Agriculture Raises Its Voice in UN Climate Change Negotiations

by Nathan Russell, CIAT

South Africa’s minister of agriculture, Tina Joemat-Petersson, knows a thing or two about negotiating tough issues. So, she had these words of advice for more than 500 representatives of leading agricultural institutions, as they gathered at Durban today to call for action on agriculture in the UN-sponsored climate change deliberations:  Focus on a common message, bury your divisions, and stand together.

“The negotiators are like God, she added in booming cadences, “quick to listen, but slow to answer.” So, make it easy for them to decide in your favor. “Start by putting a bottle of whiskey on the table” – i.e., give them a suitable enticement to cut a deal.Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Devlopment and Chair of the CGIAR Fund Council. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)That enticement, said Rachel Kyte, the World Bank’s Vice President for Sustainable Development and Chair of the CGIAR Fund Council, lies in the growing body of evidence that agriculture, when done right, can deliver the triple wins of reduced hunger and poverty, greater resilience in the face of climate change, and lower greenhouse gas emissions. Departing from the normal gloom and doom narrative on Africa’s agriculture, she recited example after example of how farmers from Kenya to Niger are using agroforestry, water harvesting, and many other techniques to achieve this triple win.

“Raise your voice, make yourselves heard, so that it’s impossible for your message to be ignored,” she urged participants in Agriculture and Rural Development Day, taking place alongside the official climate change conference.

Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD). Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)Kanayo Nwanze, President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), gave this message a simple name – climate-smart agriculture. “Ideas do not feed people,” he said, but climate-smart practices in the hands of farmers can. “Governments no longer have to choose between feeding people and protecting the environment,” he added. “Now, it’s possible to do both.”

“But let’s not wait for others to decide,” Nwanze said. “We must act now, just as farmers are doing.”

Sir John Beddington, Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)“The consequences of inaction are truly frightening,” said Sir John Beddington, Chair of the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change. Noting that the world has just 14 years to make way for another billion people, he said, “this would be a huge challenge even if we were in a good situation now, which we manifestly are not.”

He outlined a seven-point case for urgent action to move the world food system into a “safe space,” where it can produce enough food for a growing population despite the impacts of climate change.

“We have to go from talking about change,” he said, “to fighting for it.”