Caritas dialogues with FAO and the EU about agroecology at COP18

By Adriana Opromolla

On Wednesday, November 27th, a coalition made of CIDSE, the Ecumenical Advocacy Alliance (EAA), Misereor and the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) held a public seminar (“side event”) at the Qatar National Convention Centre. The event was aimed at discussing the current proposals, within the UNFCCC, to adopt policy decisions addressing the relation between agriculture and climate change, and to promote small-scale agroecology as a viable response . A number of representatives of the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) and the EU were present and engaged in an interesting dialogue with the speakers.

Dr. Haridas Varikkottil Raman intervened on behalf of EAA, Caritas Internationalis and Caritas India. He pointed to the ecological problems in the present way of managing agriculture. Back in history, human beings had a symbiotic relation with nature. Today, large-scale agriculture does not take care of nature and farmers face several challenges related to the need to increase productivity on the one hand, resisting competition from giant business producers on the other and, lastly, adjusting to climate change. The current commercial production system has made farmers dependent on chemical inputs sold by large industries.

Dr. Haridas insisted on the need to bring “culture” back into “agriculture” for a greater respect of the earth, for better human health, lower dependency on external inputs and higher profits for smallholders.

To support his arguments he showed good practices such as the “Model Organic Farming” in India, which has allowed for greater yields, higher incomes and healthier nutrition. Thanks to this pilot project, farmers were enabled to cultivate different and even new crops (cauliflower, tomatoes etc.). In his opinion, the solution to help smallholder farmers lays in promoting agriculture keeping in mind the symbiotic relation with nature, what equals to agroecology.

To promote agroecology, it is necessary:

  • To bring together all actors (including governments, the research community and the private sector)
  • more investment in innovative agroecology to make farmers independent from external, often expensive inputs
  • to create enabling policy environments (at national and international levels)
  • to increase support for the establishment and functioning of farmers’ collectives
  • to encourage farmer-to-farmer learning (the example of the “CREAM” project, coordinated by Caritas Asia, is very positive)

Anika Schroeder of Misereor challenged the implementation of the so-called “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA) promoted by international agencies. Its definition is the same as organic agriculture, however in the practice CSA may include Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs), nitrogen fertilizers and may not be culturally appropriate. Agroecology, on its side, guarantees food sovereignty and is characterized by family farming, human labour intensity, protection of biodiversity and local varieties. Adaptation and Food Security are its priorities. Multilateral funds for (general) adaptation already exist, however they do not deliver enough, especially for smallholder farmers. Most funds goes to mitigation projects, i.e. projects that reduce the emission of Greenhouse Gases (GHGs) in agriculture. The US, Canada and Brazil are big CSA investors. Big agribusiness are now calling for an UNFCCC agenda for agriculture and mitigation.

However, Ms. Schroeder said, the world should instead focus on reducing emissions in industry and transportation rather than implement projects aimed at storing carbon in the soil (“carbon sequestration”). There is a natural carbon cycle that is necessary to produce food; curtailing the carbon cycle will also reduce food yielding. Carbon sequestration is not the solution to the problem, since carbon may again be released in the atmosphere (ex. a fire destroying forests would unleash it again).
Harjeet Singh of Actionaid underlined that smallholder farmers are the worst hit by climate change. However, in his opinion the necessity of adopting a work program on agriculture within UNFCCC (an option defended by developed countries) was not dictated by this consideration. Rather, he said that the overall contribution of agriculture (especially industrial agriculture) to climate change was the only foundation to this proposal. If adaptation should be a priority, especially for developing countries, there would be no need for a new work programme. The UNFCCC, in facts, already provides for adaptation projects under its “Nairobi Work Programme”.

Behind the current proposals on agriculture, Mr. Singh saw the intention to introduce new mitigation projects, aimed at carbon sequestration, that would to create new markets through CSA (introducing GMOs, technology and destroying traditional knowledge). In Mr. Singh’s view, soil-carbon sequestration is not the way to go; industrial emissions have to be cut, what requires a radical change in our production and lifestyles.

The EU officials present at the event replied saying that the EU does not intend to introduce mitigation in agriculture. The EU would support traditional practices, however the opportunity of a UNFCCC work program raises from the inter-linkages between adaptation and mitigation. A Senior Advisor on CSA at FAO explained that the objective of CSA is not the carbon market, but sustainable agricultural development and food security.

The implementation of this kind of projects depends on the circumstances of each country. In some cases, climate-smart projects have led to virtuous combinations (ex. agriculture with livestock, intercropping etc.) with very good results. Another FAO official underlined the absence, as of today, of an internationally agreed definition of agroecology. In his words, CSA is not a set of practices, but rather an approach varying according to the diverse needs of each country to ensure food security. Mitigation itself is not just about carbon markets, but a much broader concept that, consequently, would not harm agriculture.

On their turn, the speakers pointed that a UNFCCC work programme on agriculture would be imposed “from the top” (H. Singh), that in spite of good cases there are serious risks we have to be aware of (A. Schroeder), that we have to mobilize communities by creating small agricultural models which can then be replicated and up-scaled (Dr. Haridas).

This lively dialogue showed the complexity of agriculture-related debates at COP18. A “one-size-fits-all” solution does not exist and State Parties will have to carefully balance competing interests. In such a context, it is essential that organisations like Caritas continue giving their testimony and contribution to decision-makers. Sometimes, even a simple admonition can be effective: Dr. Haridas’ final comment “Whatever decision is taken at UNFCCC, it must be in favour of the farmers and not of corporates!” was heard attentively and marked the end of the discussion.


Thanks Trudi Zundel at Earth in Brackets for writing about our event.

Caritas Internationalis

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Secretary General: Michel Roy

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