|Climate change experts must remember Africa and agriculture
|When Africans arrive in Copenhagen later this year, they will have one important message to deliver to their peers: a climate change deal without agriculture is no deal for Africa, argues Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda
|7 September 2009
Acknowledgements: This article was published by The Guardian
People wait in line during a food distribution at Morulinga, one of the driest and least developed areas of Uganda.
Photograph: Walter Astrada/AFP/Getty
Agriculture is the life-blood of the African economy. Some 75% of the continent's population are farmers, and the crops they grow provide an important means of livelihood for the most vulnerable smallholder farmers. Agriculture also gives those in the rural sector access to a potential source of additional income if they have surplus crops that can be sold at market. Agricultural commodities already represent more than one-third of total exports from Africa.
At the same time, climate change is making it more difficult for Africa's millions of farmers to sustain themselves. Ironically (or more appropriately, tragically) many of the farms and fields already being impacted by climate change are in the poorest regions of the world. In Africa, these changes take the form of less predictable and more extreme weather conditions: rain does not come at the same time during the start of the planting season or it comes in torrential downpours, or not at all.
African leaders from government, business, and civil society are already acknowledging the fundamental relationship between agriculture and economic development. They also recognise the threat climate change poses on the foundations of their economies. Many governments are upping the percentage of their budgets in support of agricultural development. Malawi, for instance, has been supporting successfully the wide distribution of quality seeds and fertilizers to its poorest farmers.
Against this backdrop, policy makers from around the world will meet in Copenhagen this December to discuss which actions we must take to tackle the present and future challenges which climate change poses.
When Africans arrive in Copenhagen later this year, they will have one important message to deliver to their peers: a climate change deal without agriculture is no deal for Africa. At the annual African Union summit back in July, heads of state agreed to an African Common Position on Climate Change, giving the continent a common voice for the first time during these climate change negotiations.
Global policy on agriculture
Over the past thirty years, global policy decisions have neglected the role that agriculture plays in the wider development agenda. During this time, agriculture's share of foreign aid has dropped from 17% to 3% of total spend. Instead of supporting roads to bring crops to market or improving farmers' access to training, finance, and technologies, global policies have favoured shipments of food aid instead. Often, these forms of support require more expense despite having less longevity.
But with the Copenhagen climate change negotiations fast approaching, policy makers have a new opportunity to reverse and redeem the generation of neglect that agricultural development has suffered. Agriculture is directly responsible for 14% of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, and broader rural land use decisions have an even larger impact. Deforestation, for instance, currently accounts for an additional 18-25% of current emissions.
Why Agriculture is key
Agriculture offers an important pathway for reducing future emissions and for managing efficiently the world's key limited resources, such as water, land, and biodiversity.
If African farmers are supported in introducing modern methods for growing their crops, they can reduce their emissions while growing more to feed themselves and earn extra incomes. Techniques such as conservation agriculture require less tilling of the land and thus keep more carbon trapped in the soil. Helping farmers access the most up-to-date knowledge and tools can prevent the need for further clearing of natural habitats for agriculture and keep forests and grasslands in tact as vital carbon sinks.
In fact, these AFOLU activities - Agriculture, Forestry, and Other sustainable Land Use - are some of the best ways for Africans to contribute to a global climate solution. Yet the current structure of carbon markets makes it difficult for African farmers to play their part.
Under the last climate change agreement in Kyoto in 1997, developed countries with higher emissions levels agreed to reduce the total emissions of their native activities. Where this was not feasible, they could instead choose to fund climate-friendly projects in developing countries. This process, called the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM), also provided less industrialised countries an incentive to participate in global agreements and to access needed funds to introduce less harmful technologies into their economic development.
To date, the CDM has registered more than 1,156 projects, yet only 27 of these projects are based in Africa. This is mainly because AFOLU projects are not sanctioned within the current terms of the agreement. Instead, countries with an already established industrial base, such as China, have seen the lion's share of the benefit.
Meanwhile, Africa's vast forests remain a vital carbon sink. And African agricultural land has the potential to be transformed into the world's breadbasket. But farmers must be empowered to protect these.
Agriculture must return to the centre of the development agenda and Africa must be given the chance to contribute to, and benefit from, the climate change decisions to be made in Copenhagen.
Dr Lindiwe Majele Sibanda is the Chief Executive Officer of the Food, Agriculture, and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and a spokesperson for Farming First. FANRPAN's annual policy dialogue, where 240 delegates from across Africa discuss agriculture's contribution to the economy, was held last week in Maputo, Mozambique.