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Why the UN COP28 Climate Talks Must Serve Farmers to Achieve a “Just Transition”

Women harvesting peas in Haryana, India. Credit: TechnoServe/ Nile Sprague

DUBAI, Dec 5 2023 (IPS) - Food and agriculture is a top agenda item at UNFCCC COP28, as the world considers how to tackle the climate impacts of what we eat and how we produce it. The stage has been set for COP28 to be a “food COP”, but for commitments to translate to action, it must also be a “farmers’ COP”.

As countries unite at COP28 around the Emirates Declaration on Resilient Food Systems, Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Action, the Alliance of Champions for Food Systems Transformation and other country-led initiatives, it is farmers, fishers, and food producers who will be vital to actually implementing urgent climate action on the ground and in the water.

In addition to being critical to reducing emissions from food production, farmers and fishers are also some of those most affected by climate change. A just transition in agricultural production therefore presents a multi-faceted opportunity to reduce carbon emissions, restore nature, and ensure better and more resilient livelihoods for the world’s 600 million smallholder farmers, all while bolstering global food supplies.

To capitalize on this opportunity, farmers, fishers, and food producers must be empowered to adopt nature-positive production practices that enhance their livelihoods while simultaneously protecting nature and the climate.

Much attention will rightly be paid to how negotiators integrate food systems approaches, that consider food production, consumption and loss and waste, in the Sharm el-Sheikh Joint Work on Implementation on Agriculture and Food Security, or Nationally Determined Contributions to the Paris Agreement. But if we are to translate global commitments into local action, all eyes must be on how finance is released to food producers so that they are incentivized to use practices that benefit climate, nature and people.

Money matters

Farmers and fishers are tending land and water to feed themselves and their communities, and to improve their livelihoods. While they are some of our most important environmental stewards, and many have a bond with nature, we cannot expect large-scale transitions to nature-positive practices while food producers are financially incentivised to implement unsustainable practices that focus on increasing yield at any cost.

Aid agencies and private financiers must fulfil existing financial pledges while allocating more climate finance for transformative solutions within the agriculture and food sector. In addition, studies have shown that USD540 billion of environmentally damaging agri-food subsidies need to be repurposed each year. WWF is part of the working group on repurposing agrifood subsidies and supports, introduced at COP26, and is working with governments and private investors to rapidly change how agriculture and food is financed, to aid a transition away from unsustainable practices that produce a narrow range of unhealthy foods to nature-positive, climate-resilient food systems that provide everyone with enough healthy and nutritious food.

Effective and equitable resource distribution is critical. Farmers, fishers, and rural women must benefit from better access to the financial support available if we are to make food systems more resilient, inclusive and sustainable.

Seeing is believing

Building trust is also essential for the transition to more resilient food systems. While there is significant evidence that nature-positive production practices can deliver comparable yields and incomes to current practices, without degrading our natural world, farmers continue to face new challenges in the face of climate change. Increasing the availability of measurement tools and technology, and integrating them in national strategies for food systems, will help farmers implement practices demonstrated to be most effective.

Alongside finance, smallholders need full access to comprehensive information, training, and expertise that helps them maximize both productivity and sustainability. Partnerships like that between TechnoServe and WWF help provide farmers with pragmatic advice and support on how to adopt practices suited for their unique realities that sustain both their livelihoods and their environment.

Spread the word

If food systems transformation is to be achieved at the speed required, governments, businesses, development organizations, and food producers must work together to develop and implement scaleable models. This can be challenging given the fact smallholders are often dispersed across large rural areas. Innovative solutions like radio, video and chat bots accessed by mobile phones, as used by TechnoServe to support tens of thousands of coffee farmers across five countries to implement nature-positive production practices, can help drive scale and accelerate impact.

As we head towards a pivotal COP30 in Brazil, an agricultural and environmental bellwether, climate talks must now focus both on driving more ambitious global commitments, and on equipping and empowering smallholder farmers to implement solutions on the ground and in the water. Tangible action in landscapes, seascapes and riverscapes, especially those that are undergoing rapid conversion and degradation due to unsustainable food systems, relies on COP28 delivering enhanced financial support for nature-positive food production.

Supporting smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change and adopt nature-positive practices not only serves their needs and rights to a decent livelihood, but it also protects a vital and increasingly precarious source of food and food security for the entire world. There is a clear opportunity for negotiators and financiers to seize at COP28.

William Warshauer, president and CEO of TechnoServe, a non-profit providing business solutions to poverty
Joao Campari, global leader, food practice, at the World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF)

IPS UN Bureau


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