Africa divided over climate-smart agriculture

Agriculture is a big issue for the Africa Group at COP17, with many African delegates sporting “No Agriculture, No Deal” badges and many a speech ending with the same slogan. In week two of the conference the Africa Group’s push for a separate set of negotiations on agriculture, a “work programme for agriculture” in the parlance of the conference, appears to be breaking up under the strain of both external and internal differences.

Speaking on condition of anonymity a negotiator for a West African nation said the Africa Group — given the fact that “two-thirds of Africans are dependent on agriculture and are thus extremely vulnerable to climate change” — had agreed before the Durban conference that agriculture should be “dealt with as an adaptation issue” rather than a mitigation issue, “which we have always feared would lead to developing nations forcing carbon markets on Africa, thereby avoiding putting money up for adaptation”.

However, the situation changed on Wednesday when the high-level negotiations began with “Canada, the United States and Australia suddenly insisting that there would be no deal on agriculture unless it was also dealt with as a mitigation issue. It has been disappointing to hear some members of the Africa Group suddenly talking as if discussing agriculture as a mitigation issue is now acceptable,” said the negotiator.

While decisions are made behind closed doors at COP17, we visit communities with local water project Umphilo WaManzi, which is helping people adapt to changing weather patterns and educating them on how to be conscious of and protect their water supply.

The source did not say which African countries were amenable to discussing agriculture as a mitigation issue, which involves the development of soil carbon markets, but South Africa’s role in building African consensus around the concept of “climate-smart agriculture”, which has soil carbon capture as one of several ways to help farmers respond to climate change, has been sharply criticised by some non-governmental organisations.

“It’s a textbook case of the developed world using an influential regional power to manufacture consensus around a strategy that suits the developed world but is not in the best interests of Africa’s small-scale farmers,” said Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation, adding that South African Agriculture Minister Tina Joemat-Pettersson “suddenly started advocating climate-smart agriculture at the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation’s conference in Rome in June and, by September, she had organised, with World Bank funds, a meeting with African’s environmental ministers in Johannesburg at which they supported the concept. Not all the African negotiators are happy with the pace at which all of this happened,” said Anderson.

Senyi Nafo, spokesperson for the Africa Group, said there had been “intense discussion” about the suitability of climate-smart agriculture to Africa’s climate change problems.

“I personally don’t believe there is any such thing as climate-smart agriculture — I believe in developmental agriculture and any concept which allows the negotiation focus to fall on mitigation rather than adaptation.”

Africa Group chairperson Tosi Mpanu-Mpanu said carbon markets would not work for Africa because the majority of African farmers farmed on fewer than two hectares of land, “which is not enough to sequester an amount of carbon that it would be meaningful to sell. We’re very suspicious that offset schemes will lead to the perversion of African agriculture, with farmers farming what is incentivised and giving up traditional crops.”

Harjeet Singh of ActionAid International said that farmers with fewer than two hectares would only be able to make $3 a year at the present rate for carbon. He said he did not doubt the intentions of South Africa in “pushing for climate-smart agriculture as the answer to agriculture’s problems” but added that “climate-smart agriculture could benefit South Africa a lot because your farmers are large-scale and carbon markets work for agriculture on the industrial scale”.

Even South African Planning Min­ister Trevor Manuel, who co-chairs the Green Climate Fund, weighed in on the issue at a COP17 side event, saying “one hears all this talk of carbon markets but Africa only produces 3% of global greenhouse gas emissions and South Africa produces half that amount, so tell me, where is this market, for what carbon?”

Ghana, Mali and Tanzania are said to be prominent among the Africa Group’s carbon-smart agriculture naysayers and apparently held up the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment’s September declaration in support of the drive for an agriculture work programme at the COP17 conference.

According to the Mail & Guardian‘s source, “they insisted that agriculture be dealt with as an adaptation issue under the Cancun Adaptation Framework and expressed concern that an endorsement of climate-smart agriculture would open the door for agriculture to be discussed as a mitigation issue. In the end, they endorsed the concept, but their fears have been realised at COP17, with developed nations insisting on carbon markets.

“The time is coming when these African nations will simply say, ‘enough, we’re being tricked’.”

For the latest COP17 news and special features view our special report.

Subscribe to the M&G

These are unprecedented times, and the role of media to tell and record the story of South Africa as it develops is more important than ever.

The Mail & Guardian is a proud news publisher with roots stretching back 35 years, and we’ve survived right from day one thanks to the support of readers who value fiercely independent journalism that is beholden to no-one. To help us continue for another 35 future years with the same proud values, please consider taking out a subscription.

Related stories


Subscribers only

Covid-overflow hospital in ruins as SIU investigates

A high-level probe has begun into hundreds of millions of rand spent by the Gauteng health department to refurbish a hospital that is now seven months behind schedule – and lying empty

Q&A Sessions: ‘I should have fought harder for SA vaccine’...

Professor Salim Abdool Karim talks to Nicolene de Wee about his responsibility as head of the ministerial advisory committee tasked with guiding the government’s response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More top stories

Children may benefit when parents share their digital gaming...

Digital games can provide forums for diverse groups of people to come together, which is especially important while our physical activities are restricted

‘No one took us seriously’: Black cops warned about racist...

Allegations of racism against the Capitol Police are nothing new: Over 250 Black cops have sued the department since 2001. Some of those former officers now say it’s no surprise white nationalists were able to storm the building

Pay-TV inquiry probes the Multichoice monopoly

Africa’s largest subscription television operator says it is under threat amid the emerging popularity of global platforms like Netflix and Amazon Prime

​No apology or comfort as another Marikana mother dies without...

Nomawethu Ma’Bhengu Sompeta, whose funeral will be held this weekend, was unequivocal in calling out the government for its response to the Marikana massacre

press releases

Loading latest Press Releases…