Four points of critique on the final Roadmap of The Hague

Climate & Natural resources,Food Security21 Dec 2010Richard Ewbank

Christian Aid, together with ICCO, HIVOS and IFOAM, held a side meeting to present examples of best practice in agricultural adaptation, and then forwarded a set of recommendations to the Conference organisers. These recommendations were derived from years of experience working with farmers and herders on sustainable agriculture as well as the priorities directly articulated by farmers and herders in the process of implementing these best practice examples. In terms of understanding whether the final Roadmap echoes any of these, it was encouraging to see clear links in a number of clauses, particularly 12, 14, 15, 16, 17, 24, 27, 31, 32 and 37.

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?

However, on four issues the Roadmap could have been more explicit and could therefore increase the focus in its next stages:

1. Endorsing the IAASTD – the International Assessment of Agricultural Science and Technology Development constitutes the more extensive assessment of agricultural development and has been formally endorsed by 60 or so countries. It would have been particularly useful if instead of just “noting” the IAASTD, the Roadmap endorsed it and supported implementation of its findings. A number of other complementary objectives could be likewise endorsed, such as the FAO’s target of 30% of African farm and rangeland under conservation agriculture by 2015

2. Despite the enthusiasm voiced at the Conference for inclusion of soil carbon in carbon markets, the Roadmap was more reserved, calling for carbon finance to be explored and for knowledge gaps in monitoring soil carbon to be addressed. While much is being made of its market possibilities, linking soil carbon and carbon markets is not the solution for mitigation or adaptation in the agricultural sector. The Roadmap should facilitate a more balanced assessment of soil carbon trading which recognises both practical and strategic challenges, for example:

  • Money from a speculative market is neither steady nor reliable, and could undermine food security and livelihoods in developing countries. Small-scale farmers and herders need stable, predictable and long-term support (including that derived from carbon taxes, Annex 1 country contributions to adaptation funds, etc) to achieve sustainable and resilient agricultural development, rather than resources overly reliant on volatile financial markets, creating yet another risk for them to manage;
  • Soil carbon trading potentially increases the likelihood of foreign corporate/state land grabbing. This, as the UN Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food has recently highlighted, has already resulted in investors targeting 42 million hectares for use in food and biofuel production in the past year alone, 75% of this in sub-Saharan Africa and most with little or no consideration of local land rights.
  • This also relates to the importance of ensuring that benefit sharing is fair, transparent and equitable and accrues primarily to the land manager, thereby recognising common property mechanisms governing much small-scale and pastoral agriculture, and not rewarding foreign land grabbing, abuse of land tenure security or the proliferation of excessive risk taking and bonuses for carbon market operators in the financial sector at the expense of land managers;
  • Moreover, “innovative” market-based approaches distract attention from the responsibility of developed countries for their historic emissions, and their obligations to finance adaptation and mitigation in developing countries. Carbon market mechanisms finance the mitigation commitments of developed countries through “offsetting” projects in developing countries, thereby allowing them to continue rather than change their unsustainable production and consumption patterns, while shifting the burden of mitigation to and increasing the burden of adaptation on developing countries.
  • Developing a comprehensive MRV system that will ensure that mitigation effort is accurately measured and the potential for soils changing their carbon sink capacity over time through changes in land use as farmers e.g. respond to increased market demand by converting grazing to cropland, is taken into account;
  • In addition, understanding that future temperature increases that are now inevitable due to the failure of Annex 1 countries to agree an adequate global mitigation deal must be factored into assessment of soil carbon sink capacity (which will generally decline as temperature increases);
  • The lack of a global cap on emissions means that any carbon trading cannot deliver guaranteed net reductions.

3. Despite being 21 years since Farmer First was published, there is still need for a transformation in agricultural research and extension to put the small-scale farmer and herder and their priorities at the centre of developing a new, client-focused research and advisory service that, for example: includes small-scale farmer and herder organisations in its planning, operation and governance; that bases all formal and on-farm research on participatory diagnostic studies with farmers and herders of their constraints and therefore priorities; that prioritises on-farm research, farmer-to-farmer extension and farmer empowerment through farmer cooperatives, participatory research groups, fields schools, etc; that makes knowledge intensive ecologically sustainable climate resilient agriculture the core aim rather than input intensive fossil-fuel based/high emission chemical farming; and that integrates agricultural and climate services, such as seasonal forecasts, 10 day forecasts, supporting farmer group-managed rain gauges/weather stations, etc.

4. The need for all donors to increase their ODA for sustainable agriculture to 10% (as recommended by the UK Parliament’s All Party Parliamentary Group on Agriculture and Food for Development’s report “Why no thought for food?”) and to prioritise climate-resilient sustainable agriculture in adaptation funding. This Agricultural Adaptation Fund should be set up under the already-operational governance and management of the UNFCCC Adaptation Fund.

Finally, in terms of process, future Roadmap-based activities need much greater involvement of developing country small-scale farmers and herders and their representative organisations – this would greatly increase the value and legitimacy of its recommendations.