Business as usual in the plenaries

Climate & Natural resources,Food Security04 Nov 2010Janice Jiggins

Where was everyone on Wednesday? The plenary theatres were almost empty. The presentations included RaboFarm’s investments in ‘real assets’ (land, water, infrastructures) on the basis of ‘fair pricing’ i.e. including the price of all the investments needed to produce a crop – but notably, the presenter was silent about ‘pricing in’ the social and environmental costs.

This blog is part of the blog series about the ‘It’s Down 2 Earth’ conference on agriculture, food security and climate change held in The Hague between 31 October and 5 November 2010. The participants discuss the future of agriculture; how it can contribute to food security and be placed at the heart of sustainable development and poverty eradication – and still be an instrument to challenge climate change?

The representative of the International Federation of Agricultural Producers positioned farmers as key managers of water, nitrogen and carbon cycles, and agriculture as one of only two economic sectors that can put carbon back into store (in plants and in the soil). ‘Policies make markets’, and he argued for policies that give farmers ‘a voluntary opportunity’ to comply with environmental and social objectives while still making a profit. His basic message was: ‘Show us the money; give us the information; and we can organize and mitigate the risk’. He offered no ideas about how to make this message relevant for the millions of small-scale farmers in the South.

Danone’s Livelihoods Fund was profiled as a vehicle for funnelling investors’ money into carbon sequestration measures, structured as investments in small-scale farming in the South that can deliver profits to producers and investors over ten years. ‘We are learning every day’ that measurement of carbon sinks and sources and certification are ‘difficult and costly’, and that there are significant risks of credibility, as farmers continue to adapt their practices and technologies in response to weather events, market signals and family needs. Given that in Europe carbon is trading at about €10 a ton, and in the US at about $0.39, this niche market attracts only investors looking for carbon offsets or those willing to take a bet on carbon markets. The issue of ‘climate justice ‘ i.e. why small producers in the South should bear the effort of ‘cleaning up’ the emissions of large companies based in the North, was not addressed.

The Meridian Institute positioned itself as one of the many organizations that are supporting processes of informed dialogue among diverse stakeholders about how to make transitions toward a food-secure future. The themes and options that are emerging include ‘best bet’ options for mitigation and adaptation in agriculture and landscape management, and how to get started. There’s no question about it; multi-stakeholder dialogue is helpful in co-creating understanding, ideas and information, but it stops well short of action.

But it seems that none of the ‘hard challenges’ of moving on from ‘business as usual’ are emerging in the plenary. The side events offered livelier and more rigorous discussions, showcasing plenty of options that are ‘respectful of diversity’. Action, experience and ideas were in evidence concerning policy transitions that would ‘upscale options already available in the small farm sector’, and allow markets to ‘build on the new linkages being created on the ground among producers, consumers, natural resource managers and environmental agencies’. None have been given room on the plenary agenda. Is this a deliberate decision by the organizers?