Confronting Climate Change Today and Together

If words have so far failed to gain an important place for agriculture in the international climate agenda, then perhaps action will succeed – especially collective action based on good ideas and backed by significant financing.

This was a key message from the opening session of Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2010, held on Saturday, 4 December, in parallel with the United Nations Climate Change Conference taking place in Cancún, Mexico.

Effective action requires strong leadership, and Mexico is doing its part through leadership by example, according to Ignacio Rivera Rodríguez, Sub-Secretary for Rural Development in Mexico’s Secretariat for Agriculture, Livestock, Rural Development, Fisheries and Food.

The country has defined a series of concrete measures for mitigating and adapting to climate change in agriculture, and it has set ambitious goals for progress on both fronts by 2012, including an emissions reduction in agriculture of 7.83 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent. Alberto Cárdenas Jiménez, Senator for Mexico’s Jalisco State, elaborated on the new  measures, putting them in the broader Latin American context.

Inger Andersen, CGIAR Fund Chair and Vice President of Sustainable Development, World Bank, cited further examples of decisive action, such as the spread of Evergreen Agriculture in Africa and creation of the continent’s first biocarbon project in Kenya. These and other cases demonstrate impressively how climate-smart farming practices are already being put into practice, contributing to the “triple win” of food security, agricultural productivity growth and carbon capture.

Effective action also requires collective will and investment. If there is one word that best describes Africa’s agriculture, it is “decapitalized,” according to Josue Dioné, Director of the Food Security and Sustainable Development Division in the United Nations Economic Commision for Africa.

He painted a bleak picture of agriculture in the region, citing stagnant crop productivity, limited use of irrigation and inputs, and weak institutions – problems that climate change will greatly complicate. Dioné also pointed to the big gap between commitments to agriculture on paper and action on the ground.

But in addition, he described important progress in the creation of a new framework for regional cooperation focused on strategic agricultural commodities. Treating climate change as an opportunity and not just a threat, this cooperation involves the development and diffusion of new technologies as well as institutional initiatives, such as innovative crop insurance schemes.

With the largest population of any continent – one that depends heavily on a single food crop, rice – Asia is highly vulnerable to climate change impacts, as evidenced by increasingly common natural disasters, according to Xu Yinlong of the Chinese Academy of Agricultural Sciences. He catalogued numerous practical measures for confronting this threat – such as vulnerability mapping, shifts in cropping systems and improved water management – emphasizing the need for more active technology transfer within the region.

Farmers eagerly await such actions and are keen to get involved, said Don McCabe, who is a farmer first but also President of the Soil Conservation Council of Canada. Defining farmers essentially as “managers of carbon and nitrogen cycles,” he said they can do a lot to put more organic carbon in the soil, helping to mitigate climate change while strengthening food security and raising rural incomes. But in order for their contribution to count, he added, it must receive recognition and support through both government policies and markets.

In a pointed appeal on farmers’ behalf, he said “Show me the money, and I’ll show you the results.”