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Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change – A Triple Win?

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Issue date: 
8th November 2010
Publisher Name: 
Business Ghana
Dr. Andrew Steer
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Your Royal Highnesses, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,

Let me begin by expressing the gratitude of all of us here for the leadership of the Netherlands in convening this important conference. It is appropriate that the Netherlands should lead this venture, since you have been a world leader in agricultural research and water management for many years.

It has been a pleasure for the World Bank to work with the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture. And I would like to give special thanks to the leadership of Hans Hoogeveen of and Juergen Vogele.

Now, imagine that you live in a village in Africa, say Niger. Your family has been farming the same plot for generations. It’s never been easy. But recently it seems to have become even more difficult. The weather seems more variable, the rainfall less predictable, yields more uncertain, prices more volatile.

Now imagine one, two, three or five decades from now. How goes farming in your village?

Things could be much worse – more droughts, more heat, worse floods, lower yields, lower incomes. Quite possibly the village hasn’t been able to survive.

Or it could be much better. Stronger soils, better yields, more predictable harvests, more varied and nutritious crops, and cash flows each year to the farmer for sequestering more carbon on his land.

Which of these happens is a choice. And it is this choice that we are discussing at this conference. In fact it’s hard to imagine a more important conference on a more vital topic at a more crucial time.

If we use the next five days wisely and well, we can significantly move forward an agenda that will improve food security, help address climate change, and improve the lives and livelihoods of hundreds millions of rural dwellers who today live in poverty. Not a bad week’s work!

For too long we have tended to look at climate change, food security and poverty challenges separately. In today’s world, this is a mistake.

· We know that 75% of the world’s poor live in rural areas.

· We know that agricultural production will need to increase by 70% by 2050 in order to feed 9 billion people.

· We know that climate models predict a much more uncertain climate for world agriculture, with potentially devastating down-side possibilities.

· And we know that agriculture, forestry and land use change account for 30% of greenhouse gas emissions – and that we cannot succeed in the battle against climate change without including these elements. [The potential for carbon sequestration in the soil is estimated at 5.5 gigatons annually with good land management practices, equivalent to 13% of current emissions from all sectors. So soil carbon has a huge contribution to make to addressing the world’s climate.]

So at this conference we will be searching for the elusive triple win: policies and programs that will, first, increase farm productivity and incomes; second, make agriculture more resilient to variations in climate, and thus promote stability and security; and, third, help make the agriculture sector part of the solution to the climate change problem rather than part of the problem.

I don’t want to give the punch-line too early, but there is good evidence that the scope for such triple-win strategies is greater than many had thought -- and that by bringing together the political and popular concerns for food security and climate change we should be able to mobilize much needed funding and political support for the sector.

The good news is that a number of countries are already making real progress in addressing the three challenges of climate resiliency, reduced carbon emissions and increased agricultural productivity.

Consider China, for example. It has 250 million farm families most of whom have one hectare or less. China has limited land and water resources, and likely to face increasing water stress and rising temperatures over the coming decades. Yet China manages to feed its people, and has a strategy for climate resilient, low carbon emitting agricultural sector.

For two decades China has supported comprehensive programs of landscape restoration, focusing on its hilly areas. The Loess Plateau program is among the most famous. These include large-scale erosion control and restoration of stream beds, together with grazing control, agro-forestry and agricultural innovation. As a result, productivity has grown, ecosystems have been restored, the landscape is more resilient to floods and drought, and has become a “net sequesterer” of carbon in the soils and plants rather than an emitter.

Half a world away in Brazil there are also emerging successes. Unlike China, Brazil has abundant land and water resources, and these days is an agricultural exporting superpower. But while its overall carbon emissions are quite low for a country of its income nearly three quarters of these emissions come from agriculture, land use change and forestry. In addition its water resources are unevenly distributed, much of its soil is poor, and climate change is likely to increase water stress in key parts of the country.

For nearly 40 years Brazil has invested in research and technological innovation to increase the fertility of its soils with great success. It is now supporting land management techniques which protect stream-beds, conserve vegetation and carbon in the soil. We’ll be looking at the impressive results from these programs this week.

Its not just large middle income countries that are showing success. A number of African countries are taking action. In Kenya for, example, 40% of the population earn less than US$ 2 per day, and issues of food security, better yields, and greater resilience to floods and droughts are urgent priorities.

Kenya is thus piloting triple-win investments. For example its famous Greenbelt Movement is benefiting from carbon finance for reforestation and soil management. And community led programs in the west of the country are investing in sustainable land management in coffee and maize farming systems with the objective of increasing carbon sequestration in the soil while increasing productivity and resilience. A robust accounting methodology has been developed allowing emissions reductions to be documented, thus potentially drawing in carbon finance.

We’ll be looking at these and many other examples during the week. Such initiatives require leadership, learning by doing and the ability to think and plan in an integrative manner. There are no blueprints, and the best successes are tailored to the countries and home-grown. But there are common lessons, and we’ll be trying to learn them this week.

Scaling up such programs will require more funding – and we’ll be discussing this issue on Wednesday.

There has been a sad history of under-investment in agriculture over the past decades which must be reversed. Countries themselves and the development community must share the blame. From 1990 to 2002 ODA to agriculture declined from 10% to 4% of total ODA. And spending by countries themselves is also insufficient.

Things have changed for the better recently, but still not enough. African countries have committed to increasing spending on agriculture to 10% of their national budgets, and progress towards that goal has begun. And international supporters are doing more. World Bank Group financing for agriculture, for example, has increased by 60% over the past six years, and doubled in Africa. A strong IDA 16 replenishment will be absolutely essential to help maintain the momentum of the renewed focus on agriculture.

Agriculture also needs to tap into funds available for climate change. At last year’s Copenghagen Summit $30 billion was promised for the three year period (2010-2012), together with a longer term commitment of $100 billion per year by 2020. The High Level Advisory Group on how to raise the $100 billion will be issuing its report this coming Thursday in New York. It’s vital that the voice of agriculture be heard in Cancun and subsequent meetings of negotiators so that it gets its fair share.

In the meantime it’s important that agriculture receives an appropriate share of the various funds that are already available. Notable here are the $6.3 billion Climate Investment Funds managed by the World Bank and the Regional Development Banks. Its adaptation window – the Pilot Program for Climate Resilience is likely to allocate almost half of its resources to agriculture and watershed management given the vital role these sectors play in overall national resilience.

Financial flows to developing countries from carbon market finance may well rise to $50 billion per year by 2030. So far the overwhelming bulk of such flows has been to middle income and power- and industry-related investments. As a result only 2% of money goes to Africa. Thanks to extraordinary hard work over the past three years forest investments are now almost ready to be included in such markets under the REDD+ program. The livestock sector is already eligible for carbon finance, but we have made no such progress for arable agriculture and soils. We thus need to see an equivalent effort to ensure that 2-3 years from now the agricultural sector is ready for funding. This requires difficult issues relating to monitoring, reporting and verification – the so-called MRV agenda – and we will be discussing these questions this week.

In closing, what are we really trying to accomplish at this remarkable conference this week.

First, we will seek to understand. These are difficult issues technically and politically, and lessons are emerging rapidly from the front lines. Decision-makers and technical specialists need to share perpectives, with the goal of learning from each other.

Second, we will strategize on how to apply the emerging understanding so that a rapid scaling up may be possible. The presence of ministers from 60 countries later in the week will make this possible.

Third, we will seek to get ready for the opportunities that a global deal of climate could provide. Nobody expects a global deal at Cancun, but there will surely be one before too long. Associated with this will be financing for both adaptation and mitigation. Its vital that agriculture is understood to have a key role to play and that the needs and interests of the farming and food communities in developing countries are reflected.

Finally, we will discuss how best to engage. Ministries of Agriculture have not generally participated in formal climate change discussions. And climate change negotiators are frequently not familiar with agriculture. At Cancun parties need to agree to a major new thrust of work on agriculture, food security and climate change – as was recommended at the preparatory meeting for this conference in Addis Ababa last month.

So, let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work to show how agricultural systems can be at the same time more productive, more resilient, and with a lower carbon footprint. We really do have the possibility of that triple win.

Your Royal Highness, Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen, lets use this unprecedented gathering to good purpose.

Let’s build on what our African partners started in Addis.

Lets prepare an Action Plan, and then hold each other accountable for its delivery.

Let’s turn the promise of the the "triple-win" into reality.

Dr. Andrew Steer


Extpub | by Dr. Radut