A man tends to his garden in Arokwo Village, Kapchorwa, Uganda. What role does the private sector have in the link between food security and climate change in Africa? Photo by: Kate Holt / Africa Practice / CC BY

As global leaders converge on Paris for the COP21 summit, the world’s farmers and their allies in the development community may wonder why they’re once again sidelined.

“Until now the position of agriculture in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change has been weak,” said Hanne Knaepen, policy officer of the food security program at the European Centre for Development Policy Management. The farming-climate debate has been held largely under the umbrella of the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization, she explained, but “now there’s a new dynamic, and people are trying to push agriculture on the UNFCCC agenda.”

“There hasn’t really been any recognition that agriculture and the food system are both a big part of the problem as well as part of the solution,” said Gerda Verburg, a Rome-based Dutch ambassador and permanent representative to the U.N. organizations.

Agriculture is “both a potential victim of climate change and a vector of improved sustainability,” noted Francesco Rampa, head of the food security program at ECDPM.

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This disconnect is acutely felt in Africa, with climate change already having a negative impact on food security.

“Africa is not only the most food insecure part of the world, but it is also potentially the future breadbasket,” said Rampa. “Sixty percent of the world’s uncultivated arable land is in Africa.”

During a recent ECDPM seminar in Brussels, Belgium, titled “Linking food security and climate change in Africa: What role for the private sector?” Devex conducted exclusive interviews with several participants for their take on how to make climate-smart agriculture more central to negotiations in Paris — and beyond.

1. Tap into farmers groups.

“In the African process [farmers’ organizations] are pretty prominent, among the major actors apart from the chambers of commerce,” said Rampa. Yet many teeter on the brink of disintegration. “Resources should be earmarked for institution building [and] farmers’ organizations need to be involved in the evaluation of [development] programs.”

Public agricultural extension services “are rotten in most places,” said Roberto Ridolfi, director for sustainable growth and development at EuropeAid. Big companies are trying to fill the void, he said, but farmers’ organizations need to be empowered to take on such tasks.

“People keep saying that we need the private sector. Small farmers are part of the private sector,” said Pio Wennubst, assistant director general and head of global cooperation at the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation.

2. Bring in the big guys, too.

“Invite us more to the table; we are very good at scaling up,” said Nestlé nutrition and sustainability expert Karen Cooper, adding that corporations like her own are investing in climate-smart agriculture not just because it is the right thing to do, but because it makes good business sense.

Non-governmental organizations should stop vilifying corporations just because they transgressed in the past, said Verburg, adding that anti-corporate lobbying by NGOs can inhibit the development of partnerships between firms and U.N. institutions.

3. Call consumers to the table.

This means supermarkets and end consumers. Climate-smart agriculture tends to be addressed from the supply side, said Rampa, but the demand side remains mostly ignored. The Dutch presidency of the European Union plans to press this issue next year, he said.

Verburg noted that people “don’t want kitchen police” to ensure less food waste, but she stressed that consumers and rich country leaders “need to step up.”

4. Ensure good governance and a stable investment climate.

Money and good intentions do not necessarily solve a problem. “The quality of governance is where the bottlenecks are,” said Rampa. “Sometimes the money is not even spent.”

Scant investment in Africa “is not a matter of liquidity,” noted Wennubst. “We do not have the trust to make long-term investments because we do not see the [long-term] vision.”

5. Learn from the 1974-2008 paradigm.

A three year crisis in the global grain market starting in 1972 led to widespread food shortages in many parts of the world. One response was a World Food Conference in 1974. Since then the zeitgeist has encouraged countries to focus on what they do best, ship the proceeds to the rest of the world, and import what’s missing. Countries in central Africa cut rice production in favor of Asian imports, for example. “That decreased [crop] diversity,” Wennubst said. “Nobody considered the carbon footprint or climate change or anything.”

Another food crisis in 2008 was a further “wake up call,” said Ridolfi.

Wennubst argued that, as a result, the specialization-export model needs to be reevaluated. “If you produce locally, you reduce CO2 emissions a lot, and you strengthen social cohesion,” he said.

6. Create a biodiversity index for Wall Street and The City.

“The big boys in the financial markets need figures,” Ridolfi said. “We should create indexes for things like agro-forestry and climate-smart agriculture. It is not self-evident that an investor should invest in biodiversity.”

7. Make farming sexy again.

Young people don’t aspire to work the land. The average age of farmers in Africa is about 60, mirroring the figure for the United States and other developed countries, “despite the fact that 60 percent of Africa’s population is under 24 years of age,” according to FAO.

Making farming cool “is the number one priority,” Ridolfi said. “Otherwise it will not be attractive to the smart people that we need.”

Stay tuned for #PlanetWorth, an online conversation exploring leading solutions in the fight against climate change. From Dec. 1 #PlanetWorth will shine a light on issues including resilience and livelihoods, urbanization and smart cities, innovation and profile those engaged in building a more sustainable future.

About the author

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    Bill Hinchberger

    Bill Hinchberger is a global communications professional and educator. He studied at Berkeley and has taught at the Sorbonne. Based mostly in Paris, he spends quality time in Brazil and the United States, and works extensively in Africa and Latin America. He has served as an international correspondent for The Financial Times, Business Week, ARTnews, Variety, and others. One current focus of his work is content creation for foundations, NGOs and other organizations, especially those working on issues related to international affairs, the environment and development. He also runs training programs for professional journalists, notably in Africa, and is an associate of Rain Barrel Communications, a leading consultancy for social justice projects.