Climate Change / COP17 / Expert Perspectives

Hope for Climate-Smart Agriculture at COP17

Mark Moroge, coordinator of the Rainforest Alliance’s climate program, writes about his experience at Agriculture and Rural Development Day, a side event at the 17th Conference of Parties (COP17) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). For politicians, environmentalists, climate experts and others, the UNFCCC is the annual platform for discussions and decisions on global efforts to combat climate change.

On December 3, Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD), roughly 500 policymakers, rural development practitioners, scientists, farmers and other experts gathered in Durban, South Africa. Their goal: to identify agriculture policy, finance, research and practical solutions to contend with the threats imposed by climate change on the world’s poor. The Rainforest Alliance took part in the discussion, seeking a way to reconcile climate change mitigation and adaptation with rural development, food security and farmer livelihoods. Climate-smart agriculture dominated the conversation.

We shared our experiences with climate-smart agriculture, and discussed how we’ve been providing farmers with guidance and training on the practical actions they can take to adapt to and mitigate climate change by adopting the high-quality standards outlined in the Sustainable Agriculture Network (SAN) Climate Module. With this new module, farmers can now go beyond Rainforest Alliance Certified™ by adopting additional climate-friendly practices, which demonstrate that agriculture can be sustainable, economically viable, build productivity, enhance biodiversity, increase on-farm carbon sequestration, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and improve resiliency to climate change. The next step, and the main concern addressed at ARDD, is ensuring that innovative financing and investments are available to help farmers achieve climate-smart agriculture.

With the new SAN Climate Module, farmers can now go beyond Rainforest Alliance Certified™ by adopting additional climate-friendly practices.

Other conservation leaders taking part in the day’s proceedings provided examples of what climate-smart agriculture means in practice, and how it can simultaneously address complex issues like food security, rural development, and climate change mitigation and adaptation.

A look at two compelling case studies presented at Agriculture and Rural Development Day…

● CARE International talked about its innovative Sustainable Agriculture in a Changing Climate project in western Kenya, which provides support to farmers who are adopting various practices to increase the production of staple crops like maize. The participating farmers are enhancing their lands’ capacity to store carbon by planting additional trees. CARE is also exploring the feasibility of developing a carbon-credit generating project to reward farmers for carbon sequestration activities. However, the primary focus remains increasing yields and food security, farm management, and the resiliency of local farming systems in the face of climate change. We’re strongly supportive of approaches like these, which emphasize sustainable livelihoods and food security first, and consider mitigation a secondary co-benefit.
● Niger’s National Agricultural Research Institute (INRAN) is working at the frontier of desertification to reclaim degraded lands for farming and help local farmers to plant trees on their plots. Its body of work, which spans several decades and includes millions of hectares replanted, has led to increases in soil fertility and water storage capacity; reduced time spent collecting firewood, enabling women – primary fuel wood collectors – to dedicate more time to other activities; and more fodder (e.g. leaves and plant residues) to feed goats and other livestock, reducing conflicts between herders and farmers, as herders are often forced to graze goats on farmland because of a severe lack of pastureland. The project offers an approach to improve livestock management practices that can be compared and contrasted with the SAN Cattle Standard, the standard to which Rainforest Alliance Certified cattle farms are audited against.

Climate-smart agriculture is a new and complex theme, yet organizations and projects like these offer hope that we can simultaneously make progress on rural development, food security, and climate change adaptation and mitigation – several of our generation’s major global challenges.

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