How to secure food under the climate change pressure

A market in Seychelles, a country that only has 6.5 percent of agricultural land. The country was the first among African nations to start mainstreaming climate change into its development policies. Photo by: So Seychelles / CC BY

In July, I spent a week in the Seychelles. The drive across the island was a beautiful adventure, following narrow, winding roads, while watching the ocean on one side. The island is a green spot in the middle of the ocean, covered with tropical forests.

To be more precise, around 90 percent of the Seychelles is forested land, and only 6.5 percent is available as agricultural land. Out of that, about 2.2 percent can be used for farming. The main farming systems in the Seychelles are registered commercial farms and household gardens. The agriculture sector is characterized by rainfed production and relatively low levels of productivity. It accounts for nearly 1 percent of total exports. Hence, importing food is necessary to feed the Seychellois population.

The Seychelles is, as a low-lying coastal country, inherently vulnerable to climate change, just as the other 51 small island developing states — formally known as the SIDS — spread across the oceans. They all share the same challenges: a hurricane can almost wipe away an entire island, crossing the limits of socio-economic resilience. These small islands do not have the opportunity to create economies of scale, due to a variety of reasons, including high energy and transportation costs, and limited land available for cultivation. Moreover, climate hazards may destroy crops and kill livestock due to either extended droughts or persistent floods.

The government in the Seychelles understands that the little farming land available should be cultivated in a “climate-smart” way. It was one of the first African countries that, in 1993, started mainstreaming climate change into its development policies. By now, it has embraced climate-smart agriculture as the way forward — combining an increase in production, while adapting to climate change and mitigating greenhouse gas emissions.

Climate-smart projects have been implemented in the Seychelles with support from development partners, such as International Fund for Agricultural Development and the European Union. The country has climate-proofed its National Agriculture Investment Plan, and the government has been offering concessions to farmers for various types of agriculture — including those who help to adapt to extreme weather events, induced by climate change.

In 2009, the Seychelles National Climate Change Strategy was adopted. An official of the Ministry of Fisheries and Agriculture explained: “Thanks to this strategy, climate change is mainstreamed into socio-economic policymaking on the island. Local experiences are being scaled up.” For example, rainwater is being harvested for the irrigation of fields that can, in turn, increase food production.

Local initiatives are key. Even more so because regional programs are often characterized by the notorious implementation gap. The Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa — COMESA, the region’s economic community, of which the Seychelles is a member — has been working on climate-smart agriculture for many years now. COMESA is financing a small project to climate-proof agricultural investments in the Seychelles. But local policymakers believe that COMESA could play a stronger role in supporting their climate-smart agriculture activities.

Beyond the small island states, the world is also gearing up to decide on the global agenda for climate change at the Paris conference — or COP21 — starting this week.

Agriculture, however, has suffered neglect on the fringes of these negotiations. There are a number of barriers, ranging from the complexity of finding a globally agreed definition of the agriculture sector to remaining gaps in technical knowledge on the climate impact on agriculture. Yet, COP21 holds some promises: the Lima Paris Action Agenda aims to create a broad multistakeholder platform to provide a solid ground for the implementation of the expected Paris Agreement, and “agriculture” is among the targeted sectors of this action agenda.

Another element that stirs hope is the importance of agriculture in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. The INDCs stand for the post-2020 climate actions that countries intend to take up under the new international agreement agreed in Paris. About 160 parties have submitted their INDCs to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and, for about 80 percent of these submissions, agriculture features in their mitigation targets, while it is mentioned in about 64 percent of adaptation strategies. Most countries explicitly mention that “climate finance will need to address agriculture.”

The INDC of the Seychelles explains that the island’s food security faces a two-fold climate change threat.

On the one side it is “heavily reliant on food imports,” and on the other side “it needs support for local sustainable and climate-smart agriculture.” Sustainable agriculture would need new and innovative technologies across all food production supply and value chains.

The indirect impact of climate change will also be felt in the Seychelles: knowing that about 80 percent of what the Seychellois eat is imported, a changing climate can lead to less productivity in the exporting countries, scarcer food supplies and higher prices.

A well-balanced global agreement by the end of COP21 will recognize the need to include agriculture. This could mean that agriculture projects can apply to climate funding. The global Green Climate Fund, which aims to channel $100 billion by 2020 prioritizes “climate-smart agriculture.” The Seychelles is applying to receive funding for its highly vulnerable farming sector. At the same time, in our globalized world, these funds can benefit countries that supply the Seychelles with food.

A strong position of agriculture in the COP21 agreement can make sure that the Seychellois can continue enjoying its locally breaded chicken with fresh garden tomatoes and a bowl of imported rice.

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The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Hanne Knaepen

    Hanne Knaepen is an ECDPM policy officer, focusing on climate change issues within the program on regional and local markets for agriculture development and food security. She received her doctorate in Global Environmental Studies from Kyoto University, Japan, where she resided for a period of four years.