Not everybody is talking climate change this November

by Haseeb Md. Irfanullah, Practical Action | Practical Action - Bangladesh
Saturday, 26 November 2011 20:16 GMT

* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Why are agriculture extension specialists so little interested?

Some may say climate change has become an overrated development agenda. (Coming from a climate-vulnerable country - Bangladesh - I would reply this is what it ought to be.) But a recent international conference on agricultural extension in Nairobi showed it hasn’t quite taken over the agricultural extension agenda yet.

This month, more than 400 farmers, agricultural extension professionals, researchers, policy makers, and civil society, private sector and media representatives from 75 countries gathered in Nairobi for the biggest agricultural extension event in almost two decades.

This four-day-long conference on Innovations in Extension and Advisory Services was sponsored by 18 agencies around the globe. The event aimed at linking our knowledge and experiences of agricultural extension services with the policy and actions for enhancing food and livelihoods security.

Around 100 papers, and several keynote papers and panel discussions highlighted the progress, experiences, priorities, challenges and opportunities in agricultural extension and advisory systems. By the sheer size of the participation and volume of information shared, the conference surely indicated that extension and advisory services is back on the development agenda in a big way.

I, however, found that the issue of vulnerability posed by climate change was largely overlooked in this significant international event.

The importance of climate change sporadically came in the speeches of delegates, in a couple of keynote speeches, in open discussions, and in the final output of the conference on Nov. 18 – the “Nairobi Declaration on Agricultural Extension and Advisory Services”.

The declaration recognised that “smallholder agriculture and family farming is the core contributor to agricultural production in most developing countries, and therefore vital for achieving food and nutritional security and for dealing with climate change.” And it noted that “a plethora of demand-led, situation- and context-specific, gender sensitive and climate-smart initiatives are being implemented, involving a wide range (of) organisations.”

But the numerous papers presented failed to highlight these, except three papers – how much additional investment is needed in extension system because of climate change (by the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation), how sharing of traditional knowledge can help mitigation and adaptation (from Ghana), and how use of geographic information system helped extension workers effectively disseminate information in Cameroon.

Uncertainty posed by climate change surely demands innovations. And given the importance of food and livelihoods security, agricultural extension is no exception. But while innovative ideas were presented in Nairobi in a range of areas, they were not linked to climate change explicitly.

I found the gap quite interesting, given the conference came just a couple of weeks before the COP17 climate talks in Durban and after the COP12 climate negotiations in Nairobi exactly five years back.

I discussed this issue with a leading expert of agricultural extension attending the conference. I agree with his view that, given its complexity, the importance of climate change is yet to be fully appreciated by many working in agricultural extension.

Even the innovations presented at the conference were largely shifts from one corner of a box to another - looking at an issue from a different perspective. But surely sometimes we need to be outside the box as well, especially when it comes to dealing with climate change and all its uncertainty.

Haseeb Md. Irfanullah is the team leader for the reducing vulnerability and natural resource management programme of Practical Action in Bangladesh.