Despite contributing to a third of total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, agriculture and wider food systems have often been absent from the discussions at COP.
It seems that with the inclusion of the first official Food & Agriculture Pavilion this year in Sharm el Sheikh, the international community has come to realise that global food systems must no longer be ignored when having conversations on climate change.
Discussions had over the course of “Adaptation & Agriculture Day” have helped to further cement the interdependent nature of these dual concepts. Given the global dependence on agri-systems from a nutritional standpoint as well as the Global South’s comparative reliance on the rural economy as a key contributor to both GDP and employment; climate adaptation must help build resilient agriculture value chains.
What complicates the food systems problem is also what makes solving it all the more crucial. Agriculture helps to employ more than a quarter of our global working population and this number is significantly higher across Latin America, Africa, South-East Asia and the Sub-Continent where a majority of small-scale farmers help to produce half of the world’s food calories. Therefore, climate-resilient agricultural initiatives cannot afford to prioritise ‘decarbonisation’ alone; they must set out a pathway through which to maintain livelihoods in a manner that is sensitive to the susceptibility of climate inaction.
Furthermore, the complex relationship farming has with nature must be respected and the ensuing role it will have to play in our adaptation strategies cannot be ignored. Across other sectors of industry ‘efficiency’ has been freely used as a substitute for ‘sustainability’. The same is not true when we talk about agriculture. Where the Green Revolution may have multiplied production tenfold, it also compromised the ecological integrity of our agroecosystems and intensified biodiversity loss, land degradation and the overall impacts of climate change.
Therefore, our food systems must find a way to leverage innovation, automation and mechanization without undermining the role rural workers will have to play in maintaining a socio-economically sound agricultural model. Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is an example of what this could look like. CSA solutions take context and climate-specific opportunities and constraints into account to deliver farming practices that improve productivity, reduce climate-risk exposure and maximize carbon sequestration & habitat protection. Importantly, it does not work to replace traditional farming systems but rather reorient and augment existing practices in a manner that builds overall resilience.
Regenerative Agriculture (RA) is another part of the solution to this climate resilience problem and is defined as any production system which aims to generate lower, or even a net-positive, environmental impact. Many aspects of RA find their roots in traditional and indigenous modes of farming and this serves as another poignant reminder that optimization and efficiency does not necessarily mean sustainability. Reminding ourselves of the role nature-based solutions will have to play in us achieving the Paris Agreement Goals, reassert the importance of land-use initiatives like Regenerative Agriculture. By isolating aspects such as soil health, cropping systems and irrigation methods, “High-Yielding, Resilient & Adaptative Practices (HYRAP)” (which meet both climate and livelihood constraints) can be employed.
Climate Resilient Agriculture must consider the human element as the crux of the problem when looking to deploy accessible and scalable resiliency to our food systems. This will enable us to reach solutions that actively respect the long-term health of our agroecosystems’ biodiversity and stability; ultimately resulting in a more sustainable food system for us all.