Climate-smart farming can cut greenhouse gas emissions and secure food production PDF Print E-mail
Written by Albert Norström   
Tuesday, 08 December 2009 10:40

Is it possible to improve food security for a growing world population and contain climate change? Only if we become more responsible farmers, says the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in a recent report.

Rice fields
Methane emissions from rice fields is one of the reasons behind the fact that agriculture stands for 14 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions, but this could be changed says a new report from FAO.

The number of undernourished people in the world is now a staggering 1.02 billion, the highest since 1970. Increasing food security in the hardest hit regions remains an immense challenge, but one that is often seen to be limited by the negative effects increased agricultural productivity will have on climate change trajectories. Agriculture, today, stands for 14 percent of the global greenhouse gas emissions. But a new report by the FAO released during the UN-led Barcelona Climate Change Talks, identifies agricultural strategies that can secure future requirements of food security and simultaneously slash greenhouse gas emissions.

- Many effective strategies for climate change mitigation from agriculture also benefit food security, development and adaptation to climate change. The challenge is to capture these potential synergies, while managing trade-offs that may have negative impacts on food security, says FAO Assistant Director-General Alexander Müller.

The largest emission cuts can be realized through farm-level initiatives. Here, the highest potential lies in carbon sequestration strategies that aim to increase the organic carbon content in soil. These include an array of techniques such as conservation of riparian buffer zones, conservation tillage, improving grazing management and re-using residues for composting or mulching. The report highlights that around 70 percent of this mitigation potential could be realized in developing countries.

Trade-offs and financing mechanisms
Other options exist, but carry with them potential trade-offs. For example, while the switch to biofuel production can provide a clean alternative to fossil fuel, it can also compete for land and water that could have been used to produce food. Restoring rangelands may improve carbon sequestration, but involves short-term reductions in herder incomes by limiting the number of livestock. These trade-offs are often problematic when looking at short time-scales. In the long run, however, positive synergies can prevail through measures to increase efficiency or through financial compensation programmes. Negotiating and implementing such, and other, forms of financing mechanisms will ultimately decide whether this dual potential of agriculture can be unlocked. It highlights that deciding, in Copenhagen, on the economic mechanisms – carbon markets, public-private markets and dedicated international funds – to finance climate change mitigation in developing countries is crucial.

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