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Add agriculture to climate talks, says global body

Surinder Sud  |  New Delhi 

A global farm policy think tank has recommended that agriculture should form part of the international negotiations on climate change in the forthcoming apex conference of parties of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at Copenhagen in December 2009.

A policy brief issued by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has pointed out that with suitable technology and management, agriculture, which now contributes about 15 per cent to green house gas (GHG) emissions, can actually become an important sink for emissions even from other sectors.

Besides, agriculture will be adversely affected by the climate change and millions of poor farmers will need help in adapting to the weather patterns. The mechanism for funding research on climate adaptation and mitigation by the agriculture sector needs to be discussed at the UNFCCC meet at Copenhagen.

Apart from agriculture’s direct contribution of 15 per cent to the GHG emissions, land-use related changes, including forest loss, account for additional 19 per cent to harmful emissions.

While reducing emissions from deforestation and forest degradation has been formally included in the current negotiations on climate change, agriculture as such has been left out. This should now be put on the agenda for the Copenhagen meet, the IFPRI has asserted.

The developing world accounts for 50 per cent of agricultural emissions and 80 per cent of land-use change and forestry emissions.

“The ongoing negotiations to address climate change provide a unique opportunity to combine low-cost mitigation and essential adaptation outcomes with poverty reduction,” the IFPRI brief has stated.

Pointing to the dramatic consequences of climate change for agriculture, the note warns that water sources will become more variable, droughts and floods will stress agricultural systems, some coastal food producing areas will be inundated by the seas and food production will fall in some places in the interiors. Developing economies and the poorest of the poor are likely to be hit the hardest.

It has called for funding research to improve understanding and create capacity for predicting the interactions between climate change and agriculture.

“Agriculture has huge potential to cost-effectively mitigate GHGs through changes in agricultural technologies and management practices.”

Changing crop mixes to include more plants that are perennial or have deep root systems increases the amount of carbon stored in the soil. Also, cultivation systems that leave residue in the fields and reduce land tilling, encourage the build up of soil carbon.

It has also pointed out that agricultural production differs qualitatively from other sources of GHGs. The sources of emission in the farm sector are individually small, geographically dispersed and often served by inadequate physical and institutional infrastructure.

“It is much easier to monitor 1,500 coal-based power plants in the US than several million small farmers who rely on fields, pastures and forests for their livelihood”, it said.

It has suggested that the negotiations at the UNFCCC must go beyond the traditional schemes developed under the Kyoto protocol and should encourage funding for climate change mitigation in the agricultural sector.

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First Published: Mon, April 13 2009. 00:51 IST