Agroecology principles should be used as guideline to transform the production system, writes Judith Ufford

When 196 countries negotiated the Paris Agreement with a commitment to take steps to limit the increase in global average temperature this century to well below two degrees Celsius or 1.5 to be exact, there was hope for the Earth.

Under the agreement, each signatory submits its own national plan setting targets for emissions reduction and specifying pathways by which it aims to meet these targets.

Despite the 2015 agreement, global carbon emissions increased to 1.7 per cent in 2017 and a further 2.7 per cent in 2018.

In 2019, carbon emissions peaked at 414.9 parts part million (ppm). This was not just the highest figure recorded in 61 years of observation, but the highest level in human history, higher than at any point in million of years.

An average of about 2.57 million pounds of Carbon Dioxide (CO2) is emitted into the air every second as a result of industrial activities, transportation, heating and power generating systems. This has resulted in global warming. But global warming is just an aspect of climate change. The side effects of warming are melting glaciers, heavier rainstorms, or more frequent droughts.

China leads the world in CO2 emissions followed by the United States of America.

So when the United States’ President, Donald Trump, announced last week that the US was backing out of the Paris Agreement, the climate change agenda suffered a setback, thus setting the stage for an emergency in the world’s climate situation. But how did the world get to this critical junction? CO2 has contributed more than any driver to climate change between 1750 and 2011 because it remains in the atmosphere longer than other major heat trapping gases emitted as a result of human activities. It takes about a decade for methane (CH4) emissions to leave the atmosphere (it converts to CO2), about a century for Nitrous Oxide (N2O).

After a pulse of CO2 is emitted into the atmosphere, 40 per cent remains in the atmosphere for 100 years and 20 per cent resides for 100 years, while 10 per cent takes 10,000 years to turn over. This literally means that the heat- trapping emissions released today from cars, power plants (generators) are setting the climate our children, grand and great grandchildren will inherit.

In 2013, atmospheric CO2 surpassed 400 ppm for the first time in human history. Half of human related CO2 emissions occurred only in the last 40 years.

Global carbon emissions reached an all-time high in 2018. A report released by Global Carbon Project, a consortium of researchers showed that CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels are likely to have increased from 2.7 per cent in 2018 after a 1.6 per cent increase in 2017. The scientists project that fossil fuel related CO2 emissions will hit a record high of 37.1 billion metric tons by the end of 2019, estimating that total CO2 concentrations in the atmosphere will also hit highest level ever at 407ppm, about 45 per cent higher than their pre-industrial levels.

According to Glen Peters, research director at the Center for International Climate research in Norway and a co- author of a new report, “there is no other alternative but to ramp up policies, otherwise emissions will keep rising.”

In October this year, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate change released a special report on the action that would be required to keep global temperatures within a 1.5 degrees Celsius target. The report noted that global CO2 emissions would need to fall 50 per cent by 2030 and reach net zero by 2050.

The rate which nations would need to reduce their emission each year in order to reach these targets becomes steeper, and less attainable every year such that emissions continue to rise.

The recent United Nations report on the ’emissions gap’ showed the mismatch between the Paris Climate targets and the actions nations are actually taking to reach them. By walking away from the Paris deal, America has confirmed that the climate action pledged by nations is “inadequate to bridge the emissions gap” and that if actions are not strengthened before 2030, the 1.5 target will slip out of reach. A worsened climate situation spells more hunger and poverty for Africa.

It is against this backdrop that Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA)’s agroecology push for food systems in Africa becomes instructive.

Agroecology, AFSA agrees, is not a new invention because it has been in scientific literature since 1920s. However, it has found expression in family farmers’ practices, in grassroot social invention for sustainability and public policies of various countries around the world.

The high statistics of food insecurity in Africa is evidence of the failure of industrial neo-liberal policies.

Fundamental to agroecology discourse is the human rights approach to food and this should be supported through food policies and legal frameworks. For AFSA, one method of ensuring food security is through the Right to Food, defined by the United Nations as “the right of every individual, alone or community with others, to have physical and economic access at all times to sufficient, adequate and culturally acceptable food that is produced and consumed sustainably, preserving access to food for future generations.”

In AFSA’s thinking therefore, as an alternative legal order, food sovereignty can thus be an engine to achieve sustainable food systems and protect the environment upon which the food systems depend upon.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) has set out that fundamental transformation of agriculture may well turn out to be one of the greatest challenges, including for international security of the 21st century. The UNCTAD recommends that the world needs a paradigm shift from conventional monoculture- based and high external input dependent agriculture to a sustainable regenerative production system, which is holistic and recognises that farmers are more than just producers, but are also managers of an agro-ecological system which provides a number of public goods including water, energy, soil and biodiversity.

For Africa food systems, business as usual is thus no longer an option.

Professor Robert Watson, director of the International Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD) said: “If we do persist with business as usual, the world’s people cannot be fed over the next half- century. It will mean more environmental degradation, and the gap between the haves and have-nots will expand. We have an opportunity now to marshal our intellectual resources to avoid that sort of future. Otherwise, we face a world nobody would want to inhabit.”

The IAASTD had assessed the impact of past, present and future agricultural knowledge, science and technology on the reduction of hunger and poverty, improvement of rural livelihoods and human health and equitable, socially, environmentally and economically sustainable development.

Agroecology principles should therefore be formulated and used as the principal guideline to transform and improve the current system, putting food producers at the centre.

Ufford wrote from Addis Ababa, Ethiopia