Agriculture: where poverty reduction, food security and climate change intersect

A group of more than 300 policymakers, farmers and scientists meeting in Copenhagen today called on climate change negotiators and governments at the United Nations Climate Change Conference to recognize agriculture’s vital role in climate change adaptation and mitigation.

The group strongly endorsed the proposed target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions sufficiently to avoid a temperature increase of more than 2 degrees C and stressed that reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture is essential for achieving the target. Farmers and researchers are already finding climate change solutions. On that basis, the agricultural community intends to play a pro-active role in actions aimed at reducing emissions, while increasing the productive capacity of agriculture through the development of sustainable practices.

Agriculture faces the challenge of nearly doubling food production in order to meet the food needs of a population expected to reach 9 billion by mid-century but without increasing the sector’s emissions. For this purpose, agriculture will need to make the most of new opportunities for expansion, particularly in the temperate zone, where climate change is expected to favor crop production. Across most of the tropics, however, agriculture will continue to face the enormous challenge of adapting to harsh and unpredictable growing conditions.

To meet the climate challenge, additional financing and investment, probably at the higher end of current estimates, will be needed across the entire rural value chain. New investments must be handled transparently to ensure that adaptation and mitigation are not undermined by reduced support for global food security and rural development. In addition, new investment must be accessible to all stakeholders, including researchers and members of civil society, such as farmer associations.

Specifically, the group called on climate negotiators to:

* Establish an agricultural work program under the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to address gaps in knowledge on climate change impacts at the local level and in monitoring and verification systems
* Strengthen structures for policy dialogue at the regional and local levels that include all stakeholders.

Agriculture and Rural Development Day was organized by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, the Global Donor Platform for Rural Development, the Faculty of Life Sciences, University of Copenhagen, the International Federation of Agriculture Producers, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the Global Forum for Agricultural Research, the Earth System Science Partnership.

By Christina Lakatos


African Agriculture: Does farm size really matter?


Addressing Africa’s real agricultural issues.

Among the issues exercising the minds of those concerned with the future welfare of the African continent and its people is the issue of farm size.  Many debate if land should be in the hands of larger scale commercial farmers or a multitude of smallholders. But, the hundreds of millions of small-scale farmers of Japan, China, and elsewhere in Asia show us that farm size is not the key determinant of productivity. These farmers obtain levels of productivity per unit area of land which are equal to or greater than those achieved by large-scale farmers anywhere in the world.

A climbing bean farmer tends to her young crop in Nyagatare, in Rwanda’s Eastern Province.     Photo: Neil Palmer/CIAT

The key to their success is not the size of their land holding but their access to intensifying farm inputsand particularly to inorganic fertiliser. This in its turn is largely dependent upon the availability of subsidies.  In the case of East Asia, subsidies are of a similar level to those provided to European farmers.  The comparatively low yields of staple food crops achieved on small-scale farms in Sub-Saharan Africa are not a direct result of the size of their farms but rather that they only have access to 5% of the level of fertiliser per unit area of land as compared to their East Asian counterparts.

The lack of widespread programmes to assist small-scale African farmers to gain access to adequate fertiliser and good seeds is largely due to the absence of a vibrant non-agricultural sector in many countries, which would provide the resources to help farmers obtain the inputs they need. If a nation is unable to afford access to adequate plant nutrients to meet the needs of its whole crop area, then it matters little as to whether that area is divided into large sections or small, the hungry crops will provide equally low levels of national production.

The argument in favour of dispossessing smallholders of their land and creating larger units in Africa has often been based on the performance of small enclaves of commercial farmers in the midst of a large body of smallholders. Too little attention is given to the fact that the subsidised benefits and access to niche markets, which a small number enjoy, could not be extended to the whole area of the country involved. On another continent, the example of Brazil is often cited to exemplify the superiority of large farms over small. There tends to be less focus on the $100 billion of subsidised credit, which is an essential feature of that success.

For the time being, however, the crucial issue for increasing farm productivity in Africa is how to enable farmers to obtain enough fertiliser to replace the nutrients being lost every day, and how to give them access to the seeds of crops which can make the best use of those nutrients. Unpopular as it may be for some people, the evidence from the rest of the world is that this means subsidies in one form or another.

Two recent examples of where subsidies on farm inputs have made a significant impact on both productivity and welfare are provided by Ghana and Malawi. Ghana is considered the first African nation to have halved the number of people living in extreme poverty. This is in part attributed to the greatly increased fertiliser use by small farmers in recent years stimulated by a 49% subsidy and the establishment of 4,000 fertiliser retail outlets.

In Malawi the under-five child death rate has dropped from 222 to 92 helped by the major growth in staple food production.  Such growth was the result of the large fertiliser and seed subsidy programme of the past seven years which was concentrated entirely on small-scale farmers. Large-scale or small is not really a crucial issue for the future of African agriculture but rather access by farmers to intensifying inputs, particularly fertiliser, irrespective of the size of their farms.

About the Author:

Stephen Carr has spent sixty years working with small-scale farmers in a range of African countries, both at the village level and in senior positions with African governments and internationally.  He currently lives in Southern Malawi.

Sustainable Development and Climate Change Mitigation

Sustainable development is built on the triple bottom line: economic growth, environmental stewardship, and social development – or prosperity, planet, people. Without careful attention to all three, we cannot create a sustainable world.

In the 25 years since sustainable development was coined as a term, there has been progress, but the pathway to sustainable development must now be more inclusive green growth.


Progress has often come at the expense of our natural wealth. We have destroyed and depleted our natural assets to the point where we run the risk of undermining the precious gains.


At the same time, while globally the planet is flatter and more equitable, within countries the gap between rich and poor has grown unsustainably.


Think about this: 1.3 billion people still don’t have access to electricity, a billion go hungryevery day, some 900 million still don’t have access to safe, clean drinking water, and more than 2.5 billion lack access to sanitation. Meeting these needs during a period of unprecedented urbanization and with climate change making the future ever more complex, demands growth that protects the natural resources upon which the poor especially depend. We cannot balance our economies or the health of the planet on the backs of the poor.


The answer is growth that is efficient in its use of resources. It avoids locking in irreversible environmental damage and which public policy steers to ensure inclusivity. Embracing this kind of inclusive green growth doesn’t mean no growth or even slow growth, and certainly not a reversal of growth. It means a step change in the way we manage economies.


For example, when countries value their natural wealth and ecosystems alongside GDP, they can see the true value of natural capital that we have taken for granted for too long. To make different investment decisions, we need different data and evidence.


Green growth, like all good growth policies, requires getting prices right. It requires addressing policy and market failures, creating tradable property rights, and removing inappropriate subsidies. It means increasing efficiency and recognizing inefficiency in the current growth patterns we are experiencing. It means finding creative strategies that work for each country and helping policy makers answer the Monday morning question: What do I do differently?


Thinking holistically about growth can get us back on the path to sustainable development.


Rachel Kyte
Vice President for Sustainable Development

Poverty Reduction through Staples Production

Africa could reduce its poverty levels faster by focusing more on the production of staples rather than export crops, according to a study by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI).

Authors of the study, conducted in 10 countries south of the Sahara, noted, “One important finding is that producing more staple crops, such as maize, pulses and roots, and more livestock products tends to reduce poverty further than producing more export crops such as coffee or cut flowers.”

According to the study, while more public resources would be required to generate more agricultural growth, “such public investment in staple sectors is probably cost effective”.

The authors argued that growth in the staple sector was more likely to benefit the poor than growth in the agricultural export sector.

Enoch Mwani, an agricultural economist at the University of Nairobi, concurred. “The agricultural export sector is generally associated with large corporations, but the poor rely predominantly on staples to survive.”

Mwani added that growth in staples had the effect of not only reducing poverty but also ensuring food security.

“[Governments that] invest in staples have the opportunity to increase food availability and, at the same time, create wealth for smallholders,” Mwani told IRIN.

To spur development in sub-Saharan Africa, the study’s policy conclusions call for a focus on accelerating agricultural growth; promoting growth in large agricultural subsectors; supporting growth across several agricultural subsectors; and promoting growth in subsectors with strong linkages to the overall economy and the poor.
[ This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations. ]

By; Prudence Lugendo

Tree farmers join race for carbon millions

Trees for Schools founder Jadiel Maingi (right) inspects nurseries at a school. A Nakuru organisation is wooing farmers to invest more in trees to earn and enjoy a cleaner environment. File


Do you want to make money growing trees? Would you like to lease out your land for the same?

Pandapata Initiative, a conservation organisation based in Nakuru, is calling on land owners to register as members, start tree-growing and wait to be paid for their efforts.

According to the director Thiga Ndegwa, farmers, communal land owners, companies, schools and colleges with big tracks of land exceeding a thousand acres can partner with the organisation and benefit from carbon credit exchange.

“We have signed an understanding with an investor from the United Kingdom who is willing to invest in this enterprise. However, the investor has insisted on trading in huge volumes of carbon credit, which means trees planted on huge tracts of land, thus we must present numbers that are impressive in order to qualify,” Mr Ndegwa says.

The figures that the investor is quoting are indeed ambitious, with approximately Sh8 billion expected to be paid out yearly if generation, harvesting and monetisation of carbon credit can be done on a million acres of both private and public land locally.

This may be a tall order for the environmental conservationists, and they may have to request the government for access to public lands in order to re-afforest the depleted lands.

“If the government would allow us to re-afforest the public forests, we would reach about half a million acres of land. We would still be short of the ideal one million acres that we need, which would be in line with the United Nations Kyoto Protocol climate change mitigation mechanism,” says Mr Ndegwa.

He, therefore, proposes that private land owners take up the offer by freeing up their land for tree-planting.

“For those with hundreds, or even thousands of acres, I would request that they register with this initiative so that they can benefit when their land is covered in trees,” he says.

Carbon dioxide is believed to be the primary greenhouse gas that is contributing to climate change.

Growing trees helps reduce the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere through photosynthesis thus helping reduce the emission of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere.

Companies or governments can buy carbon offsets from those who have planted trees in order to mitigate their own greenhouse gas emissions or comply with caps on the total amount of carbon dioxide they are allowed to emit.

The Patapanda Initiative envisions employing trainers and incorporating business people who can engage in growing tree nurseries in any part of the country.

“The project needs trees, and even though we have over half a million seedlings in our nurseries, there is need for more nurseries around the country so that those who register to plant trees can be directed to nearest points where they can purchase the seedlings,” says he.

As incentives to plant more trees, farmers get interest-free loans where the trees planted are used as collateral. So far, the trees for loan programme has been successfully implemented in Njoro, Elburgon, Subukia and Rongai areas of Nakuru County.