Africa / Agriculture / Asia / Climate Change / Environment / Food Security / Latin America / NRM / WLE

Agriculture doing more of the same is agriculture ‘committing suicide’ – De Schutter

Pounding maize in Mozambique

Farmer Jocia De Sousa pounds maize for her daily meal in Muchamba Village, in Mozambique’s Tete Province (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

‘Next stop for policymakers gathered in Rome for World Food Day should be Cancun, venue of the climate change summit,’ says Olivier De Schutter, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the right to food, on the Guardian‘s ‘Poverty Matters’ blog yesterday.

Climate change and agricultural development need to be tackled in tandem, De Schutter argues. It’s hard to argue with her argument.

‘Remember 2008?,’ she asks? ‘The prices of agricultural commodities doubling in a matter of months, food riots in about 30 developing countries, 150 million more people facing hunger.

‘Two years later, as the committee for world food security holds its annual session in Rome and celebrates World Food Day, there is little to rejoice about. The stocks have been replenished, but no bold efforts have been made to reform the food systems. Food-deficit countries are still in a highly vulnerable situation. Small-scale farmers are still not sufficiently supported. And poor consumers are still not shielded from price increases.

‘Yet, there is something even worse than efforts that come too little, too late: efforts that, because they are focused on the short term and on quick wins, may be achieving the very opposite of what we need.

‘Of course, we have learned the cost of underinvesting in farming and, after 30 years of neglect, there is a renewed interest in agriculture, both within the private sector and among governments.

‘But the recipes promoted to relaunch agriculture may not be up to the challenges we are facing today. The provision of chemical fertilisers, the greater mechanisation of production and the expansion of irrigation seem far away from the professed commitment to fight climate change and to support small-scale, family agriculture. In reality, these “solutions” will mostly benefit the larger plantations. And it is their industrial model that is expanding.

If we were to stick to this approach, it would be a recipe for disaster, threatening the ability of our children’s children to feed themselves. Agriculture is already directly responsible for 14% of man-made greenhouse gas emissions – and up to one third, if we include the carbon dioxide produced by deforestation for the expansion of cultivation or pastures. As a result of temperature changes, the yields in certain regions of sub-Saharan Africa are expected to fall by 50% by 2020 in comparison to 2000 levels, and conservative estimates locate the global agricultural capacity in 2080 below the current levels by between 10% and 25%.

‘Today, weather-related events linked to climate change are already causing an increase in the number of floods and droughts, shorter and less predictable rainy seasons, and more volatile agricultural markets. In addition, the approaches which are currently promoted make food production increasingly dependent on fossil fuels, oil and gas, at the very same moment that the extraction of these resources is nearing its peak. Agriculture choosing this path is agriculture committing suicide.

‘This can change. We can improve the resilience of agriculture to climate change by combining diverse crops on the same farm, by planting more trees, and by developing water harvesting techniques to moisture the soil. The classic “green revolution” approaches should be fundamentally rethought to achieve this. Agriculture, now part of the problem of climate change, should be made part of the solution.

‘Effecting this shift requires that we think about climate change and agricultural development in combination. Left to different policy makers, the two are too often dealt with in isolation from one another. We need to travel the road from Rome to Cancun, home of the next climate change summit in December. . . .’

Read the whole article on the Guardian‘s ‘Poverty Matters’ blog: Climate change and agricultural development need to be tackled in tandem, 16 October 2010.

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