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Agriculture must be part of a deal in Copenhagen says Diouf

By Gemma Ware
Posted on Friday, 11 December 2009 10:07

In the Know features an interview, opinion or analysis from the people making the news in Africa each week.

Agriculture experts are working hard to make their voices heard at the Copenhagen Climate Summit this month. Left out of the Kyoto protocol in 1997, agriculture is now recognised as a significant contributor to greenhouse gases, contributing 14% of the world’s emissions, according to the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). Its potential to mitigate against climate change in Africa is also on the agenda at Copenhagen, including efforts to include projects that protect land used for crops, pastures and forestry within a future framework for carbon credits.

Ahead of an Agricultural and Rural Development Day taking place in Copenhagen on 12 December, Dr Jacques Diouf, director-general of the FAO, spoke to The Africa Report about what Copenhagen must deliver for African agriculture.

The Africa Report: On 8 December the FAO announced that Finland would be the first country to contribute $3.9m towards a $60m fund to help developing countries adapt agriculture to mitigate against climate change. What is your aim for the fund?

Dr Jacques Diouf: We were very concerned that agriculture was not being adequately taken into consideration in addressing problems of climate change. The focus has been essentially on the industrial dimensions, the transport dimension, but the whole issue of the contribution of agriculture, including crop production, animal husbandry, forestry and fisheries, that aspect has been largely neglected. Some effort now is being made to address the dimension of forestry, essentially in UN REDD+, also in our overall cooperation with UNEP and UNDP to address problems of deforestation and forest degradation.

We are happy that now there is a greater recognition, and actually the different funds that we will be mobilising will be just to ensure that the necessary pilot activities, the necessary studies are conducted. Naturally, it is in the much larger framework of the present negotiations that we will be able to find the resources necessary, which naturally will not be a matter of $3,4 or 5m. These negotiations should lead to much larger funding. We’re talking here of billions of dollars.

What are your hopes for agriculture to be included in a final deal at the conclusion of the Copenhagen Summit on 18 December?

First, that it be recognised as a key player in that whole process, which has not been the case before. That it be considered, as it is, a demonstrated contributor to gas emissions leading to global warming; but that it’s also playing a role in carbon sequestration and therefore being a solution to the problem.

We therefore want agriculture to really play its part, and be part and parcel of any final conclusion of the negotiation, with a clear capacity to monitor the impact of agriculture, and have the necessary indicators for its different contributions, both to adaptation and to mitigation, so that we really become now one of the components of the whole problem of climate change.

How important will methods such as the promotion of drought-resistant crop varieties be in combating climate change?

First, there is the question of the soil. In agriculture, the whole issue of how you prepare land. Will you go for zero tillage or not? The whole question of conservation agriculture under which you restore to the soil the organic matter by protecting and covering the soil, but also of transforming the organic matter in terms of fertiliser use – these are also fundamental elements.

The uses of water and efficiency of water use also have an impact on gas emissions. And then naturally in the different crops themselves. What type of varieties do you have? How much will they be able to adapt to a rise in temperature, and what impact will it be having on the yields in terms of drought tolerance, or drought resistance, or in terms of even improving the environment of water control?

If we take Africa, only 7% of the arable land is irrigated, Sub-Saharan Africa only 4%. Yet Africa is using only 4% of its water resources against 20% in Asia, which is having 28% of its arable land irrigated. There are different ways to attack the problem. It’s not only through varietal improvement, which naturally is an important part of the problem.

Copenhagen will host discussions on whether mitigation projects such as carbon sequestration and land degradation will be included within the larger framework of the Carbon Development Mechanism, which sees developing countries earn credits for green projects. What are your hopes for a successful outcome on that?

Naturally, we hope it will. How it will be done and in which form, I think we’re too early in the process of negotiations. But what is sure is, already, forestry is at least seen now to be duly considered as an element of the whole negotiations process, and an element in both mitigation and adaptation. We need to move beyond forestry and ensure that agriculture in terms of crop production, animal husbandry, fisheries and aquaculture are also included because they also play a very important part in the whole dimension of climate change.

We’re open to whatever format is considered most appropriate. What we’re more interested in is the substance of what will be in whatever formula, because we think that these are fundamental for developing countries, in as much as addressing the industrial dimensions is important for developed and emerging countries.

There’s a lot of potential money at stake in Copenhagen for developing regions such as Africa. How can safeguards be put in place to ensure that if money is ring fenced for agriculture, it will really go to help mitigate climate change?

I believe that you raise a very important issue. If resources are to be mobilised, they should be used for the purpose for which those funds would have been appropriated and allocated. We will have to make sure that these funds are efficiently, effectively used, and that they reach the people that they are allocated for and don’t get somewhere else. I think that’s fundamental if these funds are to be successful and are to be sustainable. No one would be willing to give fund[ing] without being sure that it’s achieving the goals for which it’s been set.

What are the best and worst case scenarios for Africa from Copenhagen?

The best case scenario is naturally a binding agreement with funds clearly committed, amounts clearly defined and the period in which they will be sent clearly also agreed upon. And naturally addressing, not only the industrial dimension, but addressing the dimension of agriculture, keeping in mind 60-80% of the population in Africa practices mainly agriculture and rural activities and that 75% of the poor are in rural areas.

Naturally, the worst-case scenario is not to have any of these things, but I hope that it will be in between. But how far on one side or the other – that will be the result of the negotiation. I hope that it will be the positive side.

For more on how agricultural innovation can help mitigate against climate change, see the article by Pascal Sanginga in our current issue, ‘Africa in 2010’, on sale now.

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