30 years

A voice for farmers in the climate change debate

For millions of farmers in the developing world – and the people who rely on them to produce the food they eat – climate change is an issue of fundamental importance. Drought, excessive rainfall, hurricanes and other extreme weather events can decimate crops and cause devastating damage to livestock. And as producers in many ACP countries know to their cost, such events are becoming more frequent.

Agriculture is both a major cause of climate change – according to scientists it is responsible for 16 to 29 per cent of greenhouse gas emissions – and part of the solution, through improved practices that can contribute to mitigation. Yet perhaps incredibly, until 2011, agriculture did not even feature on the global climate change negotiations agenda. Prior to the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) held in December 2011 in Durban, South Africa, agriculture had not been presented as a formal agenda item in global climate change negotiations at all.

Determined to push agriculture further up the agenda in the climate change debate, CTA has been working with partners to ensure that farmers' voices are heard in negotiations. Since 2009, CTA, the Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and other partners have been working together to organise a range of learning and information initiatives during UNFCCC meetings.

"Agriculture is closely linked to climate change and is both a cause and a victim," said Oluyede Ajayi, Senior Programme Coordinator for agricultural policy and rural development at CTA. "If you take the example of Africa, only 5-7 per cent of agriculture is irrigated, although there is a wide difference across regions. That means that almost all agriculture is dependent on natural rainfall. So if there are any changes – either too little or too much rainfall – it will affect agricultural production and food security. We are talking about communities who in most cases are without crop insurance or social safety nets. "

Challenges and opportunities

While climate change presents some formidable challenges for agriculture – especially for developing countries – farmer innovations and best practices are creating new opportunities. In a number of areas vulnerable to global warming and other weather related events, farmers are playing an important role in climate change adaptation. In some cases, improved farmer practices are leading to mitigation (see Box on climate smart agriculture).

The first step in CTA's strategy to attract more attention for agriculture in the climate change debate involved linking up with the Southern African Confederation of African Unions (SACAU), which represents farmers' organisations (FOs) in 12 countries. With CTA support, a SACAU project, Global climate change policies: Raising the profile of Southern African farmers' issues at COP17, set out to ensure that the views of the people most seriously affected by climate change – the world's 500 million small-scale farmers – were adequately reflected in the deliberations of COP17.

Adopting a multi-pronged approach, CTA and SACAU launched a series of activities to raise awareness of climate change issues among farmers, and highlight key messages from farmers so that FOs would be better placed to engage in the negotiations.

Activities included preparing a background paper and basic guide to climate change for SACAU members and other stakeholders and publicising advocacy messages through posters, brochures and an innovative ball game called Agriculture In. A workshop for FOs in Southern Africa was held to develop farmers' positions sand convey them to media representatives. At COP17 itself, CTA, SACAU and other partners were involved in a number of side events to reinforce key messages on farmers' positions.

"You cannot talk about the link between climate change and agriculture without talking about the farmers," said Ajayi. "At COP17 in Durban, for the first time, farmers played a very active role in speaking at some of the sessions. "The aim was to improve the awareness of policy-makers and stakeholders on issues related to climate change and agriculture. And one of the ways we did this was to have farmers explain: 'this is how climate change is affecting us and this is what we are doing to try to mitigate the effects.'" As part of the awareness raising campaign, organisers arranged media interviews with farmers, and set up Twitter accounts for some of them.

In the run-up to COP19, held in Warsaw in November 2013, a workshop hosted by CTA for partners including SACAU, CCAFS and the World Farmers' Organisation (WFO), resolved to find new ways of stimulating interest and investment in improved agricultural policies, technologies and practices, as well as influencing the content of international agreements that will govern future mechanisms for climate change adaptation and mitigation efforts.

Showcasing sustainable practices

Among outcomes from the meeting was a Guide to UNFCCC Negotiations on Agriculture for farmers, industry leaders and policy-makers and a booklet on successful climate smart practices, launched to showcase practical examples of how farmers can adapt to climate change and even contribute to mitigation in some cases. Both the guide and the booklet were launched at COP 19.

During the conference, CTA and partners also organised the Global Landscapes Forum (GLF), which attracted some of the world's leading thinkers on issues related to climate change and land use. Activities during GLF included a discussion forum on food security and adapting to climate change, conducted together with the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the United Nations World Food Programme (WFP), and a sub-plenary session, jointly organised with CCAFS, on climate-smart agriculture.

Representatives from farmers' organisations participated to share their experiences on the challenges they faced and describe some of the coping mechanisms they are using. CTA also sponsored the travel of young farmers and members of producers' organisations from ACP regions.

"The message was that there are a number of technologies and practices that can help farmers to adapt to climate change, increase production and minimise risk," said Ajayi. "The idea was to feed this information to negotiators in particular, and the global audience in general."

From the outset, a key goal has been to have agriculture included in the work programme of the UNFCC's Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA), so that steps can be taken to develop more climate-friendly agriculture for the future.

CTA and its partners are currently discussing options to explore strategies for COP20, due to be held in Lima, Peru in December 2014 to advance agriculture in global discussions on climate change.

"We are not there yet, but we have come a long way. COP17 was the very first time that agriculture was even considered at all in climate change discussions at global level," he said. "That marked a turning point. We have also seen an extraordinary expansion in the information available on the link between climate change and agriculture. Now we will have to see how the negotiations develop."