Climate-Smart Agriculture: Not so Smart?

by Nada Zidan

"Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) will secure food for all as well as help build resilience for climate change. CSA guarantees increased productivity and income, strong resilience against climate change and variability, as well as reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and carbon storage on farmlands… In the agricultural sector, adaptation and mitigation have to go hand in hand but with more focus on adaptation.” said FAO Assistant General Director Alexander Miller in an FAO side event at UNFCCC COP18. I sat in the FAO side event thinking to myself after Miller’s presentation: How can Climate-Smart Agriculture be smart when it is depending on a nonexistent market for it to be the real “solution”? Even if global emissions from agriculture are 30%, the industrialized world emits 72% of total carbon dioxide emissions, so why should developing countries mitigate?

To tell you the truth, several ecological agricultural principles are posited under CSA: increasing soil’s fertility and capacity to hold water making soils and crops less vulnerable to droughts and rising temperature. But the indication that FAO’s definition and vision of Climate-Smart Agriculture is not what will happen in actuality is that CSA proponents are pushing for a soil carbon market based “solution.” What further puts the credibility of the CSA approach in question is the fact that it was the World Bank that brought forward the idea of measuring how certain agricultural practices sequester carbon in soil so as to turn the carbon captured by the soils of the small scale farmers into carbon credits. And that once carbon finance entities sell those carbon credits in the market, they shall fund agricultural adaptation efforts in the developing world.

The above scenario is not true.

The real prize is for the private sector and agribusiness lobby to lure private finance when selling the carbon credits to industrial polluters who want to offset their emissions. And though these entities buying carbon credits would offer some certain support for small scale farmers to conduct ecological agricultural practices such as making use of manure and composting, their main goal will be one: money. Adaptation to climate change in the agricultural sector requires billions of dollars. Will these entities even give up a quarter of a million for agricultural adaptation in developing countries where small scale farmers are growing food for them and for all of us? It is naive to think so.

In another side event, that of the International Food Policy Research Institute, I heard the same things, asked myself the same questions, but chose to finally ask the panel all questions that come down to one: “whose benefit are we concerned about?”

James Kanyangi, first speaker from CGIAR : “Agriculture is a process where adaptation and mitigation are intertwined."

In response to him, I asked: 

For who? As I am sure you know, developed countries are blaming developing countries for the 30% global emissions from agriculture although it is these developing countries that are growing the food for them and for all of us. Developing countries have long emphasized their inability to afford mitigation and that their utmost need is for adaptation. So why do we who are present in international scenes like this one to supposedly make “fundamental change,” continue to impose applications such as that of mitigation on the less vulnerable. Does this mean that the developed countries, who are the real bad guys here because of their insufficient ambition in mitigation, are encouraged to keep blaming and burdening the developing countries for being dependent on agriculture- the major driver of deforestation?

 You kept mentioning adaptation throughout your presentation as an urgent measure to be taken by “developing” countries. Yes, adaptation is primary-but who pays for adaptive capacity? Certainly not the commodified benefit from mitigation that is sold as a carbon credit in carbon markets. If money is to be given from the currently nonexistent carbon market to developing countries and small scale farmers to adapt, it will be as little as charity.

 It is not all about mitigation and adaptation, there are hidden agendas, and that brings me to your solid emphasis on CSA being a potential solution. Don’t you think that the CSA is giving room for agribusiness and the private sector to step on the basic rights of small scale farmers?"

 Panel moderator interrupts me: “these are twelve questions, I’ll have to stop you here.”

I resumed:

It is youth day today and we have been told that we are not angry enough while we are so angry and so frustrated. We do speak and protest but apparently we are not loud enough maybe we should be even louder, therefore allow me to finish my last 2 questions."  

"So CSA is related with pesticides, GMOs and fertilizers. I am a firm believer that they are unethical. What do you think?"

"You said 'GHG measurements need to be carried out in smallholder complexes.' Aren’t those smallholder complexes blamed for GHG emissions anyways- so why measure it?"

"Your final point was 'strong government support to agricultural adaptation is crucial.' My final question is: which government are we referring to? Those of developing countries who have already pledged more than those who actually need to? Shouldn’t we just step away from governments since our own visions of equity is one of a false dichotomy so how "equitable" will be governments visions on equity?

I walked out of that room half wondering and half assured. Half wondering whether Climate-Smart Agriculture is a curse or a blessing? (Anaka D.). And half assured that farmers are able to make the changes they need from their fields if industrial polluters were not trying to “help” them so much. 

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