Could fighting climate change become a major development opportunity for Africa?

Gully erosion in Kenya's Nyando Basin

Naomi Nyangancha, Jennifer Ojwang and their (common) husband stand in front of their homestead in the surreal landscape of Katuk Odeyo, which bears the brunt of extreme soil erosion in Nyando District, in Western Kenya (photo credit: ILRI/Mann).

Can we grow more food and feed more people and capture more carbon? 'Yes,' say those organizing an Agriculture and Rural Development Day held on 4 December 2010 in parallel with the Sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change taking place at Cancún, Mexico.

Yes—if we support the small-scale producers and sellers of food and acknowledge that climate security and food security depend on each other. Read a report of the Agriculture and Rural Development Day at the 'CGIAR in Action' blog: Opening the door for agriculture at COP16,' 7 December 2010.

'Yes,' agrees Alex Perry, a journalist writing for Time Magazine this week (13 December 2010).

Yes—if we make green development work for the 7 out of 10 Africans living on small farms. 'Climate change is the mother of all negative externalities,' says Perry, who defines an 'externality' as a by-product of economic activity not included on the balance sheet.

'The problem is measuring it: How do you calculate the cost of climate change and then apportion it fairly among the world's businesses? Skeptics say rich governments and Big Industry can't or won't. Some, like Nicholas Stern, who produced the British government's Review of the Economics of Climate Change, say it can be done. But Stern's figures—which show that climate change could cut global gross domestic product by 20% if quick action is not taken—have been criticized as both over- and underestimates. And others argue that since climate change most affects the poor, programs to lift the developing world are the best way to fight its impact.

'But what if the externality could be accounted for, in a way that helped the poor? What if the economic rule book could be rewritten so that fighting climate change became development? . . . As a result of works by Sukhdev and others, UNEP [United Nations Environment Programme] executive director Achim Steiner can measure the financial benefits of saving the planet. New assessments indicate that "nature may represent between 50% and 90% of incomes in the developing world," he says. "In the past, these services have been invisible or near invisible in national and international accounts. This should and must change.". . .

'What is clear is the potential. "It is essential that climate change be viewed as a major development opportunity for Africa," World Bank managing director Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala said last year.

'And this is primarily a developing-world opportunity for two reasons. First, the poor world tends to be rich in things like forest and sunshine. Second, the rich world has few incentives to change its ways. "Suddenly there is the possibility of a whole new green trajectory for Africa," says UNEP spokesman Nick Nuttall. "You might ask, Can combatting climate change actually offer a new future for Africa?" . . .

'The question of whether green development becomes an African norm hinges on whether it works for companies and business leaders. That means Africa's farmers: 7 out of 10 Africans live on small farms. Unexpectedly, scientists are finding that it is those farmers who offer some of the best reasons for hope.'

Read the whole article at Time Magazine: Land of hope, 13 December 2010.

Placing ecosystems thinking at the heart of global food security

Rajasthan goats (Renoje Village)

Goat herd resting before going out for a day's grazing in Renoje Village, 1.5 hours drive south from Udaipur, in southern Rajasthan. ILRI scientists are conducting case studies on the use of stover and other crop wastes for feeding ruminant farm animals in India and Bangladesh. The residues of grain crops after harvesting, which make up more than half the feed for camels, cattle, buffaloes, goats and sheep, are vital to animal husbandry in these and many other developing countries (photo by ILRI/MacMillan).

Placing ecosystems at the heart of food security efforts can improve the productivity, resiliency and long-term sustainability of food supply systems. This is one of the key messages emerging from a new multidisciplinary collaboration led by the United Nations Environment Programme.

The collaboration brings together organizations working in the fields of livestock, fisheries, environment, water and agriculture to synthesize knowledge into options to alleviate hunger.

Ecosystems provide food both in its natural state (e.g., capture fisheries, forest products) and in more managed landscapes (e.g., crop systems, livestock, aquaculture). Climate change and overexploitation, especially of water resources, threaten the productivity of ecosystems. And because most of the world’s poor are directly dependent on both natural and managed ecosystems for food, they are the most vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate-related shocks.

Ecosystems also provide a host of services fundamental to food and water security. In particular, many ecosystems provide water management functions that are crucial to a stable food supply—these include water storage, purification and regulation functions as well as flood control. Ecosystems also need water to support their functioning, but many countries currently don't consider ecosystems a water user at all, much less a 'privileged' water user.

To keep up with food demand, water withdrawals from rivers and lakes will have to increase by an estimated 70–90% by 2050 and large tracts of forest and grassland will have to be converted to agriculture. The ecological fall-out from such a course of action would be catastrophic. Continued decreases in ecosystem services have already begun to hurt agricultural productivity.

Only by treating healthy ecosystems as fundamental to healthy food systems will it be possible to create systems that are not only more sustainable, but also more productive, resilient and diverse.

What this will take
(1) Shift the focus of agricultural development from protecting discrete ecosystems to managing larger landscapes.
Address these larger landscapes as bundles of interlinked services and ecosystems supporting food production. Expand the role of ministries of environment in bringing ecosystem services to the forefront of food security policy and planning.

(2) Ensure water for ecosystems and ecosystems for water.
Adequately value ecosystems services when allocating resources and planning water and land development. Avoid making unintended tradeoffs—particularly those that harm food and water security. Consider quality as well as quantity requirements of different water users to reveal options for reducing fresh-water withdrawals from the environment and getting more benefit per drop.

(3) Do more than improve 'water efficiency' in agriculture.
Without attending to allocation of water 'saved' to downstream ecosystems, improving water efficiency can end up doing more harm than good. Widen the focus on crop-based systems to include forests, livestock and fish. Place greater emphasis on managing water stored in the soil profile.

These three recommendations are described in detail in a forthcoming report, 'Ecosystems for water and food security', whose development was coordinated by the International Water Management Institute. Contributors to the report include: the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the Challenge Program on Water and Food, EcoAgriculture Partners, the Interdisciplinary Centre for Environment and Society at the University of Essex, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Institute for Land, Water and Society at the Charles Sturt University, the International Soil Reference and Information Centre–World Soil Information, the Participatory Ecological Land Use Management Association, the Stockholm Environment Institute, The Nature Conservancy, the UNEP-DHI Centre for Water and Environment, WorldFish, the Wageningen University and Research Centre.

A flyer with this information, Emerging Thinking on Ecosystems, Water and Food Security, is being distributed at a side event organized for Tuesday, 2 November 2010, 1–3pm, by UNEP and Global Water Partnership—'Green economy: Promote water as a key element for sustainable national development'—at a Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change being held in The Hague from 31 October to 5 November 2010.

Other livestock-related side events of interest include the following:
>>> Tue, 2 Nov 2010, 1–3pm: 'Livestock and climate change' organized by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
>>> Wed, 3 Nov 2010, 6–8pm: 'Livestock, climate change and food security' organized by the ETC Foundation, Heifer International and other groups
>>> Fri, 5 Nov 2010, 1–3pm: 'CGIAR Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security' organized by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research

UN highlights project helping Asian countries to conserve their native livestock and wild relatives

Farmer Ma Thi Puong feeds her pigs on her  farm near the northern town of Meo Vac.

The Farm Animal Genetic Resources Project is encouraging wider use of native Asian chicken, goat and pig breeds to help sustain the livelihoods of poor farmers (photo credit: ILRI) 

A Farm Animal Genetic Resources Project conducted by the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and other partners to conserve indigenous livestock breeds in Bangladesh, Pakistan, Sri Lanka and Vietnam has been recognized by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) as one of eleven global projects ‘assisting farmers in developing diversified and resilient agricultural systems to ensure communities and consumers have more predictable supplies of nutritious food.’

The ILRI project is featured in an UNEP booklet launched on Tuesday 19 October 2010 during the tenth meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity, taking place in Nagoya, Japan.

Securing sustainability through conservation and use of agricultural biodiversity: The UNEP-GEF contribution provides lessons from projects about useful tools for conserving and managing agricultural biodiversity over the long term. The report features project partnerships among UNEP, the Global Environment Facility (GEF) and national and international organizations conducted over the last 10 years.

The ILRI-led and GEF-funded US$6.4-million Farm Animal Genetic Resources Project was started in 2009 to better conserve local breeds of chickens, goats and pigs that help sustain the livelihoods of poor farmers and the health and well-being of women and children in Asia.

As much as 10 per cent of the world’s livestock breeds have disappeared in the last six years, due mostly to substitution or cross-breeding of local indigenous animals with exotic commercial breeds. Most of the extant indigenous livestock breeds today are found in pastoral herds and on small farms in developing countries. Understudied and insufficiently documented, many of the strengths and potential benefits of these tropical local breeds remain untapped.

The Farm Animal Genetic Resource Project works to encourage wider use of local breeds, such as the Bengal goat in Bangladesh. Each of the four countries where the project is implemented has a long history of use of indigenous livestock and a rich diversity of animals, including the wild relatives of domestic livestock, which provide additional genetic resources for breeding programs to improve domestic animals.

ILRI’s project partners include the Bangladesh Agricultural University; the Pakistan Agricultural Research Council; the University of Peradeniya, in Sri Lanka; and the Vietnamese National Institute of Animal Husbandry, with more organizations expected to join the project later. By the time the project is completed, in 2014, these partners aim to have developed breeding tools for use in low-input livestock production systems, cost-benefit analysis tools for comparing breeding programs for different indigenous breeds and populations, and analytical frameworks for assessing policy and marketing options for farm animal genetic resources.

So far, with the input of local actors, including farmers, researchers and development agents, the Farm Animal Genetic Resources Project has developed baseline survey tools for assessing animal genetic biodiversity and constraints to its conservation. These tools will also be used to assess marketing opportunities for indigenous animals and the contributions these animals make to rural livelihoods. The project has also developed a flock and herd monitoring tool that helps to measure genetic and phenotypic diversity, to track genetic changes in livestock populations over time, and to capture the relations between indigenous domesticated animals and their wild relatives.

Mohamed Ibrahim, ILRI’s coordinator of this Asia project, says that the project is increasing the capacity of local institutions to collect and analyse data related to indigenous livestock breeds. ‘Our goal,’ says Ibrahim, ‘is to ensure that important chicken, goat and pig breeds in the four targeted Asian countries are protected for the future benefit of local farmers’.

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Read the complete report on the following link: http://www.unep.org/dgef/Portals/43/AgBD_publication_FINAL.pdf

And find out more about the Farm Animal Genetic Resources Project on their website: http://www.fangrasia.org; and partner websites: www.fangrbd.org, www.fangrvn.org

Nairobi Science and Policy Forum holds roundtable discussions at ILRI’s Nairobi campus

4th Meeting of the Nairobi Science and Policy Forum held at ILRI, Nairobi Campus on 21Sept 2010

The International Research Livestock Institute hosted the 4th meeting of the Nairobi Science and Policy Forum on Tuesday, 21 September 2010. This Forum takes advantage of a unique location of several science and policy organizations, including the United Nations Environment Programme and CGIAR Centres like ILRI that belong to the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, in Nairobi. Members are building case studies and scenarios for policy briefs based on the best scientific evidence as well as networking among like-minded stakeholders to advance the objectives of the Forum.

The topic of discussion at this 4th meeting was ‘Drivers of change in crop-livestock systems and their potential impacts on agro-ecosystems services and human well-being to 2030’, presented by Mario Herrero, leader of the Sustainable Livestock Futures group at ILRI. His team is assessing the trade-offs in using environments for ecosystem services or to produce food and income. Its aim is to support and guide policies and investment strategies and to improve agricultural livelihoods and environmental resilience. This group will address issues of policies, institutions and political ecology, including gender, power relations and access to ecosystem services. It will consider drivers of change such as global trade, urbanization, climate change and energy demand.

While membership is not closed to organizations that are not based in Nairobi, a key characteristic of the Forum is that it will be a venue for face-to-face dialogue and consensus among organizations engaged in science and policymaking in the arena of agriculture and the environment. It is expected that membership will continue to evolve and increase.

Climate experts gather in Nairobi to seek ‘transformative’ solutions for feeding a growing and warming world

Achim Steiner making his introductory remarks at the CCAFS conference

The livelihoods of many of the world’s rural poor are increasingly threatened by climate change. Most of these livelihoods are dependent on farming, fishing and forests. Climate change will affect and worsen the living conditions of people who are already vulnerable and food insecure, especially in developing countries. In the face of what seems an inevitable change, scientists are looking for solutions that will help poor smallholder farmers adapt their agricultural practices to cope with, and mitigate, climate change.

Through a new Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) initiative, a consortium of the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) is seeking innovative approaches to address the emerging threats to global agriculture and food security. CCAFS is a 10-year initiative launched by the CGIAR and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP). CCAFS works to diagnose and analyse threats to agriculture and food security, to provide evidence for development of climate change policies and to identify and develop pro-poor adaptation and mitigation practices that will benefit poor farmers and urbanites alike.

In a CCAFS workshop held at the World Agroforesty Centre (ICRAF), in Nairobi, Kenya, on 4 May 2010, scientists and researchers held discussions on ways of ‘building food security in the face of climate change’. Among the key challenges to food security identified by the participants were: lack of a platform by which developing countries could share their experiences in dealing with climate change; weaknesses in presenting lessons from climate change impacts on farming; and inability to implement policies to address climatic risks to developing-country agriculture because of widespread poverty, limited human capital, and poor governance in many poor countries.

According to Achim Steiner, the Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP), ‘Agriculture needs to be understood within the greater context of livelihood sustainability’. Steiner believes the threat of climate change offers opportunities for agricultural development if new innovative ways of enhancing agriculture are explored. For example, agricultural practices that help communities reduce carbon emissions should be considered. ‘If we can demonstrate that a farming or production system reduces emissions, communities could be paid to develop it for expansion to solve two challenges at the same time. ‘The future of agriculture is not just in increasing production,’ the UNEP head said, ‘but in having working systems that protect the planet and that benefit those who engage in practices that protect the planet and livelihoods of the poor.

Thomas Rosswall, who chairs the CCAFS Steering Committee, noted that the ‘big disconnect [in addressing agricultural production] has been because development and global change have been addressed, researched and funded as unrelated issues’. He said ‘the approach to research needs to change so that it can link the local experiences to global needs while working with the poor to improve agricultural productivity.

Participants of the meeting agreed that ‘transformative solutions’ are needed to address agricultural challenges in the world. These solutions, they agreed, need to work with, not against, nature and they need to address conflicts of interest among farmers, countries and markets. Researchers, they said, need to focus on plant breeding and improving soil fertility. And regional decision-makers need to integrate development and climate-based polices and strategies between countries. In many countries, agricultural productivity is already being linked to climate change. In Africa, for example, an African Bio-Carbon Initiative is working to reduce the impacts of climate change on the continent’s farmers while increasing and sustaining their agricultural production. In India, environmental studies show that climate change is creating opportunities for farmers to increase their vegetable production, and thus their incomes.

According to David Radcliffe, of the European Commission, the CCAFS initiative will build understanding of the problems climate change is causing smallholder tropical farmers and will provide evidence for policies that can reduce these problems. CCAFS will focus on climate hotspots. It will pilot methods to help farmers both adapt to climate change and reduce their production of greenhouse gases, which cause climate change. Both adaptation and mitigation methods, Radcliffe said, will be needed to feed the world’s growing population while using fewer resources.

John Vercoe Conference: Animal breeding for poverty alleviation

The John Vercoe Conference and seventh Peter Doherty Distinguished Lecture will take place at ILRI headquarters in Nairobi 8-9 November 2007.
 


The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) Board of Trustees is pleased to announce the John Vercoe Conference and the seventh Peter Doherty Distinguished Lecture. The conference theme is ‘Animal breeding for poverty alleviation – harnessing new science for greater impact’.

The John Vercoe Conference will be inaugurated by the Kenyan Minister of Science and Technology, Hon. Noah Wekesa and thereafter, followed by the presentation of a keynote paper by Achim Steiner, Executive Director of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP).

Further topics include:

  • Case studies of breeding programs within developing countries (Christie Peacock, Farm Africa, UK)
  • Breeding program design issues for small-holders (Ed Rege, ILRI)
  • New opportunities for reproductive technologies in developing countries (Johan van Arendonk, Wageningen University, Netherlands)
  • New DNA-based technologies and their prospects for developing countries (Julius van der Werf, University of New England, Australia / Brian Kinghorn)
  • How animal breeding relates to other interventions to reduce poverty (Ade Freeman, ILRI)

The conference will be held at ILRI headquarters in Nairobi on 8-9 November 2007. For further information and to register for the conference, go to the John Vercoe Conference website at: http://www.ilri.org/johnvercoeconference