FAO Program Promotes Low-Emission Farming

15826_FAO_Indonesia_J_M_MicaudNot to be too outdone by their COP 15 colleagues grabbing the world’s attention this week in Copenhagen, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization moved on a couple of climate change and food security fronts, including the launch of a multi-donor program to support sustainable, low-emission agriculture practices in developing nations.

FAO announced that Finland, the first country to participate in the program, will kick-in $3.9 million over the 2010-2011 period. The agency intends to approach other potential donors for further funding under the five-year initiative.

On a separate track, FAO is hooking up with Brazil on a large-scale project to collect data on emissions and deforestation via satellite.

Agriculture accounts for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to FAO. “But the sector also has a high potential to reduce greenhouse gases by removing CO2 from the atmosphere and sequestering it in soils and plants and by reducing its own emissions,” the agency says.

“The overall challenge we are facing is to transform the technical mitigation potential of agriculture into reality,” said Alexander Müller, FAO assistant director-general.

He continued: “Many suitable technologies and farming practices to sequester carbon in smallholder agriculture already exist. These include practices used in conservation and organic agriculture, based on no/low tillage, utilizing residues for composting or mulching, use of perennial crops to cover soil, re-seeding or improving grazing management on grasslands and agro-forestry, which combines crops and trees.

“Nearly 90 percent of agriculture’s potential to reduce or remove emissions from the atmosphere comes from such practices. These practices are also known to have a positive impact on hunger and poverty reduction. However, barriers to adoption of these technologies and practices are a key challenge that needs to be overcome.”

He asserts the program “aims to unlock the enormous mitigation potential of agriculture.”

In order to address key drivers of carbon emissions, “there is a need to focus on the agriculture-forests interface to reduce emissions from deforestation and degradation as well as agriculture in a mutually supportive way,” says Dr Paavo Vayrynen, Finland’s minister for foreign trade and development.

The FAO program will create a global database on current and projected GHG emissions in land and agriculture for the most important agricultural commodities, countries and regions. Currently there is no data on GHG emissions from individual agricultural commodities by country or by region available, it says.

To address that issue, FAO announced Thursday that it has agreed to work with Brazil’s National Institute for Space Research (INPE) to work jointly on emissions measuring and reporting. The agency says the agreement lays the groundwork for a “major push to assist developing countries in monitoring climate change impact.” INPE’s work will pave the way to large-scale monitoring of deforestation and and forest degradation, along with accurate and transparent data.

A policy brief prepared for the Copenhagen summit by FAO says that “farming practices that capture carbon and store it in agricultural soils offer some of the most promising options for early and cost-effective action on climate change in developing countries, while contributing to food security.”

But agriculture has been largely excluded from the main climate financing mechanisms under discussion in Denmark, the agency says.

Agriculture can and should be an integral part of the money discussion and the ultimate package of climate change solutions because there’s a looming human and environmental disaster if it’s not: The agency says global food production will have to increase by 70 percent to feed an additional 2.3 billion mouths by 2050.

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