The COP21 climate talks in Paris attracted world leaders to discuss how to adapt to and mitigate climate change risks. The negotiations brought attention to the threat climate change poses to the private sector and agriculture. Globally, small farmers make up one of the most important frontline communities that are already facing the challenges of a rapidly changing climate. Even with our dependence on these small farmers, they now find themselves with little international support on how to fight this challenge to their livelihood. Partnerships with stakeholders are needed to boost investment and education to help frontline farmers stem the impacts of climate change and build a climate resilient future.
With the earth’s population projected to reach 9.6 billion by mid-century, the planet can no longer afford its unsustainable food system. Empowering farmers to lead as global actors will be a crucial turning point. Adaptation projects would help address farmers’ immediate needs, like dealing with unpredictable rainfall, improving water management practices and afforestation/rehabilitation of degraded land. With many small farms struggling to break the poverty line, developing and financing these adaptation projects opens up a whole new list of issues. Currently, only about one-sixth of climate change finance goes to adaptation and resiliency measures. While mitigation is necessary to combatting future climate change risks adaptation is a need of equal importance, affecting communities right now.
Climate change and agricultural productivity are highly interdependent issues that confront our global food system. With rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall, many crops are failing, pest and disease outbreaks are becoming more common and many traditional farming systems are no longer viable. Dr. Evelyn Nguleka, president of the World Farmers Organization says farmers across the globe are already seeing these changes. “There is a complete change in seasonality, when we expect it to change, and when we expect it to stop,” she says.
When looking at the impacts of climate change, the agricultural sector will see the worst effects by mid to late century. At the same time agriculture also accounts for a large part of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Typically, estimates of GHG emissions from agriculture are around 11 percent to 15 percent of global emissions. But looking at food production more broadly to include emissions from land-use change and processing, packaging, transport and sale of agricultural products, the number jumps to nearly 50 percent, according to the UN’s 2013 Trade and Environment Review. For food, beverage and agriculture companies, as much as 90 percent of total emissions is in their supply chains. Our global food system will be threatened by growing climate impacts. Small global farmers are those who stand to lose the most. They should hold an important seat in this discussion.