Unmissable opportunity to build food security and reduce greenhouse gases at Paris COP

The global food system produces about 25 per cent of GHGs, of which around half comes from food production and the rest from processing, transport, packaging and land use change to agriculture.

Climate change is already having a negative impact on agricultural production and food security, as made forcefully clear in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment.

This impact is being felt most by the poorest countries and communities – especially food insecure small-scale producers – who have contributed least to the problem.

The IPCC, along with other researchers and practitioners, believes that traditional or ‘integrated’ smallholder farming systems such as agroforestry, mixed cropping and crop-livestock systems, can help to significantly lower emissions while increasing food security.

Given that food security is a core objective of UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), countries should take advantage of the key opportunity to include agriculture in the development of Intended National Determined Contributions (INDCs).

The INDCs are country level voluntary offers for emissions reduction and adaptation and must be submitted to the UNFCCC by end of March 2015.

For developing countries, the challenge will be to identify adaptation options that have co-benefits for mitigation.

The rich agro-biodiversity of the Eastern Himalayas
The rich agro-biodiversity of the Eastern Himalayas (Photo: Nawraj Gurung)

Linking adaptation and mitigation

At the 20th Conference of the Parties (COP20) in Lima in December, small-scale farmers from Peru, India, Kenya and Zimbabwe met with scientists from CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), International Potato Center (CIP) (Peru and Kenya), IIED and Asociacion ANDES (Peru) to discuss the challenge of addressing food security and climate change mitigation together.

The group found that although indigenous communities are facing serious challenges due to climate change, many of their adaptation responses also have mitigation benefits.

The response of the six Potato Park communities has been to establish a collection of 1,400 types of native potatoes (around 650 different scientifically recognised varieties), to reduce risk and provide options for adaptation. These include drought and frost tolerant varieties, a virus tolerant strain, and a number of crop wild relatives.

Alejandro Argumedo, of Asociacion ANDES (Peru), said: “This huge diversity of potatoes which are evolving in response to climate pressures is vital for adaptation and food security of the local communities, and also for sustaining potato production nationally and globally. The Quechua farmers conserve this diversity because of their traditional knowledge and culture. If disaster strikes they will always have food.”

Lok Chetna Manch researcher Ajay Rastogi added: “Indigenous farmers in the Eastern Himalayas, India, sustain more than 60 different crops and over 20 varieties of bean through intensive mixed cropping systems.”

KEFRI scientist Chemuku Wekesa said: “Mijikenda communities in coastal Kenya are returning to traditional maize and cassava varieties which are more drought and pest-tolerant than modern varieties and mature within a short time. They are also turning to indigenous livestock breeds that have unique adaptations for survival in harsh environments and tolerating pests and diseases.”

These traditional farmers are actively improving crops and livestock through selection and breeding in response to climate pressures. Their adaptation responses are also contributing to mitigation.

All the communities are planting native trees on or around their farms, to improve moisture, shade and income, store carbon and reduce pressure on forests. All have strong organic goals and use minimal amounts of chemical fertilisers; some use manure for household energy, reducing reliance on fossil fuels; and all use natural bio-pesticides instead of chemicals.

These mixed crop-livestock systems provide by-products like animal feed, and have very low levels of livestock per capita, which means their overall emissions from livestock are low. They also have minimal emissions from farm machinery and transport. Sonja Vermeulen, head of research at CCAFS, said: “The Potato Park is the most climate-smart place I have ever visited”.

The two-day workshop, held in the Andean Potato Park near Cusco, concluded that farmer-led equitable partnerships with scientists are critical for successful adaptation and mitigation initiatives like the Potato Park, citing the agreement for repatriation of native potatoes between CIP and the Potato Park communities and participatory plant breeding for crop breeding as examples.

The way forward

IIED principal researcher Krystyna Swiderska said: “Despite the critical role of traditional farming systems in adaptation and mitigation, these systems face multiple threats and receive very little formal recognition and support.”

Victor Mares, a scientist in CIP’s climate change unit, added: “There is a need to strengthen understanding of the indigenous knowledge that underpins traditional farming systems, and include both traditional and science-based knowledge in formal rural education systems.”

The scientists and farmers at the workshop stressed the need for the Paris climate agreement to support traditional farming systems given their crucial role in adaptation and food security, and their contribution to mitigation.

Representatives from ANDES, KEFRI and Lok Chetna Manch are working with government departments in India, Kenya and Peru to reflect the potential of traditional farming systems in the INDCs.

Find out more

Background information

Global food systems produce 25-29 per cent of GHG emissions, according to a scientific review on “Climate change and food systems” published by Vermeulen, Campbell and Ingram, in the Annual review of environment and resources 37: 195-222 (2012).

The latest IPCC assessment identified “integrated systems” such as agroforestry, mixed cropping and crop-livestock systems as a mitigation option with medium potential and high ease of implementation. These systems can increase productivity and resource use efficiency and serve carbon sequestration objectives, it found, while reducing emissions from nitrogen inputs. Other recent studies have also found that traditional farming practices like cover crops, low tillage and organic fertiliser reduce carbon in the atmosphere (GRAIN, see: How much of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from agriculture; and that sustainable agricultural land management practices can both improve livelihoods and generate mitigation benefits (CGIAR).

Originally published on iied.org

climate change, Food and agriculture