By Joyce Chimbi
DUBAI, Dec 10 2023 (IPS)
In the absence of sufficient urgency to curb greenhouse gas emissions, it is becoming too hot to farm in Africa. Confronted by extreme, intense, and frequent climate events such as record-breaking prolonged dry spells, current agriculture and farming systems are ill equipped to adapt to or alleviate climate change.
For millions of farmers, the sun’s intensity has increased, and rainfall is far and in between. Unlike their forefathers, when farmers could look at the clouds and smell the air to predict the weather, these time-honored techniques no longer work as the climate has morphed into something unforeseeable. Consequently, food basket regions are being wiped off Africa’s agricultural belts in a growing number of African countries.
Against a backdrop of agricultural and food systems that are losing the battle to climate change, there is now hope for millions of smallholder farmers to put food on the table at home and across the world. The Food and Agriculture Declaration, which more than 130 world leaders endorsed at COP28 in Dubai, is now the key to breaking the deadlock between food and agriculture systems and climate change.
“For the first time in the history of COP summits, we have a critical declaration that captures the most pressing issues facing the world today. We have agriculture and food on one hand and climate on the other. This presents us with a two-fold solution: to build sustainable agriculture and climate-resilient food systems on the one hand, and to address agriculture’s contribution to overall emissions on the other. Agriculture is responsible for 22 to 27 percent of all global emissions, and food systems contribute one-third, or 33 percent,” says Jyotsna Puri (PhD), Associate Vice President, Strategy and Knowledge Department at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Puri leads IFAD’s strategy work in key areas targeting agriculture, climate, gender, nutrition, youth, and social inclusion, with a focus on rural populations, providing the vision for evidence-informed advice on program designs and implementation. IFAD is both a UN organization and an International Financial Institution (IFI), and the landmark inaugural agriculture declaration is particularly critical as it aligns with every aspect of IFAD’s work to build food systems that can withstand ongoing climate change shocks.
As an international financial institution, IFAD provides financing through loans, grants, and a debt sustainability mechanism. As a UN organization, IFAD works in remote rural areas where poverty and hunger are at their deepest, so that rural populations are not left behind and are equipped to lift themselves out of poverty.
“The Declaration is additionally critical because solutions must be just and equitable. They must be people-centered, taking on board those most burdened by the uncertainties triggered by climate change and the increasing variabilities of climate change. In Africa, for instance, 20 to 80 percent of the overall food and agriculture production would be significantly challenged by climate uncertainties if left unmitigated, extensively affecting crop production and nutrition patterns,” she emphasized.
She therefore called for a laser-focused approach to building stronger local value chains rather than global value chains, for the former has greater potential to transform food systems in line with local challenges and possible solutions.
“Bringing food and agriculture into the climate agenda is significant; 70 percent of the food is produced by smallholder farmers in Africa and Asia, and they are also the most climate-impacted constituencies. There are about 500 million small farms in the world, and this means 80 percent of the world’s farms are family-owned. The declaration is a lifeline, for it presents an opportunity to transform food and agriculture systems in a just, equitable way without leaving anyone behind,” Puri says in an exclusive interview with IPS.
Puri further spoke about the undeniable and intricate nexus between sustainable agriculture and climate-resilient food systems and climate. The effects of increasing global emissions have manifested through low production and increasing hunger, pushing the world off track from the global goal to address hunger and poverty in line with the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals.
“Weather patterns are now unrecognizable from what your parents and grandparents were taught about what, when, and how to plant. These changes are radical, and we must rethink agriculture so that farmers are equipped to overcome these challenges through technology and digital options that help read the weather more accurately and make timely decisions—looking at the ground to read the weather is no longer practical,” she says.
Puri told IPS that other changes include a shift in how farmers interact with markets as the European Union food imports regulations ban agricultural produce linked to deforestation and forest degradation. Stressing that this presents new opportunities for farmers to shift to indigenous or ancient crops such as cassava that are aligned with climate goals, resilient food systems, and high nutritional value.
“In the Upper Tana River valley, for instance, IFAD realized that the Nairobi River was losing its momentum due to the growth of Eucalyptus trees in the upper regions of the Tana. We work with smallholder farmers and provide compensation—through the Water Fund—for them to transition from eucalyptus to crops that are less water-absorbing and climate-resilient without compromising the economic and nutritional value of these crops to the farmers.”
On whether the landmark Agriculture Declaration will be the silver bullet for Africa’s smallholder farmers, Puri said the magic of the declaration will be in its implementation and the amount of money that will be committed to effecting it. Stressing the importance of financing and investments in agriculture, food systems, and value chains within the context of climate change. Members states must therefore build back better to address fragilities caused by climate change through partnerships with the private sector.
IPS UN Bureau Report