/ 2 December 2011

Ministry lobbies for climate-smart agriculture programme

Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson’s advisers, Duncan Hindle and Rams Mabote, have been lobbying for months on her behalf to have “a single line about agriculture included in the final text that emerges from COP17”, which has not been the case at any previous conference.

Joemat-Pettersson’s strategy, said Hindle, had been to try to convince negotiators to agree to the establishment of a work programme on agriculture. This would seek solutions to the problem of agriculture’s contribution to climate change and vice versa, particularly in the least-developed countries.

Mabote said, however, that such an agreement was unlikely at COP17. “The minister’s call for a comprehensive work programme on agriculture in developing countries was officially taken up by Africa’s environmental ministers in September, but the resolution suggested that the most-developed countries should pay for the problems of agriculture in the least-developed countries. That’s unlikely to result in agreements.”

Hindle said that, as a result, the department of environmental affairs’s negotiating team, led by Alf Wills, would “gauge how to temper the call for a work programme on agriculture to fit between big complicated issues such as negotiations on emissions reductions”.

Agriculture was regarded as a sectoral issue, meaning that it “gets bundled in with negotiation about who should pay what for the emissions that result from bunker fuels [polluting fuels that power maritime trade and aviation]. As the chances of an agreement on that are pretty thin, it’s likely to weigh down the chances for agriculture as well”, said Hindle.

A further obstacle, said Mabote, was the fact that the minister’s call was associated with the concept of “climate-smart agriculture”, which covered a variety of practices that would enable developing countries to adapt agriculture to climate change and reduce their emissions at the same time. “The concept is not a neutral one. Several non-governmental organisations have said that there isn’t enough science to support it.”

Steve Suppan of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy said the climate-smart agriculture concept had been driven by the World Bank, which had partnered Joemat-Pettersson in developing an African consensus on the need for a work programme that would kickstart climate-smart agriculture initiatives, including a support fund.

Mabote said that the World Bank’s support for the climate-smart agriculture “challenged the perception that the bank is there for the developed world only”. The bank had committed itself to “raising a considerable portion of a mooted $1-billion fund for the support of climate-smart agriculture”, but acknowledged that the level of support would depend on the outcome of COP17.

Asked whether the department aimed to advance Joemat-Pettersson’s desire to open an entirely new subset of climate-change negotiations, an official, who did not want to be named, said that a negotiation strategy had not been finalised. The official said that, at the very worst, COP17 president Maite Nkoana-Mashabane was expected to mention her support for the notion of a working group for agriculture in her closing address.

This would give advocates something to work with to get a working group established at the Rio conference on sustainable development next year.

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