Climate change, loss of biodiversity and food security are three of the great challenges facing agriculture today. The UN-REDD program, 2007 Bali Action Plan and the 2009 Copenhagen Accord all attempt to address mitigation of emissions from forest loss and degradation which comprise 15-20 % of all greenhouse gas emissions. Conversion of forest and peatlands for agriculture by both plantation development and by marginalized, small farmers is a major driver of both carbon emissions and loss of biodiversity.
The impacts of climate change are expected to be distributed differently among regions, generations, age classes, income groups, occupations and genders (IPCC 2007). Climate change is expected to affect the food security of marginal and poor small-scale farmers because the majority of them live in resource-poor and risk prone areas, and lack alternative opportunities to diversify their access to food and income. Climate change is expected also to affect men and women differently because of their differentiated access to access, opportunities and decision-making spaces.
Worldwide, food security is a serious and growing problem with an estimated 925 million people suffering from chronic hunger and malnutrition. The world’s population, now over 7 billion, is expected to increase by as much as 50% by 2050, adding further pressure on food production and the environment. The political economy of globalization of the last decades has favored large-scale producers around the world, displacing many poorer people who are left to eke out meager livings on marginal, environmentally fragile lands. Meanwhile, government investment in agriculture in the world’s poorest countries is averaging only 4% of expenditures and international agricultural development funding has dropped from 18% of budgeted funds in 1979 to 4.6% in 2007 (IFAD, 2012).
A dimension of food security that is under appreciated is that it is not merely a function of national agricultural productivity and trade balances. Food security is a function of other types of security for farmers – secure and equitable access to land and water, to off-farm natural resources, non-patent seed, fair credit terms, and information. These dimensions of food security that relate to equitability, autonomy, and community solidarity directly affect the productivity and sustainability of agricultural systems and their linked environments.
Worldwide small farms comprise 90% of all farms, and so-called peasant farmers, including pastoralists, nomads, and forest dwellers, represent 40% of the world population, producing 70% of the world’s food (ETC Group, 2009)- all of this without the supports, subsidies and externalized social and environmental costs of large scale agriculture. These men and women farmers are embedded in nature, imbued with a sense of place, motivated by family livelihoods and the desire to sustain those livelihoods across generations. They are the ideal candidates for achieving progressive increases in food production, mitigating potential carbon releases from deforestation and peat land conversion, while enhancing carbon storage in soils and biomass, protecting biodiversity and maintaining critical ecological services.
We in ISG believe that seeking solutions to these intertwined problems means acknowledging the position of the world’s rural smallholders and indigenous peoples in the center of the constellation of stakeholders. We work for a participatory process engaging social organizations and learning to overcome constraints to more productive and climate friendly agriculture and forest management.
IPCC 2007, Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change
IFAD 2012, http://www.ifad.org/operations/food/farmer.htm
International Fund for Agricultural Development
ETC Group, 2009, Who will feed us? Questions for the Food and Climate Crises, ETC Group 2009, cited in Agricultural Transitions, Angela Hilni,