Why aren't climate negotiators listening to 1.4 billion farmers?

by Robert Carlson, World Farmers Organisation
Friday, 15 November 2013 23:18 GMT

A farmer harvests rice seedlings in a nursery paddy field in the outskirts of the Madagascar capital of Antananarivo on October 30, 2013. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

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To protect food security, agriculture needs a place in a climate deal

The cold and misty weather we are experiencing at the UN climate talks in Warsaw this year reminds me of the 2009 negotiations in Copenhagen. And just like four years ago, the farmers of the world have come to speak with a single voice to negotiators, calling for agriculture to play a more important role in future climate change mitigation and adaptation while also ensuring future food security for us all.  

Sadly, our efforts in Warsaw have proved just as futile as they were in Copenhagen and each year since. Already by the middle of this first week of talks, some negotiators had began expressing reluctance to engage in further substantive discussions on agriculture, a decision which effectively delays any further progress on this important issue for yet another year.

Why is it that farmers as diverse as our members – from smallholder subsistence farmers to large scale farmers, those planting crops, raising trees, keeping livestock, practicing aquaculture – can come together year after year and ask for a clear way forward for agriculture in the climate change negotiations, yet our leaders do not listen?

We farmers represent the majority of the people in some of our countries, in some as much as 70 percent of the population, so we demand that our voice is heard and our concerns addressed.

We will not give up on asking governments to include farmers and our organizations in discussions on agriculture. We farmers suffer the direct impacts of climate change, and our adaptive capacity is becoming more and more limited.  And yet we still have the responsibility for producing food, feed and timber for the entire population.

Whose interests is this meeting addressing if clear and specific demands from those who feed the world are shunned? Policy makers’ as well as society’s awareness of the importance of the issue is critical to worldwide food security.

The majority of our constituency is made up of 1.4 billion smallholder farmers with less than two hectares of land.  They earn less than $400 each year.  Over 500 million of them are food insecure and yet, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation, smallholders produce 80 percent of the food in developing countries.

These farmers are the most vulnerable to increasing extreme weather events such as droughts and floods and also to changing temperatures and rainfall patterns, which are worsened by climate change. At the same time, we farmers also present a huge potential solution for fighting future climate change if only we can be supported in doing so.

Having a work program on agriculture approved at the climate talks would allow scientific and technical experts to do a comprehensive review of how agriculture can contribute to future solutions, both in terms of adaptation and mitigation.  

This work program would deliver the scientific basis we need to move forward on agriculture in the climate change talks. It is needed before any further discussions about including agriculture in a future framework can take place.

Consequently, we strongly urge policy makers to approve a science-based work program on agriculture as their key priority. Once acknowledged, the way ahead to discussions will be better paved.

To omit farmers from the table at the international climate talks, as has already happened here in Warsaw, is an error that needs to be remedied. We may be too late in Warsaw to say we listened to farmers, but we must not let this happen again.  It is more than time to act.

Robert Carlson is president of the World Farmers Organisation.