Prospering despite climate change: A lot of ground covered. What stones have we left unturned?

The climate change breakout session of the Conference on New Directions for Smallholder Agriculture was based on (Director of IIED) Camilla Toulmin’s  paper “Prospering Despite Climate Change.”   I’ll use the sum-up by the session chair, IFAD’s Director of Environment and Climate, Elwyn Grainger-Jones, to run through the key points.

  • We are seeing impacts today, and urgency for action is growing: current science and emissions reductions commitments are taking us to a 4 degree Celsius average global temperature increase – with extremes of up to 10 degrees Celsius at the N. and S. Poles.  Also, science is increasingly telling us that the speed of change is increasing.  There will be limits to adaptation: some changes will be impossible to adapt to, some may be possible but too expensive to adapt to. Adaptation is not a cure: although from a livelihoods perspective some said it should be our first concern.
  • Climate change is increasing the scale and the unpredictability of risk. Camilla Toulmin stressed, the past is no longer a good guide to the future. New risks are also appearing. Climate finance commitments need to be invested in research and technologies; info and communications tools; resource rights; bridging local and modern science; social infrastructure and learning; infrastructure like roads and storage; increasing market engagement and better governance…. to build resilience. We also need to distinguish between risk – which we can plan for – and uncertainty – which we can’t. So, spread risk, build resilience.
  • Nahu Senaye Araya, the former CEO of Nyala Insurance S.C. (Ethiopia) explained how that company is offering weather risk insurance products (based on farmer demand, including livestock and crops) to smallholder clients through associations and unions. He stressed that the unpredictability of climate made weather index-based insurance premiums (20% of insured sum) much more expensive than mixed insurance packages – health, fire, death (5% of insured sum). Can the poorest afford 20% (or 5% for that matter)? He explained that it was difficult for Nyala to get reinsurance on international markets due to lack of experience with the product and also lack of country specific knowledge and data for use by international re-insurers (what happens to payouts in bad years?). He urged the development to stop the 1-year cycle of aid provision in favour of a 3 to 5 year cycle of support, including through subsidies to bring down premiums in the short run for smallholders. View Mr. Araya’s excellent PPT presentation.
  • Francesco Tubiello of GET-Carbon reminded us that agriculture’s window of opportunity in carbon markets in closing as the Kyoto Protocol is unlikely to be extended post-2012 – and we must reach out to the negotiators to keep agriculture on the radar. They need reminding that in addition to CO2, emissions include nitrous oxide, methane, etc. not covered under market mechanisms. Given the increasing sums committed for climate change support, but the shifting allocation modalities, he suggested we need to concentrate efforts where both adaptation and mitigation can be achieved (integrated, climate-smart approaches), especially where smallholders are concerned.
  • Following on the “multiple wins imperative” Elwyn noted that – luckily – many of the sustainable intensification or eco-agriculture or landscape approaches (choose your term), such as conservation agriculture and agro-forestry, actually increase resilience and also reduce emissions as they reduce poverty and increase productivity.
  • Knowledge was a recurring theme both in terms of missing knowledge causing unpredictability and how knowledge and skills can build individual and community resilience under changing scenarios. Bioversity International’s Deputy Director General, Kwesi Atta-Krah, pointed out “the genetic resources you have today may be useful not to you, but to another country in the future” and stressed support to preserving and exchanging genetic gene pools. ICIMOD’s Dhrupad Chowdhury told us that indigenous communities in marginal and remote areas often employ the most diversified livelihood strategies and genetically robust crops - ready made for adaptation learning, and perhaps even “saleable”. The lead author of IFAD’s Rural Poverty Report 2011 added from the floor that in addition to knowledge about planting and cropping techniques, pest management or new seed technologies, smallholders should also be provided with portable, intangible knowledge and skills to help them adapt and adopt new technologies as challenges and changes arise – including displacement / migration.
 So much more was shared by the fantastic paper presenters, discussants and participants – migration issues, youth education as an investment for family-level resilience, MRV… the 2 hours went by in a flash. Do you think something important is missing from the discussion?

By Jeff Brez