Food security on the table at Marrakesh | Global Ideas | DW | 08.11.2016
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Food security on the table at Marrakesh

A year on from the groundbreaking Paris Agreement, COP22 talks aim to make good on last year's commitment to fight global warming on several fronts. Agriculture is a big one.

When the Moroccan city of Marrakesh opens its gates to the world's environmental players and decision-makers later this month, one of the main issues on the table will be food security in the face of extreme rainfall fluctuations.

That implies a focus on Africa - a continent where a large part of the population (75 percent in East Africa) is employed in small-scale agriculture that relies heavily on traditional rain-fed techniques.

But with these farmers often at the receiving end of irregular rainfall patterns, this locks millions into poverty and hunger, making it very difficult for them to adapt to shifting weather conditions.

Until now, climate change initiatives - and indeed finance - have been primarily focused on urban infrastructure, transport and energy. As a result, farming has missed out. Which is short-sighted given that the sector is responsible for 70 percent of the world's water usage, and that agricultural innovation and investment play key roles in adapting to and reducing the impacts of climate change.

Last year's COP21 in Paris facilitated greater local input into climate change commitments via nationally determined contributions (NDCs) - and that says Martin Frick, director of the Climate, Energy and Tenure Division at the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) has been a "game-changer" - allowing agriculture, alongside energy, to become among the largest sectors in the upcoming climate talks.

Moreover, within agriculture are unique opportunities to simultaneously address climate change adaptation and mitigation, food security, rural poverty, and indeed water scarcity - which is a major problem.

Looming threat linked to changing weather

According to a United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP)  released in October, glaciers in mountainous East Africa that feed rivers and tributaries vital to surrounding farmers have decreased by 80 percent since the 1990s.

Then there are the wildfires caused by rising temperatures that have destroyed 13,000 hectares of Kilimanjaro's water retaining forests since 1976, and increasing droughts.

Collectively, these factors are hitting the continent hard, resulting in a host of impacts from lower crop yields to higher food prices, reduced calorie intake, increased child malnutrition, disease, displacement and conflict.

"[We have] an absolutely absurd situation where people actually producing food do not have enough," Frick told DW, adding that of the 800 million people suffering from hunger worldwide, 80 percent are smallholder farmers.

Agwu E. Agwu of the Department of Agricultural Extension, University of Nigeria said "a typical smallholder farmer has little or no means to be resilient to the challenges imposed by climate change."

And though, in the case of Nigeria, the government has instituted several programs to create awareness among those affected by rainfall fluctuations, Agwu says short-term food security is already under threat.

Conference host sets example

Meanwhile, in the COP22 host nation - where agriculture employs 75 percent of people and relies heavily on fossil fuels - the FAO is promoting and trialing solar-powered, almost zero-carbon-emission drip irrigation systems that allow farmers to grow orange orchards with very little water.

Frick is encouraged by what he believes is the total commitment of sub-Saharan African governments travelling to Marrakesh to adapt their farming practices to the world of extreme weather.

As an invention to harvest water from fog on Mount Boutmezguida in Morocco's highly arid Anti-Atlas mountain range shows (see accompanying story on the CloudFisher), proper investment can spawn myriad innovations that are effective for adaptation in water-stressed rural areas.

Turning challenges into opportunities

COP22 aims to address these acute challenges by creating solutions that will result in greater resilience and food security.

Barren land that can be brought into agricultural use, for example through natural forestry. This creates "a huge water buffer - you can increase fertility, and you have stored carbon which is not in the atmosphere any more," Frick explains.

Such "cross-linkages and synergies" provide smallholders with the means to promote water retention and carbon sequestration through biodiversity and sustainable practices, he adds.

Frick stresses the importance of investing a great deal more climate money, especially some of the $10 billion held in theGreen Climate Fund, into the agricultural sector.

Funneling climate money into smallholder agriculture "is the low-hanging fruit," Frick said. "Investment in this area can lead to results rather quickly, and in turn inject political energy into the climate negotiations."

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