Nelly Bassily | December 14, 2009
Dry, barren fields, and wasting livestock graphically illustrate how farmers are affected by climate change. Higher temperatures and erratic rainfall patterns have had an impact on farms. Yet, these same farms can be the cause of climate change. Crop production and livestock rearing can release carbon into the atmosphere, making the problem worse. But farmers’ advocates gathered in Copenhagen, Denmark have good news. They say that sustainable farming techniques will allow farmers to adapt to climate change while mitigating carbon emissions.
December 8 marked the second day of the United Nations Climate Change Conference, also known as COP15. It was also the opening session of Klimaforum – a civil society counterpart to the UN event. Henry Saragih, the general coordinator of La Via Campesina, spoke at the opening of Klimaforum. He advocated for sustainable farming practices and food systems. These would put family farmers in control of the global system. And, according to Mr. Saragih, they would also help to “cool the earth.”
He was not alone in advocating for small-scale farmers at Copenhagen. The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research also spoke about sustainable farming practices. They emphasized these practices as the key to food security.
Wendy Mass is a senior advisor with the Food and Agriculture Organization. She explains that certain agricultural practices suck carbon out of the atmosphere and store it in the soil. At the same time, they increase agricultural productivity and resilience.
The Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research, or CGIAR is the world’s largest alliance of agricultural scientists. They laid out a number of approaches that pack a “double punch” – helping farmers to mitigate and adapt to climate change.
Water and soil management approaches were at the top of the list. Increasing the organic matter in soil helps plants to absorb carbon. It also improves the capacity of soil to retain water, which is important when rainfall is erratic. The CGIAR recommends a zero-tillage approach and crop diversification as methods to improve soil. Using compost as fertilizer also increases the organic matter in soil.
The FAO elaborated on soil improvement as a way to mitigate climate change in a briefing note presented at COP15. The note states that most of the mitigating potential of agriculture lies in “soil carbon sequestration.” This is the ability of soil to absorb and store carbon from the atmosphere.
La Via Campesina made proposals that went beyond the work of individual farmers. They suggest that farming should be taken out of the hands of agribusiness, and put into the hands of small-scale farmers. For example, La Via Campesina maintains that reversing the concentration of meat production on factory farms would reduce global carbon emissions by at least five per cent.
-For links to some key news organizations covering COP15, see this week’s Radio Resource Bank.
-For suggestions on how to produce local programming on climate change, turn to this week’s Script of the Week.