Who really speaks for farmers?

Posted on 08 December 2011 by admin

By TerraViva Reporters*

Granary in Malawi.

Farmers need help to prosper: but what kind of help? Credit: FISD/IPS

DURBAN, Dec 8 – (TerraViva) Global warming poses a threat to the livelihoods of millions of people who work the land; it is a critical issue for Africa’s climate change agenda. Campaigners agree that changing weather patterns and higher temperatures could spell disaster, but they are arguing for two contrasting responses here at the U.N. climate conference in Durban.

Speakers at a Dec. 3 event titled Agriculture and Rural Development Day called for agriculture to be recognised with a formal work programme in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change process, to attract attention and funding for what is termed “climate smart” agriculture.

The key themes discussed included strengthening farmers’ ability to cope with climate shocks, while reducing greenhouse emissions from agriculture and sustainably increasing productivity to meet growing global demand.

The event was attended by numerous researchers and academics, the World Food Programme and U.N. rural agency the International Fund for Agricultural Development, donors like the World Bank and the Rockefeller Foundation and organisations such as the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa.

Meeting future demand for food and securing rural prosperity, they argued, requires improving access to markets and agricultural research, the expanded use of inorganic fertiliser to build soil fertility, and credits for agricultural practices that would trap carbon in soil and biomass.

Farmers were represented too, by people such as Stephen Muchiri, of the Eastern Africa Farmers’ Federation. “We want a fixed programme on agriculture. That will open up other possibilities,” he said.

Two days later, land and agrarian reform activists struck a very different tone as they marched in support of “food sovereignty’. This group, led by the global smallholder farmer group La Via Campesina, also recognises the need to reduce emissions and design adaptations to contain the threat posed to agriculture by climate change, but argues that the most vulnerable farmers (and the world’s supply of food) also face a threat from the way the economy and land ownership are set up around the world.

They say large corporations that dominate the production of seed and fertiliser, and in many cases determine the prices food and cash crops fetch are as much of a problem for small farmers as increasing climate shocks. They reject the use of chemical fertiliser or proprietary seed to boost productivity, preferring organic fertiliser and water-saving techniques such as permaculture.

For these campaigners, the key is to prevent agriculture and food production from being further dominated by business principles and big business. They are firmly against any attempts to set up a system to pay farmers to sequester carbon.

“We do not want agriculture in the negotiations because that will make it a business,” Via Campesina organiser Boaventura Monjane told TerraViva, referring to the efforts to get carbon credits for famers. “We farm to feed people not for business. If agriculture is included it will kill small-scale farmers because they will start using methods (simply) to increase carbon credits.”

They want to see measures that would give small farmers more independent control: control over their seed, control over their land, control over their wages and working conditions.

What Monjane wants from the 17th Conference of the Parties is a fresh commitment from developed countries to reduce emissions. “If there can be a treaty to influence the bloc to commit to reducing emissions. No second Kyoto Protocol without a commitment to reduce emissions by at least 50 percent.”

Muchiri, of the EAFF, does not see the Via Campesina approach as feasible. “One hundred percent organic farming is not 100 percent sustainable. If we want to increase output and meet food demands, we have to embrace different ways of improving our farming methods. Otherwise we will end up importing our food.”

They are optimistic that their calls will be heeded. With influential international organisations backing them, and South Africa’s Agriculture Minister, Tina Joemat-Petterson, among the high profile spokespersons pushing their agenda, they hope to make a mark in the conference’s final declaration.

Monjane is somewhat more pessimistic. “We do not believe in the COP. For twenty years leaders have been meeting but nothing has changed. COP is a place where government and corporate meet to use public funds and do business. Why must we believe in it?”

* Community media coverage of COP 17 is being supported by the Media Development & Diversity Agency of South Africa, which is promoting the participation of local journalists through a programme of training and reporting on climate change.

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