Wednesday, 16 December 2009

On the frontline: community based adaptation to climate change

The people at IIED who are responsible for Participatory Learning and Action have just brought out a timely issue on Community-based adaptation to climate change and there are a number of excellent articles related to agriculture and climate change. I haven't had time to read it all but the article by Stepen Sherwood and Jeffrey Bentley descibing a process through katalysis (an extension of the farmer field school approach) to assist farmers learn about and adapt to climate change is particularly interesting. There is much more. I wonder how many of these stories got told at COP15. Excellent publication with lots of ideas.

Good COP, bad COP?

With 30,000 people applying for accreditation, and an estimated 5,000 media, global meetings finally reached 'stadium rock' proportions and most likely took on the carbon footprint of a U2 tour. However, given the miserable outcomes there will be few calls for an encore, although the long and winding road will go on for sometime to come.

It certainly didn't go well for agriculture and the small farmers of this world. Of course, there was the Agriculture and Rural Development Day at the COP15 and the joint statement Beyond Copenhagen: Agriculture and Forestry Are Part of the Solution calling for among other things climate negotiators to agree on the early establishment of an agricultural work program under the SBSTA. No idea where or how that ended up. I expect it got abandoned in the hair-splitting and horse trading, the sport of politicians. Here is what the folks over at Agricultural Biodiversity Weblog had to say, including Cary Fowler of the Global Crop Diversity Trust.

While hundreds of activists demonstrated to ‘change the food system, not the climate’, the Ecologist suggests that Copenhagen could lead to increase in intensive farming. The Ecologist goes on to discuss the implications of missing out on agriculture as part of the deal and why small-scale farmers should be part of this. The LEISA's Farm blog did a nice job of navigating through the 'megabytes of text' to highlight the relevant issues and organisations campaigning for agriculture at COP15. There was also useful coverage of agriculture and climate change over at the Platform for Agrobiodiversity Research. While not commenting specifically on outcomes of agriculture and COP15, USC Canada also did a nice job of consolidating some useful resources on food, farming and climate change. While the CGIAR's Rural Climate Exchange provided an up-to-date thread of issues and debates.

Personally I was disappointed that someone like Paul Collier was able to get up at an IIED funded event (Development and Climate Day) and call for GMOs as a solution for climate change impacts to agriculture in Africa while Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez made one of the best statements of the week, "If the climate was a bank, a capitalist bank, [the West] would have saved it by now."

While all the bickering was going on it as been business as usual for thousands of communities the world over on the frontline of climate change on a daily basis, because they certainly can't wait for the international circus to come to their aid.

Tuesday, 15 December 2009

The Future of Family Farming

People are gathering from all over today for LEISA's Jubilee conference in the Hague. More than 200 participants have registered to join the conference. Full updates will be posted on the LEISA Farm blog in the coming days so be sure to visit.

The answer is out there, Neo, and it's looking for you

One of the more interesting books I came across in 2009 was Nature's Matrix by Ivette Perfecto, John Vandermeer and Angus Wright. The book makes a strong case for working with small farmers and social movements to strengthen the quality of the agricultural matrix that surround the increasing fragments of natural habitat, an argument that eloquently counters the traditional conservationist agenda which often views agriculture as harmful and farmers and local communities to be excluded at all cost. In the words of the Earthscan website blurp,

Landscapes are frequently seen as fragments of natural habitat surrounded
by a 'sea' of agriculture. But recent ecological theory shows that the nature of
these fragments is not nearly as important for conservation as is the nature of
the matrix of agriculture that surrounds them. Local extinctions from
conservation fragments are inevitable and must be balanced by migrations if
massive extinction is to be avoided. High migration rates only occur in what the
authors refer to as 'high quality' matrices, which are created by alternative
agroecological techniques, as opposed to the industrial monocultural model of
agriculture. The authors outline new knowledge about the science of ecology, current
debates about agriculture (and biodiversity especially in the tropics) and the
role of new and powerful rural social movements such as Via Campesina and these
general tendencies can come together to give us a new paradigm for
biodiversity conservation.
This might be a new paradigm for conservationists but I think there are many in the agriculture and agrobiodiversity community who have been saying for sometime now that the 'quality' of the agricultural matrix, and those who look after it, are a sustainable solution to biodiversity conservation and the bridging or linking of managed and natural landscapes. Let's hope the traditional conservation sector sits up and takes notice. Don't hold your breath! Having said that the book certainly adds weight to the case for biodiverse agro-ecosystems and there are many opportunities here for the agrobiodiversity community to add susbstantial case studies to complement the somewhat limited examples that appear in this book.

Monday, 14 December 2009

Feed the world, Bob and Bono need not apply

There has been a spate of articles in the popular press recently about ways and means to feed the world but I recently came across a series of articles in the Monthly Review which I think provide a much better narrative, and all downloadable for free. They are:

Can ecological agriculture feed nine billion people? by Jules Pretty

From food crisis to food sovereignty by Eric Holt-Gimenez

Agroecology, small farms, and food sovereignty by Miguel Altieri

Fixing our global food system by Peter Rosset

Some of the above articles are part of a special issue the magazine ran on agriculture and the food crisis in July/August 2009 which is worth checking out. Nice magazine, why not subscribe and support their good work.

Thursday, 10 December 2009

A commentary on international agriculture

Uma Lele reviews John Shaw's recent book Global Food and Agricultural Institutions and among her conclusions has this to say,

The institutions Shaw reviews includes multi-lateral organisations such as the Food and Agriculture Organisation, the World Bank, the World Food
Programme, the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, and the International Fund for Agricultural Development. His book does not include bi-lateral organisations such as USAID, US Foundations and Land Grant Universities. Despite a largely common membership there is a lack of coordination among the organisations he reviews.

Can true and effective global cooperation in food and agriculture materialise? Uma Lele argues that the challenges are great and the topic is complex and mired in the larger issues of the aid architecture. This reality has three dimensions, only one of which is mentioned in the book:

1. Vast changes in the international aid architecture in the Post World War II period, particularly in the last 15 years, combined with a decline in long term assistance to food and agriculture, imbalanced allocation withinand across sectors, misallocation, and decline of capacity of bilateral aid agencies concomitant with increased bilateralisation of multilateral aid.

2. Growth in the number of international organisations and programmes, mission creep in the mandates, and changing legitimacy of traditional international organisations with overlaps, gaps, competition as well as cooperation in the ever growing galaxy of aid agencies and programmes, and,

3. The dynamics between and among developed and developing countries influencing global policy and strategy.

Realistically speaking developing countries cannot wait for the international organisations to get their act together, or to be led by them, she concludes.

Read more here.

Wednesday, 9 December 2009

Why we left our farms to come to Copenhagen

"Tonight is a very special night for us to get together here for the opening of the assembly of the social movements and civil society at the Klimaforum. We, the international peasant movement La Via Campesina, are coming to Copenhagen from all five corners of the world, leaving our farmland, our animals, our forest, and also our families in the hamlets and villages to join you all." Read more.

Monday, 7 December 2009

Agriculture and Copenhagen

COP15 at Copenhagen gets underway today and agriculture issues will take centre stage on 12 December at the Agriculture and Rural Development Day. There is also a possibility of a programme of work on agriculture emerging.

The ODI highlights that transitions to more sustainable agriculture will mean taking action to: use existing resources more economically; farm more flexibly and ‘resiliently’; switch to conservation approaches to farming from current approaches that degrade resources, and, shift nutritional habits of society’s wealthy populations away from highly resource-intensive diets.

Thursday, 3 December 2009

This land is my land

The people over at GRAIN have posted two new presentations worth a look.

Land Grabbing and the global food crisis and Small farmers can cool the planet

And this is what James Hansen has to say about COP15 Copenhagen. I rather liked what he had to say about cap and trade.

"This is analagous to the indulgences that the Catholic church sold in the middle ages. The bishops collected lots of money and the sinners got redemption. Both parties liked that arrangement despite its absurdity. That is exactly what's happening,"

Brains to burn

Foreign Policy has just published it's list of Top 100 Global Thinkers. I can count the number I would agree with on one hand, well maybe two hands if I'm pushed. I suggest those on the the list who hold dear the neoliberal consensus which has contributed to many of our current global problems, including the recent food crisis and riots and a situation where probably close to half the human race suffer either perpetual hunger and malnourishment or some form of food insecurity, be replaced with the likes of Jules Pretty, Miguel Altieri, Robert Chambers, M.S. Swaminathan, Peter Rosset, Eric Holt-Gimenez, Nils Roling, Gary Nabhan, Pat Mooney to name a few. What's the chances of that?