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How to Ensure Farming is More Than Just a Footnote in Climate Talks

Olga Speckhardt is the Head of Global Insurance Solutions, Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture, which has co-hosted a series of side events at COP23 on the Agriculture Advantage.

BONN, Germany, Nov 14 2017 (IPS) - If change comes from within, then climate action in agriculture must logically start with farmers. They need to find ways to adapt to and mitigate climate change.

But when that involves 800 million of the world’s poorest people, they are going to require systematic and dedicated support.

Olga Speckhardt

For too long, agriculture has stagnated on the edge of official negotiations around climate action. As this year’s climate talks draw to a close, though, negotiators have finally caught up and agreed to discuss concrete options at future meetings.

Now, the onus falls on governments, international organizations and the private sector to continue to champion climate action to transform agriculture outside of the UN talks to keep up this momentum.

Insufficient funding is just one of the barriers that must be overcome if we are to scale up these methods. It was great news that, during COP23, currently underway, Germany pledged an extra €50 million to the Adaptation Fund. However, more funding should be dedicated to climate adaptation in agriculture.

Agriculture, forestry and other forms of land use contribute almost a quarter of greenhouse gas emissions.

Over the past two weeks, the climate talks have featured many ways to help better manage agriculture’s impact on the environment. Solutions have included improved crops, better irrigation systems and ways to diversify farmer incomes.

But when it comes to public climate finance, agriculture receives just 2.5 per cent of the total funds allocated for adaptation and mitigation. That needs to change if smallholders are to better cope with extreme weather while feeding a booming population.

We also need regulation that supports climate action rather than restricting it.

Through the Syngenta Foundation, I oversee ACRE Africa, which provides speciality, smallholder weather insurance and which is highly regulated. In many developing countries, this has caused the private sector to shy away from investing in similar products that can offer a lifeline to vulnerable farmers.

Behind every regulator there is a government. It is essential that governments create the conditions – including business environments – that make it easy for the private sector to engage in climate action.

Almost every country in the world makes agriculture a priority in its plans to meet the Paris Agreement targets. This must now also translate into action on the ground. And these actions must also embody the best interests of an often-overlooked end-user – the smallholder farmer.

We have experience of this at ACRE Africa, carefully tailoring insurance products to smallholders’ needs. Our insurance enables them to protect themselves from weather-related losses and adapt to climate change.

As well as being appropriate, such insurance needs to be affordable and accessible. We achieved both, by automating key processes and using mobile money services like M-Pesa to make quick and simple pay-outs.

As of 2016, more than one million farmers in Kenya, Tanzania and Rwanda were insured against weather risks. We are now building up our insurance work in five Asian countries.

It was encouraging to see the announcement during COP23 of a new website devoted to climate-related insurance. We urge private sector companies, research institutes and governments to support it and share information via this important tool so we can continue to benefit from each other’s experiences.

We also need to foster better partnerships to unlock new funding opportunities. Climate insurance, microfinance and agricultural development must come together to form a united support system for agricultural transformation.

Engaging here really pays dividends. The UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) says that each dollar invested in its Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme will generate up to $1.63 annually for smallholders over 20 years.

Sustainable agriculture must be at the heart of every debate around climate change. With an increasing population, farmers need to produce 60 per cent more food by 2050, while also minimizing agriculture’s environmental impact.

But the millions of smallholders who feed the planet while earning less than $2 a day cannot do it alone. We need to go beyond incremental solutions if we are to lift more people out of poverty and achieve food security despite climate change.

Insurance can help, by enhancing smallholders’ resilience and reducing their risk when they invest in their crops.

But success across the board requires public and private support and initiative. Only with a new and comprehensive approach to investment, better public policies, and strong farmer organizations will we bring about the changes we all need.

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