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A deal without agriculture is no deal

March 15, 2012

imageAlthough many experts believe that climate change will have a major impact on agricultural production, until a few months ago, agricultural issues hardly figured into the international policy discourse on climate change. Sensing an impending disaster, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, Republic of South Africa, sought to amend the climate agenda and finally succeeded in generating consensus on the inclusion of agriculture into the climate talks in Durban last year.

Joemat-Pettersson addressed Fletcher students via skype and discussed her efforts to give agriculture its due in a talk on March 15 entitled “Getting Agriculture into the Climate Negotiations,” hosted by CIERP’s Sustainable Development Diplomacy & Governance program. She acknowledged that it was an ambitious attempt to get agriculture on the climate agenda. “It is difficult to bring everybody on board. Our goal was to focus on policies required to bring adaptation, mitigation and food security together. To achieve that we put in a lot of effort, lobbied, and also managed to get the backing of the scientific community and the World Bank,” added the Minister.

Before COP17, Joemat-Pettersson invited agricultural ministers from throughout Africa to a meeting to devise a plan for placing food production on the agenda of the climate talks. She understood the perils of global warming and warned of the consequences of climate change on agriculture and food security in Africa. Her strategy was to convince negotiators to agree to the establishment of a program on agriculture.

The Minister indicated that when the talks started, everyone knew they were venturing into uncertain territory. Nonetheless, former Secretary General of the UN Koffi Annan and South African President Jacob Zuma supported the initiative, which developed into a social and political movement. Eventually it was through the "power of this social movement" that her team was able to achieve its goal. Support from G-20 nations, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and African ministers made it possible. This was the first time that agriculture had been included in the climate change talks – the assertion that no deal would be acceptable without agriculture proved very powerful.

The Minister noted that one should never underestimate the power of social movements and emphasized that it is important for African countries to speak with one voice. She believes that a space has been created that needs to be occupied, and she called for young people to take the lead to bring this movement forward. The World Bank and African ministers are now pushing for a Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) initiative, which is an agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) while enhancing the achievement of national food security and development goals.

The Minister also expressed concern over growing cases where multinational companies invest in agriculture in African countries and plant a single crop. She categorically stated that this practice is affecting biodiversity and termed it a new form of colonization as host countries are becoming a place for food security for others. She highlighted the need to understand how these cases of “food abduction” are going to affect food security and food sovereignty going forward.

-Article by Sachin Gaur, MALD candidate F13