September 23, 2014 / 4:11 PM / 5 years ago

Climate aid needed for 500 million small farmers: researchers

ROME (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - As world leaders meet in New York for yet another climate change summit, concerns over wild weather patterns disrupting food supplies are increasingly finding their way to the table.

About 500 million farmers in South Asia and Africa need help developing “climate smart agriculture” by 2030 to brace themselves for water shortages and super storms and to mitigate against potential food crises, a coalition of food security groups warned on Tuesday.

Small-scale farmers need better access to crop insurance and weather information to boost resilience, said Bruce Campbell, an ecologist who leads the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

The CGIAR, a global agricultural research partnership, is one of the members of a new Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, which involves hundreds of scientific, business and farming organizations, and aims to bring together expertise and money to scale up efforts to improve agricultural resilience to climate change.

“There is a massive rise in mobile phone connections, in rural Africa for example, and these can be used for getting the farmers information on the weather, pest control issues and prices for commodities,” Campbell said in an interview with the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

“There is a lot of trial and experimentation at the moment with innovative crop insurance. If rainfall drops or temperature goes above a certain amount then scientists know crops will fail, and the insurance company will pay out immediately without the expensive process of filing claims.”

New research published this week in the Journal of Climate suggests “mega droughts” will be one of the factors causing increasing crop failures in the coming decades.

“The implications of these mega droughts vary,” Jonathan Overpeck, one of the study’s authors and a professor at the University of Arizona, said in an interview. “The risk is substantial in monsoon (affected) Asia. India and China could easily be faced with totally unprecedented mega droughts which would overwhelm their infrastructure and cause a great deal of hardship.”

Climate-smart agriculture will help respond to these concerns, Campbell said. Already 13 million small-scale farmers in India are using basic crop insurance, so if the rainfall needed to produce maize drops below a critical level, growers will receive compensation, allowing them to buy seeds to plant again the following year.

The CGIAR, one of the major consortiums backing the climate-smart initiative, plans to devote at least 60 percent of its budget to these sorts of initiatives to help farmers adapt, the group announced on Tuesday.

“There are various schemes where if you buy fertilisers or seeds you can pay a small premium on top with your mobile phone and you would get a payout if the weather is bad,” Campbell said.

The alliance backing climate-smart farming is currently a loose coalition, and exact figures on funding have yet to be announced, but some aid groups are already expressing concerns.

“There is no social or environmental criteria required for joining the alliance,” Teresa Anderson, a researcher with ActionAid said in an interview. “You could do any sort of agriculture and be destroying the planet and still use the alliance as a platform to promote yourself as a solution.”

Companies including McDonalds, Sygenta, Walmart and major fertilizer firms have expressed interest in joining, Anderson said. She argued that such corporations do not have strong records when it comes to combating global warming or aiding small farmers.

One hundred civil society and farmers’ organizations, including ActionAid, released an open letter on Monday rejecting the initiative, saying it lacks social and environmental criteria, backs problematic carbon trading schemes, and provides a venue for agribusiness firms to promote industrial farming.

Supporters of the Climate-Smart Alliance say big companies, along with governments and farmers groups, need to be included in discussions about global warming and mitigation techniques.

Reporting By Chris Arsenault; editing by Laurie Goering

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