A farmer at work in South Sulawesi, Indonesia. Photo by: Tri Saputro / CIFOR / CC BY-NC-ND

CANBERRA — Colin Chartres, CEO at the Crawford Fund, believes Australia is in a prime position to be leading in research and strategies for climate-smart agriculture to create a sustainable industry that will support a food-secure future. But climate denial is impacting this potential.

In an opinion piece written in December, Chartres said that climate change denial “is not only damaging Australia’s international reputation but also limiting research funding that could shift agriculture to a carbon-neutral position.” Opportunities that he believes would enable the transformation of agricultural and food production systems are hampered by inadequate investment.

“We need to change the way we manage land rather than wait another five years until it gets worse. Farming is going to have to look at ways it can adapt.”

—  Colin Chartres, CEO, Crawford Fund

The Crawford Fund works to increase Australian engagement in international agricultural research and development, promoting and supporting activities involving Australian research organizations. And speaking with Devex, Chartres discusses how the visible impacts of climate change and climate denial — seen in Australia through the ongoing wildfires — will impact their work in the coming year.

How are concerns of climate denial and the need to focus on carbon-neutral agriculture impacting the thinking of the Crawford Fund and its focus for 2020 — including funding priorities, partnerships, and strategies for engagement?

We are going to continue to engage with politicians — we have already tried to engage on some of these issues. But I think what it really shows us is, that although we are focused internationally on development, this is one area where there is scientific and farming ability in Australia to really demonstrate that low-carbon farming can work.

Not only can it work in Australia, but it can work in similar semi-arid, humid environments around the world. It offers great potential for us to help push this technology at home but also work with others including CGIAR and other international agencies to demonstrate that this could be a partial solution globally to some of these major problems confronting us.

It’s not set in concrete, but this year we are considering a focus on biosecurity and biodiversity as part of our annual conference. It is the International Year of Plant Health, so our thoughts are that it is particularly critical.

Internally, I can’t speak for the whole board, but we will be trying to encourage projects with postgraduates to focus on some of these ideas about carbon reduction, management, and sustainable farming — these are high on our agenda. We’ll engage with those topics through our funding channels.

When it comes to climate denial, how should the agriculture sector be responding?

My view on this is that climate deniers are just denying reality.

Really, what we need to do nationally — and internationally — is look at all options that offer chances to create a zero-carbon economy. While some of that is focused on reducing greenhouse gas emissions, the other part will be trying to capture extra carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as quickly as we can.

If we don’t do something now, we are just making the situation worse for ourselves. Those of us who haven’t heeded the message need to heed it quickly. We need to change the way we manage land rather than wait another five years until it gets worse. Farming is going to have to look at ways it can adapt, including using advanced technology to conserve water.

One thing I should highlight is that Ross Garnaut predicted Australian bushfires would become increasingly problematic by 2020 — he also clearly pointed out that carbon farming was a possibility in 2008 and was one way in which Australia could contribute to technology to reduce carbon. And he pointed out that given our climate, we are in a box seat to use renewable energy.

Now we really need to listen to the advice of Ross, who gathered knowledge from a wide range of scientists who are experts in their particular fields — it was based on sound scientific information available to him in 2008.

When governments, in particular, deny or ignore climate change, how is this impacting action on agriculture?

There are a lot of activities that can be better supported by government policies. In the storage of carbon, we need to be able to validate and verify this, for example.

In low- and middle-income countries, policies are diverse — some have very little to no policies. CGIAR climate change programs are helping farmers to change practices and build greater food security. But this is not being recognized as well as it should [be] by leading governments, including the U.S. and Australia.

“There is a tremendous amount that can be done and can be guided by government, farmers, the private sector, and consumers — everyone has to play a role.”

What’s been fortunate with the CGIAR that philanthropic investors including Bill Gates have come to the part and invested significantly. But this is not a solution to this global challenge.

The Crawford Fund needs partners to support its work in this space — how can the rest of the development sector support your work as well as think about the impact of their activities?

All of us in development need to think about how food chains are set up and what we are throwing away. One of the areas that has potential — which our Chair John Anderson has pointed out — is that if we can reduce waste in the food cycle by a third or even a half, we are preserving a phenomenal amount of resources. This includes water.

So how do we do that? In developing countries, we need better systems to store and transport commodities, we need to think about reducing waste in supermarkets and not overconsuming at home.

There is a tremendous amount that can be done and can be guided by government, farmers, the private sector, and consumers — everyone has to play a role. And every opportunity we can take to show the impact of new practices and changes opinions will help build better agricultural processes and impact food security.

About the author

  • Lisa Cornish

    Lisa Cornish is a Senior Reporter based in Canberra, where she focuses on the Australian aid community. Lisa formerly worked with News Corp Australia as a data journalist for the national network and was published throughout Australia in major metropolitan and regional newspapers, including the Daily Telegraph in Melbourne, Herald Sun in Melbourne, Courier-Mail in Brisbane, and online through news.com.au. Lisa additionally consults with Australian government providing data analytics, reporting and visualization services. Lisa was awarded the 2014 Journalist of the Year by the New South Wales Institute of Surveyors.