Sunday, September 23, 2012

Climate-Smart Smallholders

KIGALI – Until the world’s small farmers adopt a series of necessary changes, climate talks such as the United Nations Rio+20 Summit, which will take place in Rio de Janeiro this June, will never translate into action.

The emergence of a global green economy requires governments, other policymakers, and businesses from developed and emerging economies to recognize the inextricable linkages between climate change, the environment, and food security. This means bringing the world’s smallholder agriculture into the discussion.

Every day, smallholder farmers in developing countries confront the consequences of climate change. They are often the very first to fall prey to fickle global markets or extreme weather events.

Yet smallholders cannot be ignored when it comes to climate-change solutions: the world’s half-billion small farms account for 60% of global agriculture production and provide up to 80% of the food supply in developing countries. Together, they manage vast areas of our planet, including 80% of the farmland in sub-Saharan Africa and Asia.

Can we really count on these farmers, many of them desperately poor, to take a leading role in addressing the twin challenges of food security and environmental sustainability? Can they produce more food while protecting the natural environment?

We believe the answer to both questions is a resounding yes. Real-world experience shows that they can. But success is possible only if they can adopt environmentally sustainable techniques that preserve and enhance soil and groundwater.

Examples of how this can be done include terracing to prevent soil loss and degradation through erosion and flooding; radically reducing tillage; rotating crops and applying natural fertilizers – manure, compost, or mulch – to improve soil structure and fertility; and integrating trees with crops and livestock in agro-forestry systems. More