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Thin’s Pickings - Pre-COP28 Edition
Trying to make sense of the numerous reports being published in the run-up to the climate summit
COP28, the 28th iteration of the annual U.N. climate summit, is less than two weeks away and that can only mean one thing - lots and lots (and lots) of reports. This is the time of the year when I see the number of unread e-mails my inbox balloon day after day, no matter how much I try to clear them diligently. It can feel a little like whack-a-mole.
It is also the time of the year when I am prone to pondering the question, “Do we really need more reports and more evidence to take action on climate change, to understand that we are in an existential crisis?” But given the state of the world and the platform that rampant climate denialism gets, perhaps we do.
So I’ve selected a number of interesting reports and stories on food, climate, and where they meet that bring the issue(s) forward and told me things I didn’t know. Enjoy!
Show Me The Money
We all love the idea - and more importantly the image - of smallscale farmers living on bucolic land and producing fresh, sustainable food for us to enjoy. But we are failing to provide them with much-needed support.
They produce at least a third of the world’s food (some say this is a conservative estimate), are already seeing the adverse effects of rising temperatures, and have limited resources to adapt to the vagaries of weather.
Yet they are receiving a shockingly low portion - 0.3% - of international climate finance, according to a new analysis published this week.
The authors said their estimates on how much money goes to this crucial group are lower than previous numbers from the UN and the Climate Policy Initiative because they looked at financing that focuses on ‘agriculture, forestry and fishing’ and projects that specifically mention small-scale family farmers and rural communities.
Here’s a short breakdown of the findings from Untapped Potential, a report on behalf of networks representing over 35 million family farmers in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Pacific. The data is based on climate-related official development assistance data made available by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD).
Over 2.5 billion people globally depend on family farms for their livelihoods. In Sub-Saharan Africa, up to 80% of farming is done by smallholder farmers.
Since 2012, only 11% of public climate finance was spent on agriculture, forestry and fishing, an average of $7 billion a year.
This increased to $8.4 billion in 2021. Of this, about a quarter or $2 billion went to small-scale farmers.
The World Bank, Germany, Green Climate Fund and the European Union contributed around half (54%) of this funding. Nigeria, India and Ethiopia were the top recipients, but some of the world’s most food insecure countries like Sudan, Sierra Leone and Zambia got less than $20 million each.
A vast majority of that money (80%) is channelled through governments and donor country NGOs, while family farmers’ organisations often don’t know how and where to apply for these funds. They also don’t have “the capacity to engage in lengthy and expensive application processes”, the analysis said.
When there is funding specifically for small farmers, it mainly came from the World Bank, African Development Bank, and the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).
Almost half of this funding is for just six countries – the Philippines, Brazil, India, Mozambique, Ethiopia and Morocco – and to regional projects in Africa.
In addition, only a fifth (19%) of international public climate finance for agriculture, forestry and fishing was used to support more sustainable and resilient practices in 2021. The amount actually needed is estimated to be $300-$350 billion a year.
In contrast, governments spend an estimated $470 billion a year to support agricultural practices that are harmful to people and the environment. Not only that, a significant amount of subsidies from rich nations go to commodities with the largest carbon footprint, such as beef, milk and rice.
Agricultural productivity has already declined by 21% compared to a world without climate change.
The food and agriculture sector as a whole is responsible for 29% of greenhouse gas emissions and 80% of global deforestation.
“Access to finance is symptomatic of a much larger problem which sees organisations representing family farmers sidelined in decision-making on food and climate,” said the report.
“At a national level, family farmers’ concerns and proposals are rarely acted upon by governments, while eligibility and financial constraints make it difficult for them to engage in international fora such as the UN Climate Summits.”
On Monday (Nov 20), the UK will host The Global Food Security Summit where there is momentum for non-state actors to sign a call to action for ‘Transforming Food Systems for People, Nature, and Climate’.
It includes a commitment to “support frontline food systems actors to adapt and build resilience to climate risks, and other shocks and stresses”. Let’s hope as many actors sign it and as many state actors support it too.
Cities Lead The Way
From the bustling metropolises like São Paulo, New York and Ouagadougou to the mid-sized Belgian city of Ghent (estimated population 265,000) and the tiny French town of Mouans-Sartoux (estimated population 10,000), cities are leading the way when it comes to transforming their food systems, according to a new report by the International Panel of Experts on Sustainable Food Systems (IPES-Food).
These include efforts to reduce food miles, cut food waste, transform school canteens, spark shifts to sustainable diets, protect ecosystems and farmland, encourage urban farming through policies and incentives, and support farmers to transition to sustainable farming practices.
The laggards are national governments whose action are “weak and fragmented”, with “food systems routinely overlooked in climate negotiations and national climate plans”.
The report gave examples of initiatives at more than a dozen cities and towns where critical but sensitive issues like social justice, participation, and accountability are placed at the heart of climate action.
“Local governments are making progress despite swimming against a powerful tide of limited resources, constrained political power, and the COVID and cost of living crises. Cities and regions need much more support and recognition for their work, which is overlooked by national governments and in international climate negotiations,” the report said.
Besides, the innovation and creativity of local governments can only go so far, and national government leadership is “essential for transformational change”, it added.
“Given the complex and global nature of climate change and food systems, national governments are better equipped to consider international trade agreements and policies that affect natural resource use, production, and distribution.”
“National governments also have the power and responsibility to develop and implement regulatory frameworks, such as food labelling requirements and environmental regulations, that impact health and sustainability outcomes.”
Sirocco On The Rise
They damage crops, livestock, and strip the most fertile layer of soil in places they originate from. They can worsen health problems such as respiratory diseases and disrupt communication lines, power generation, transport and supply chains. They are also becoming more and more frequent.
I’m talking about sand and dust storms, also known as sirocco, haboob, yellow dust, white storms, or the harmattan.
They are “a regionally common and seasonal natural phenomenon” but “human-induced climate change, desertification, land degradation, and drought” have contributed to a dramatic increase in these hazards, said a new report by the UN Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD).
Despite their dramatic increase, they are under-appreciated and at least 25% of the phenomenon is attributed to human activities, UNCCD said in a press release.
Agriculture is both a cause and victim of sand and dust storms, said a related report by the FAO, the UN food and agriculture agency.
“ A farmer’s field becomes susceptible to wind erosion when it is bare, dry and/or disturbed, such as after harvesting or ploughing.”
“The results of agricultural mismanagement may also be revealed in longer-term enhancement of (sand and dust storms) activity, such as in areas of rangeland subject to intense grazing pressure. Abandoned fields are also frequently identified as (sand and dust storms) sources.”
One of the most obvious examples of this is the Aral Sea. Excessive withdrawal of water for agriculture purposes from Central Asian rivers over several decades caused the sea to dry up and create the Aralkum Desert, a dry lake bed that has become a significant new source of sand and dust storms.
Other studies have also shown that “human-induced dust emissions from the Sahel sharply increased with the advent of commercial agriculture in the region about 200 years ago”.
Sowing Your Oats
The Oatly Chronicles is a three-part podcast mini-series from the cool kids at The Europeans. As the name suggests, it is about the world’s first oat milk company that has revolutionised how we see plant-based milk.
But this enjoyable series offers far more than what Oatly is doing (or not doing) and also delves into green capitalism and food systems transformation. And no, I’m not recommending it because yours truly appeared in the final episode.