Agriculture and climate experts say there is good news for the world’s small farmers in a declaration endorsed by 134 world leaders during the opening days of COP28, the global climate summit unfolding this month in Dubai.
In what is known as the COP28 UAE Declaration on Sustainable Agriculture, Resilient Food Systems, and Climate Action, the leaders have mobilized more than $2.5 billion to begin addressing agriculture-related climate issues, summit officials announced.
The declaration was accompanied by the announcement of several other initiatives, including a $200 million partnership between the host UAE and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to go toward agriculture-related research.
“Countries must put food systems and agriculture at the heart of their climate ambitions, addressing both global emissions and protecting the lives and livelihoods of farmers living on the front line of climate change,” said Mariam bint Mohammed Almheiri, UAE minister of climate change and environment, at the release of the declaration on December 1.
“Today’s commitment from countries around the world will help to build a global food system fit for the future,” she said.
Agriculture and climate experts have enthusiastically welcomed the recognition of the link between food and climate in the declaration, endorsed by countries representing more than 5.7 billion people and nearly 500 million farmers.
“If all this is well-managed with farmers at the center of operations, accompanied by civil society organizations, these resources and partnerships will enable farmers to scale up the sustainable food systems they are already practicing, but with limited means,” said Richard Ouedraogo, project manager for the Secrétariat Permanent des Organisations Non Gouvernementales (SPONG) from Burkina Faso.
“This will considerably reduce their vulnerability when it comes to food, and they will be able to take a greater interest in and give more of themselves to climate change issues by putting into practice and scaling up techniques to combat climate change,” he told VOA.
Rosinah Mbenya, country coordinator for a Kenyan network of agriculture-oriented nongovernmental orgranizations, was similarly hopeful in an interview on the sidelines of the Dubai conference.
The declaration “gives hope that the small-scale farmers and pastoralists will be at the center of climate action through increased attention on resilient programs and financing,” said Nbebya, whose group, known as PELUM Kenya, promotes agro-ecological principles and practices to improve the livelihoods and resilience of small-scale farmers and pastoralists.
The new funding is expected to boost the sort of initiatives already underway in places like Ethiopia, where a warning system has helped farmers save millions of dollars by avoiding losses from a crop disease.
Farmers in several African countries are also growing new varieties of crops that are more resilient to stress caused by climate changes.
But the experts say there is a growing gap between what farmers hope for and the resources available to help them. Climate models show that in Africa and Southeast Asia, where small family farms are vital for food and jobs, there could be a significant drop in food production, leading to greater poverty, hunger and economic inequality in these regions.
Edward Leo Davey, who has advised the COP28 presidency on food this year, said if leaders in the signatory countries move toward genuine implementation of the declaration in their nations, “this will represent a significant positive step forward in the lives of smallholder farmers.”
“Farmers across these regions and elsewhere require support and financing for extension services, including more resilient and diverse seed varieties,” said Davey, the London-based partnerships director for the Food and Land Use Coalition at the World Resources Institute.
He said they also have needs for “more resilient and diverse seed varieties; for digital technology and access to meteorological data; and for the kinds of infrastructure and access to capital that will enable them to get their products more quickly and safely to market in the context of a changing climate.”
Ewi Stephanie Lamma, a self-employed climate justice advocate from Cameroon, noted that the declaration encourages farmers to adopt sustainable farming techniques, such as agroecology, organic farming and agroforestry, as is being done by the Voices for Forests Alliance in her home country.
These environmentally friendly practices “help reduce the use of harmful agrochemicals, conserve water resources, and protect soil health,” she told VOA. “Adaptive measures, such as crop diversification, improved irrigation systems, enable farmers to better withstand climate-related risks.”