CGIAR: Let's move from rhetoric to solutions on agriculture and climate change

Frank Rijsberman, CEO of CGIAR Consortium. Photo by: Neil Palmer / CIAT / CC BY-NC-SA

This week rings in the international community’s final dash toward a new development framework meant to encourage sustainable, equitable growth and the eradication of poverty and hunger around the globe.

It’s a make-or-break moment — also for those who are eager to broaden the conversation and shine a spotlight on the importance of agriculture to an interconnected web of global challenges, from food security and nutrition to the environment and public health.

Those linkages will be at the center of debate at CGIAR Development Dialogues, an all-day event on Sept. 25 in New York hosted by the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers to engage decision-makers and compel them to think more broadly about climate-smart agriculture. This conference is particularly timely after Tuesday’s U.N. Climate Summit focused to a large degree on energy, transportation and forestry even though agriculture accounts for as much as 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions, and the impact of climate change is felt in our food system immediately.

“We feel that the link between climate change and agriculture needs to be strengthened in the minds of policymakers,” Frank Rijsberman, CEO of CGIAR, said in an interview with Devex. “Is there enough understanding? The answer is: no.”

To be sure, that understanding has grown in recent years — especially since 2007 when a spike in world food prices elevated food security to the top of the global agenda and prompted a funding boom from governments around the world and institutions like the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. CGIAR’s budget has since doubled to more than $1 billion.

But although these investments have created new opportunities for dynamic organizations at the intersection of agriculture, food, nutrition, health and the environment, advocates say awareness is still lacking, even if organizations like the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change have highlighted the importance of agriculture.

Advocates are also pushing for change ahead of next year’s two big bellwether moments — the crafting of a climate deal to succeed the Kyoto Protocol, and the ratification of a global development agenda to replace the Millennium Development Goals after they expire in 2015.

“We have 500 million small-holder farmers that provide a large share of our food supply,” Rijsberman said. “If you realize that reducing greenhouse gas emissions can be done through climate-smart agriculture, that we can do a lot of things in agriculture to reduce climate change if we focus on that, then that’s quite a strong, positive message.”

Climate-smart techniques range from rice varieties that can survive underwater in case of floods to drought-resistant maize, from climate-smart villages to weather insurance products for small-holder farmers. Successful campaigns at the intersection of food, health and nutrition increasingly incorporate genomics, genetics and micronutrients.

Research, as so often, can help; studies by the World Bank and others suggest that just $1 invested in agricultural research can yield a return of as much as $9.

“There really isn’t a separate agenda for Europe and developing countries,” Rijsberman said. “It’s truly globalized. That’s relatively recent; it creates challenges as things get more complex, but also opportunities to see these issues not just in silos but as part of the larger resources agenda.”

That agenda is taking shape and will be a key point of discussion the remainder of the week at the U.N. General Assembly, where world leaders will not only address crises like the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the conflict in Syria or Russian intervention in the Ukraine, but also a framework for the Sustainable Development Goals, which are set to replace the MDGs after 2015. Initial drafts have prompted a largely positive response from advocates of all stripes, but the next 12 months could still bring plenty of changes.

A widespread hope is that the follow-on goals don’t just highlight the importance of areas such as agriculture, but also provide real solutions.

“For instance, we’ve had REDD and RED+,” Rijsberman said, citing the U.N. initiative to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation. “Now we need concrete action on the ground on agriculture. Now we need a move from the rhetoric to the solutions.”

Thursday’s event is meant to be a step in that direction. Its success — and the success of like-minded advocates — will be determined in the next 15 months.

In partnership with CGIAR Development Dialogues, a Sept. 25 conference hosted by CGIAR Consortium in New York for which Devex serves as a proud media partner.

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About the author

  • Rolf Rosenkranz

    Rolf Rosenkranz oversees a talented team of in-house journalists, correspondents and guest contributors located around the globe. Since joining Devex in early 2008, Rolf has been instrumental in growing its fledgling news operation into the leading online source for global development news and analysis. Previously, Rolf was managing editor at Inside Health Policy, a subscription-based news service in Washington. He has reported from Africa for the Johannesburg-based Star and its publisher, Independent News & Media, as well as the Westdeutsche Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily.