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Climate Change and Organic Agriculture from the lens of smallholders and their landscapes, discussed in German forum

In February 2015, professionals from Hivos, FiBL, Soil & More and CEDECO participated in the forum of the Biofach in Nuremberg, Germany on Climate Change and Organic Agriculture.

Agriculture and climate change are mutually related. Climate change is affecting agriculture (need for adaptation) and agriculture is affecting climate change (potential to mitigate climate change). The AFOLU (Agriculture, Forest and Other Land Uses) sector is responsible of 24% of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions (IPCC, 2013). Besides deforestation (land use change) the main sources of this GHG emission are methane from cattle and N20 from fertilized soils.

Transforming manure and stimulating new biological fertilizers can significantly reduce GHG emission. Soils have also the capacity to absorb GHG, as trees do in forest. Linking Aerial Biomass (agroforestry systems), Soil Carbon Biomass (biological fertilization) and other practices that reduce emission, in production can contribute to mitigate Climate Change. Opportunities appear from the type of “sustainable” practices and systems implemented that can reduce emissions whilst supporting the business. A better understanding of soils can increase productivity and farmer income. Cases from Kenya and Indonesia applying bio-slurry, and in Guatemala and Nicaragua with other local-based bio-inputs, have shown positive results in reduced emissions and higher yield per hectare.

Nonetheless reducing GHG is just one part of the puzzle. Agriculture in general is highly vulnerable to extreme temperature, drying, precipitation and wind etc. We must remember that the sum of sun, soil and water determine a good harvest. To be resilient to climate change, control of diseases, seeds varieties, irrigation control, rotation and diversification are fundamental. Again, implementing adaptation practices must result in good business for the producers. For instance, investing in bio-inputs facilities can help to improve soil management and at the same time diversify and increase income and create local jobs. Diversification and rotation, for instance combining honeybees with coffee farming is another way to stabilise income, promote gender equity, and create positive externalities.

Evidence shows that the transition to organic agriculture can significantly mitigate GHG and contribute resilience to climate change. Together with the Gold Standard Foundation, Hivos and partners have supported the development of a framework that will allow carbon-finance to become an incentive to promote positive change. Even though climate smart agricultural management is urgent, just following the organic principles is not sufficient to become climate resilient. The question remains: if disease control, productivity and income are more important to producers, is carbon finance a feasible option for them? The game-changing scenario comes when producers increase their capacity to take decisions suited to their context.

Climate Change is a menace, but it also shows windows of opportunities.

Hivos is working with researchers (FiBL, Bioversity International, ICRAF, University of Vermont), practitioners (Soil&More, Cedeco) and producers (dairy farmers, smallholders, coffee producers –as Asobagri and Prodecoop-) to raise awareness and innovate on solutions, and it is also lobbying with companies and governments to work together sector-wide to improve the sustainability of our global food sector.