was published in the Ecologist on the 26th November and was written
by Helena Paul. Click here to access the full article.
Smart Agriculture' can be applied to anything from industrial monocultures to
agroecology, writes Helena Paul - and fertiliser, biotech and agribusiness
corporations are seizing the chance to cash in. Now COP21 host France is proposing
to use soils as a giant carbon sink - a fine idea in itself, but not if it's
used to 'offset' continued fossil fuel emissions, and to greenwash industrial
know that agriculture is responsible for high levels of greenhouse gas emissions,
promoting climate change while destroying forests, water, soils, and
we are told that food production must double to respond to the projected growth
of human population to 9 billion by 2050, so yields must increase but use
smaller areas of land for crop production, leaving more land available for
biodiversity conservation or forestry.
'Climate-Smart Agriculture', we are told, can do all this. But what is it,
when, how and why did it emerge, and who is behind it?
The Food and Agriculture Organisation in Rome
that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces
/removes GHGs (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security
and development goals." FAO wants to include forestry and the
sustainable intensification of production using a landscape approach. But
all this can be used to promote completely different types of agriculture.
'Climate-Smart Agriculture' (CSA) was first
mentioned around 2010, for example at the African Conference on Agriculture,
Food Security and Climate Change, held in September 2010 in Addis Ababa,
Ethiopia and the firstnGlobal
Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change. Then it was taken up by the UN Framework Convention
on Climate Change (UNFCCC) at the 17th Conference of the Parties in Durban in
2011, where it was heavily
promoted with a high level event featuring prominent
African speakers such as former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan. Smallholder
farmers in Africa were constantly cited as key beneficiaries. But there were
other targets too.
Reviving carbon markets ...
The concept of CSA perfectly suits the promotion of
carbon markets, which are not flourishing at present. According to a
World Bank report, the total value of the world's emission trading schemes,
which began with the European Union scheme in 2005, was still only around US$30
billion in 2014.
However, the Bank still backs a major expansion of
carbon markets in the future and aims to attract new investor and speculative
interest with a vastly increased volume of units to trade. It has several initiatives
to promote carbon finance.
Yet there are fundamental problems with carbon markets
in agriculture: it is difficult
to measure, report and verify emissions in this sector
reliably. Emission reductions are not
predictable in quantity or permanence, and the carbon supposedly stored in
soils may be unstable for many reasons, ranging from changes of use or practice
to increasing extremes of climate variability.
This is just one reason why many civil society
organisations have steadfastly opposed the inclusion of agriculture in the climate
unless CSA is carefully defined, it could be exploited to revive carbon markets
by treating agriculture as a carbon sink for industrial emissions. Many
governments would rather offset their mitigation obligations than tackle the
real issues of reducing emissions at source and investing in clean
Climate bonds emerged more recently, reaching
almost $US37 billion in 2014 according
to World Climate Ltd. The Climate Bond Initiative's Agriculture,
Forestry and Other Land Use (AFOLU) Technical Working Group have just released
for comment their proposed eligibility criteria for AFOLU projects that
qualify under the 'Climate Bonds Standard, with the aim of
inviting 'climate friendly' investment in agriculture.
With 'Climate-Smart Agriculture', anything goes
Currently,nothing is excluded from the range
of practices that could count as 'Climate-Smart'. Thus both large-scale
industrial monocultures with high inputs of fertiliser and pesticides, and
agroecological approaches including agroforestry and organic agriculture may
though the first discussions of 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' highlighted the
importance of small farmers and their vulnerability to climate change,
particularly in Africa, no social or environmental criteria have been
Although adaptation and food security are
mentioned, CSA could instead stimulate land-grabbing for carbon sinks to offset
continued emissions. Undaunted, the promoters of CSA launched the Global
Alliance for 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' (GACSA
in September 2014.
It includes 22 states, and 81 other members (such
as the world's largest fertiliser company Yara and the global food company
Danone). At the same time McDonalds, Kellogg Company and Walmart signed
Statement for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition, which has many of
the same supporters as the Global Alliance, while Walmart announced its own
'Climate-Smart Agriculture' Platform.
One active member state is France, which hosts the
climate conference in Paris in December 2015 and intends to address agriculture
and soils there - see below. Meanwhile, the World Business Council on
Sustainable Developmentlaunched a Low Carbon Technology PartnershipsMonsanto
co-leads the 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' programme.
Recent Monsanto purchases include theClimate
Corporation in 2013 and then (by the Climate Corporation)of
Solum, which gives Monsanto new business in climate
data, services and insurance, plus soil testing, in addition to its seeds and
chemicals. All this could be exploited to securely capture and profit from
Among the sectors seeking to cash in is the, which comprises 60% of the private sector
membership of the alliance. AsGRAIN
points out: "They are essentially the oil companies
of the food world ... They, too, have their fortunes wrapped in
agribusiness-as-usual and the expanded development of cheap sources of energy,
like shale gas."
Fertiliser production is estimated to account for
some 1-2% of global energy consumption.According to FAO, synthetic
fertiliser application is currently the fastest growing source of GHG emissions
GACSA member Yara also supports the agricultural
growth corridors that will strive to bring its synthetic
fertilisers to new markets in Africa. So is 'Climate-Smart Agriculture' just a
cover for promoting an emission-intensive product to new markets?
In a statement from September 2015 criticising
GACSA, more than 350 civil
society organisations say: "'Climate-Smart Agriculture'
may sound promising, but it is a politically-motivated term. The approach does
not involve any criteria to define what can or cannot be called 'Climate
"Agribusiness corporations that promote synthetic
fertilisers, industrial meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture
- all of which are widely recognised as contributing to climate change and
undermining the resilience of farming systems - can and do call themselves
"CSA claims to include all models of
agriculture. However it lacks any social or environmental safeguards and fails
to prioritize farmers' voices, knowledge and rights as key to facing and
mitigating our climate challenges."
Small and family farmers still provide most of our
food and must be central to the systemic change we need. 2015 is theUN year of the soiland healthy
soils are fundamental to food production. It is also the year when governments
are supposed to produce a meaningful climate agreement in Paris. La Via
Campesina, the international peasant movement, firmly
Small farmers around the world, however,
still have the knowledge and the diversity of crops and animals to farm
productively without the use of chemicals by diversifying cropping systems,
integrating crop and animal production, and incorporating trees and wild
vegetation. These practices enhance the productive potential of the land because
they improve soil fertility and prevent soil erosion."
la Via Campesina says, small farmers can 'cool the planet' by using careful,
smallscale, often labour-intensive practices to care for soils, to keep them
cool, fertile and moist with cover crops and help to preserve precious water
supplies, while maintaining livelihoods and the agricultural biodiversity
crucial for the future in their fields.
this approach requires major changes in most agriculture, rural development,
land-use and infrastructure policy worldwide. If the advocates of CSA do not
define which agricultural practices are to be defined as 'Climate-Smart' and
which are not, we have to assume the concept is a strategy to divide and
confuse, and ultimately promote the very model of industrial agriculture that
is already contributing so massively to climate change.
France's key role in GACSA and the Paris climate
France is a keen GACSA member and host of the
climate conference in December 2015. Here it will launch the '' to increase levels of organic matter in soils and
encourage agricultural practices that do so,
However, the conference may also see a major
promotion of 'climate bonds'at the World Climate Summit for
investment by corporations and governments. As Coordination Sud say in a Note,
4 per 1000 Initiative: Caution':
"More carbon storage in the soil should not
be understood as a license to emit as much or more in other sectors of human
activity. By presenting the '4 per 1000' as a vast mechanism of compensation
for emissions, certain economic players could take advantage of the system
simply to maintain their emission levels in their industry while funding soil
restoration programmes in developing countries, to obtain a result of virtually
zero emissions (the zero net emissions concept)."
Thus we risk agriculture and soils being exploited in Paris as a carbon sink to enable corporations to 'offset'
emissions, and thus 'mitigate' the impacts of continuing with business as
usual. This would not advance food sovereignty, help adaptation or tackle the
root causes of climate change.