funding there?

Bruce Campbell, CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Most countries have now shown their cards on how they intend to tackle climate change. Research out this week shows that agriculture is marked as a priority in the vast majority of national plans (known as Intended Nationally Determined Commitments or INDCs) – which should come as no surprise to UN negotiators. Agriculture and climate experts have been highlighting the sector's huge potential to both adapt to and mitigate climate change since 2009. Greenhouse gas emissions related to our food systems are estimated to account for up to 29 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions, and the sector run by the world's 500 million farmers stands to be one of the worst hit by the unpredictable weather patterns that a changing climate is causing. Given that we will need to feed roughly 9.6 billion people by 2050, this is a situation that demands action.

Yet progress on agriculture at the UN climate talks has been excruciatingly slow. The Durban agreement in 2011 called for technical discussions on agriculture to take place to inform negotiators how agriculture could be brought into the main climate negotiations, but these will now only be finalised in 2016. As a consequence, the idea that mitigating emissions from agriculture and improving agricultural productivity are mutually exclusive has remained. Agriculture is not explicitly mentioned in the draft text of the new agreement, although food security is proposed as a key objective.

However, a new concept that is taking root is proving that many interventions that help farmers adapt to climate change, can also reduce emissions, resulting in a win-win for farmers and the planet. 'Climate-smart agriculture' seeks to deliver three interconnected goals: improving food security, improving farmers' resilience to climate change, and minimising emissions, where possible. Climate-smart agriculture also takes into account social goals, for example, that many farmers in developing countries are women, and that to advance agriculture means to tackle gender inequality in access to resources and knowledge.

It seems that although the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) has missed the huge opportunity the sector presents for taking action on climate change, individual countries have not. Our analysis of the country level plans submitted to the UNFCCC has revealed that there is a huge appetite for technical and financial assistance to adopt this very type of climate-smart agriculture, that will help them tackle the challenge of feeding the world in the face of a warming planet. 80 per cent of countries have included agriculture in their climate mitigation target, and 64 per cent have noted agriculture's importance in climate adaptation strategies.

Perhaps most importantly, 30 per cent of countries, mainly in the developing world, have included agriculture mitigation targets that are conditional on international financial support. This is a clear call to action for UN negotiators in Paris: developing world nations need funds to support the reduction of agriculture-related emissions. Costs range from USD 2.5 million for a programme to reduce slash and burn in the Central African Republic, to USD 1.8 billion to reduce emissions from rice, implement biodigesters for recycling waste and expand agroforestry systems in Senegal.

Climate-smart agriculture is already making a difference. Take the example of dairy famers in Kenya. Currently, livestock contributes to 47 – 55 per cent of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Responding to this, the International Livestock Research Institute and the World Agroforestry Center are testing measures appropriate to smallholders, such as better feed production and feeding practices, which can boost livestock productivity levels while also reducing emissions per kilogram protein of milk produced. In Kenya, researchers believe these practices can mitigate 1.2 Million tonnes of CO2 by 2018.

Rice production is responsible for up to 10 per cent of global manmade methane emissions. Southeast Asia is the world's largest rice producer, and so there is great potential for reducing emissions from this sector. Using a technique called Alternate Wetting and Drying, farmers can maintain or even increase yields by using less water in rice production. Irrigated fields are drained for short periods as crops grow, resulting in up to 30-40 per cent reduction of methane emissions and reducing water use by up to 30 per cent, helping farmers cope during periods of water scarcity. The International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) is working with the government of Vietnam to map the suitability of these practices for different regions to assist their scaling up.

The INDCs can serve as a roadmap to guide investment and technical support from the UNFCCC. Countries have spoken, and agriculture has featured highly on their agendas. Feeding the planet in a sustainable way will simply not be possible unless all nations are empowered to take action towards climate-smart food systems. We hope this message is well heeded in Paris.


Dr. Bruce Campbell is the Director of the CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.