Mind the gap

Food Security11 Nov 2010Edith van Walsum

The dust is settling down after the Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change that took place in The Hague last week. The conference ended with a presentation of the Chair’s Summary that included a Roadmap for Action. The fact that the interlinkages between agriculture, food security and climate change were discussed at a high level, in a ministerial roundtable, is a major step in itself. The concerted effort made by the Dutch government, along with co-organizers and others involved in the conference, to arrive at a roadmap for action is to be appreciated.

But isn’t it a bit presumptuous to say that these issues were addressed for the first time at last week’s conference in The Hague? The linkages between agriculture, food security and climate change have been extensively addressed before in other fora. For instance, there is a large and inclusive global movement for sustainable agriculture (encompassing agro-ecology, organic agriculture, food sovereignty) that consists of millions of farmers and many thousands of scientists and civil society groups. They have been exploring these issues and developing successful practical approaches to increase resilience of small-scale farmers for many years.

The four-year long IAASTD process, which involved 400 researchers from 60 countries, has put the agriculture-food-climate change triad centre stage. It would have been right to acknowledge that much work and thinking has been done already, both at local and global levels, to build on this accumulated body of ‘living knowledge’, and to include in this conference the voices of farmers and others who are at the forefront of these movements. No one in this world has the final solution to such complex challenges at hand, and especially because the challenges are daunting, we cannot afford to waste time and reinvent the wheel.

During the conference, civil society organizations from South and North raised concerns about the lack of transparency, participation and consultation with governments, farmers and others in civil society in preparing the conference and its road map. A statement by 12 organizations, including ILEIA, responded to the first draft of the roadmap by stating: ‘Those most impacted by climate change and whose livelihoods are most at risk, in particular small-scale farmers, indigenous people and women especially from developing countries, have not been present, or consulted, nor have genuinely participated in this process … Adaptation has to be the main priority of this conference. The agricultural challenges faced by the poorest and most vulnerable, in Africa but also in Asia, in small-island states, in Latin America, are adaptation challenges. While sustainable farming practices can provide mitigation benefits, the climate crisis is caused first and foremost by the emissions of rich countries and we reject that small farmers are meant now to take on the mitigation responsibilities of the North’. (See here for the full statement.)

Firm language was used at the conference: nothing less than a paradigm shift is needed, it’s not business as usual, we need climate-smart agriculture, and of course mentioning the up-scaling of successful models.

The tone is set, but what does this mean, and to whom? Much more clarity is needed, as well as political will. Real support to small-scale farmers requires a thorough rethinking of agricultural policies worldwide. Radical changes are needed in agricultural policies in the global North to get rid of perverse subsidies that help large farmers in the North rather than small farmers in North and South, and that support climate-unfriendly rather than climate-neutral/friendly practices. The dominant agricultural paradigm continues to be that small producers everywhere will have to either scale up their production and specialize, or quit farming and find an alternative rural or urban livelihood. This line of thinking should be thoroughly challenged, and existing working alternatives must be made visible, encouraged, scaled up and replicated. They exist, thousands of them!

For those who are interested in going really Down2Earth, I recommend a short visit to the website of the AgriCultures Network, a global network of organizations that has been capturing, documenting and sharing innovative experiences in building resilient small-scale farming systems in 154 countries for over 25 years.