Agroecology and climate change

In the special Report on Climate Change and Land Systems in early August, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change pointed out that the Paris climate goals could no longer be achieved without a change of course towards sustainable food systems.

With its vision "agroecology against climate change", Biovision has for a long time been committed to the recognition of organic agriculture as a method of reducing the causes of climate change and to its use to combat and alleviate the consequences of global warming. 
Martin Herren from the political dialogue and advocacy team explains the connections, which are also explained in detail on an info graphic.


Infographic Agroecology against Climate Change
Click on the image to view and download the infographics.

1. When it comes to climate change, is agriculture the victim or the offender? 

Farmers are and will be victims because it is their fundamental production resources like soil and water that are at stake. In particular, small-scale farmers who account for around 75 percent of agricultural production in Sub-Saharan Africa  face tremendous challenges due to limited resilience and diversification opportunities. But mid- and large-scale producers will also have to adapt their production systems – which at the same time offers the opportunity to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

2. What are the biggest challenges small-scale farmers in East Africa will face in the next 10 years with respect to climate change?

While farmers are used to adapting to weather conditions, it will be the increased degree of changes that will be challenging: predictions mention shifts in rain patterns, the reduction of annual precipitation, flooding, fires and climate induced spread of pests. Concurrently rain patterns and thus water availability tend to become less predictable. Indirect threats include climate-induced shocks elsewhere that cause volatilities in the prices of inputs or products.

3. How can Agroecology help overcome these challenges?

1. Agroecology is largely based on knowledge. Thus it helps farmers to understand how ecological systems work and how to react appropriately in the case of climate interference. 
2. Agroecology promotes a diversified production system. In the case of climatic extremes, one product might be affected while others could still be harvested. Alternative production like animal husbandry, honey production, soap making etc. helps compensate for losses in farming.
3. Besides diversification, the use of synergies, an efficient resource use and recycling measures will also allow farmers to become more flexible to prepare for and react to climate variability.
4. Local production and consumption systems e.g. based on traditional species, local markets and social safety nets are less prone to global climate impacts causing less market volatility.
5. The Agroecology principles that aim to foster social cohesion and economic fairness help balance social discrepancies. This allows poor or fragile members of society to build some degree of resilience for their livelihoods.

4. How big is the impact of Sub-Saharan African farming on climate change?

The impact from small-scale farms is virtually zero and mostly of biogenic origin. But emissions from the agriculture sector as a whole are considerable. They could be avoided or reduced by larger enterprises for transport, storage and retail of their products. Deforestation and land-use change are also key contributors to emissions in Sub-Saharan Africa. 
However, the causes typically have a systemic character: the bulk of GHG emissions occur at pre- and post-production stages e.g. through energy intensive fertilizer production, and through excessive meat consumption.

5. Can agroecology also help mitigate climate change?

In the first place agroecology can help farmers to adapt and build resilience to climate change. However there are mitigation co-benefits such as avoiding open field burning of residues or reduced emissions from not applying synthetic fertilizers and pesticides. Agroecology promotes fundamental changes in the way we produce and consume food. It asks for fair economic conditions for all actors in the value chain and requires political governance that fosters the balance between ecology, economic and social food production. All together this will trigger avoidance of future emissions from the food system. A transition to an agroecology based food system could also help mitigate climate change emissions on a large scale – but this will take time and requires economic and political backing by governments.