Why smallholder farmers are the key to combating global warming
17 August 2018
This summer in the northern hemisphere has been characterised by unusually high temperatures and wildfires in many countries.
On August 7 the Mendocino Complex became the biggest fire in the history of California, devouring 300,000 acres (117,700 ha) and surpassing the record set by the Thomas fire only last December.
Blazes such as these draw attention in spectacularly destructive ways to the alarming consequences of declining forest cover around the world. The loss of forests – which are huge repositories of the world’s carbon – jeopardises efforts to combat climate change and results in a massive loss of biodiversity.
Over the past 25 years the world’s forest area has declined from 4.1 billion hectares to just under 4 billion hectares, a decrease of over 3 per cent.
Although the global rate of deforestation has slowed significantly, in 2017 a total of 29.4 million hectares was lost. That’s equivalent to an area the size of a football pitch every second.
For IFAD, deforestation is a critical issue. The world faces a rising population, rapid urbanization, climate change, declining soil fertility and increasing demand for food and fuel. All of this puts pressure on land.
Poor rural dwellers are already bearing the brunt of this pressure. It is only likely to grow.
Wildfires aside, trees are felled for many reasons. Sometimes they provide fuel, firewood, and building supplies. Often they are cleared to allow commercial farming. This has accounted for almost 70 per cent of deforestation in Latin America, according to a report by the UN's Food and Agriculture Organization.
There are better ways to ensure food for all
We need to ensure food for our growing populations. But why not feed them with the food we waste? In many developing countries, overall post-harvest losses of cereals and pulses of 10 to 15 per cent are commonplace. In some regions of Africa and Latin America up to 50 per cent of food harvested is lost.
Reducing post-harvest losses is one of several interventions to achieve the agricultural transformation that we need. But this requires investment. International Financial Institutions (IFIs) such as IFAD can and should play a vital role in land-use planning and any decisions about the need for deforestation.
How can International Financial Institutions help?
International finance can provide vital financing for public projects, add know-how, and promote innovation. IFIs can share international best practice and speed its adoption and adaptation by locals.
IFIs can also help mobilize private sector funding and expertise, and help to offset risk that private players and even governments might otherwise refuse to take on. And the search for partners promotes an open and transparent dialogue that facilitates inclusive participation.
Financing institutions can also draw upon tools such as Geographic Information Services and remote sensing to ensure well-informed investment choices.
Utilising land-use planning
To ensure land is put to best use, it is vital to assess its potential and available water supply. That is why IFAD champions Participatory Land Use Planning (PLUP). This process helps avoid unintended deforestation.
Planning better land use in Sierra Leone
In Sierra Leone, for example, the Rehabilitation and Community-based Poverty Reduction Project (RCPRP) enabled land users to assess levels of degradation status of soils, vegetation, and water resources, understand the interaction between these and climate factors, and prepare their own land use plans.
Preventing desertification in Peru
In Peru, High Andean ecosystems have historically been undervalued. Now an IFAD project is providing alternative sustainable means of income while protecting the local biodiversity and restoring the ecosystem.
Peru is one of the ten megadiverse countries. But it is prone to desertification and land degradation, both from natural causes and from overgrazing, soil erosion, deforestation, intensification of land use, illegal mining, urbanization and increased demand for potable water, as well as severe droughts and glacial melting.
The way ahead
Governments are now recognizing that agricultural transformation is a necessity for a food-secure future. The Koronivia decision at the United Nations Framework to Combat Climate Change (UNFCCC) in October 2017 and the Paris Agreement show that there is political will to tackle these issues. Agricultural transformation will help us towards each of the Sustainable Development Goals. It will provide more food and reduce waste. It will ensure alternative energy supplies. Nutrition and education of young people will improve as parental income rises. Water will be used more efficiently, and women will have better working conditions and rights. Agricultural GHG emissions will fall.
And no less urgent, given the alarming rise in temperatures and wildfires in the northern hemisphere this summer, forests will be more able to sustain their historic role as sinks for atmospheric carbon dioxide.
But only the world’s smallholder farmers can drive this transformation. We at IFAD are here to help them make it happen.