What does Copenhagen mean to me?

FYF Director Dr Dan Taylor reflects in The Evening Standard online:

We are standing at a crossroads. We look back at a period of food, fuel and finance crises, and forward to an even more uncertain future, overshadowed by the issue of global warming. The need for mitigation and adaptation in the face of long-term uncertainty, together with the need for a transition to a low carbon economy remains upmost in the minds of our political leaders as COP15 approaches.

So what do we want the world to look like in the future? The recurring mantra of business as usual is not an option has become an integral part of this policy discourse. It appears in a number of reports ranging from agriculture through to climate change to the global economy. But what does it mean?

For us at Find Your Feet it means an answer to a very specific question. What will the impact on poor rural families, particularly those dependent on agriculture, be? Globally, already over a million people go hungry, a number that is gradually rising as climatic unpredictability becomes the norm. That the voices of these people need to be heard in corridors of power is clear, but what is less clear is the impact that our uncertain future will have on their lives and livelihoods. Poor farmers mitigate risk in a number of ways: crop diversification, sequential planting, polycultures and mixed farming, some moving off farm to find temporary or even permanent employment. Despite the steady decrease in the global rural population the majority of the global poor are rurally-based and most rural people are dependent on the food they produce.

Given longer term uncertainty we suggest some priority areas for action:

1. Greater investment in agricultural research that links agricultural and the environment – agroecological systems that can sequestrate carbon.
2. Early warning systems to alert farmers to expected climatic variability.
3. More appropriate participatory farmer support
4. Plant breeding for resilience rather than yield
5. Promotion of ‘minor’ crops which are ‘major’ crops in the eyes of the poor
6. Protection for the agricultural markets of the poor
7. Agrarian reform which promotes the rights of smallholder farmers
8. A greater acknowledgement of the role of women in agriculture.
9. Greater awareness of the multifunctionality of agriculture. Agriculture is not just about production, it is also about culture, resource (biodiversity) conservation and livelihoods.

This calls for a new vision for agriculture, one that can produce food, sequestrate carbon, enhance livelihoods and ultimately conserve our planet for posterity. But what can we expect out of Copenhagen? Not much would be our answer. But we hope that the link between agriculture, food security and climate change will not be lost as all attention is focussed on the latter.


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