Despite not securing a phase-out of fossil fuels, COP28 witnessed a historic focus on food. The summit saw over $7 billion in funding commitments, as well as a pledge by 152 countries to include food and agriculture in their climate plans. However, small farmers are still struggling to adapt to climate change and feed the world.
There is no doubt that commercial agriculture is a major contributor to the climate crisis, responsible for around a third of global greenhouse gas emissions, according to Greenpeace. This includes emissions from land use change, on-farm production, processing, transport, packaging, and retail. With the world’s population expected to reach 9.7 billion by 2050, issues around food security and environmental impact are only likely to escalate.
While funding commitments for climate-smart agriculture at COP28 offers a glimmer of hope, it remains to be seen how much of it will materialize. Right now the heatwaves, floods, and droughts are no longer distant warnings, but a lived experience for millions of people.
Transforming food systems
With the COP28 commitment to addressing the challenges in food systems, Dr. Betty Chinyamunyamu, the CEO of the national smallholder farmers’ association of Malawi (NASFAM), offers a grounded perspective from the heart of Malawian agriculture.
While she acknowledges the potential of these initiatives, she emphasizes the need for practical implementation that considers the realities of smallholder farmers.
“Smallholders must also be adequately trained so that they understand the principles well enough. There must also be an effort to translate all relevant communication into vernacular languages so that the smallholders can easily understand,” she said.
Dr. Chinyamunyamu pointed out that Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) is not just about farming, it’s about building resilience in the face of a changing climate. She painted a clear picture of how developing nations can unlock their full potential in tackling climate challenges.
“It’s not just about securing funds,” she said, “but about building the capacity to utilize and manage them effectively.” She emphasized the crucial role of strong governance, advocating for robust institutions that can steward resources and monitor their impact.
Enhanced transparency, she believes, is equally vital, building trust and attracting diverse funding sources, empowering nations to chart their own climate-resilient course.
Beyond structures, Dr. Chinyamunyamu highlighted the importance of capacity-building programs and partnerships, equipping nations to access, manage, and allocate funds effectively for impactful climate initiatives.
Can $200 million boost global food supply?
In the face of climate’s harsh hand, climate-resilient farming sows the seeds of hope. Climate-smart agriculture needs a critical ingredient: funding. For small farmers struggling to adapt to climate change and feed the world, the $200 million partnership announced at COP28 could be a game-changer.
Small-scale farmers, who produce up to 70% of the food in developing countries, are central to transforming the food system. However, they receive only a tiny fraction of climate finance.
Enock Chikava, the Interim Director of Agricultural Development at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, echoes this sentiment. He oversees developing and deploying innovations that support small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, the unsung heroes feeding a vulnerable world.
“What’s needed are the investments to take proven innovations to scale, to make the leap from reaching thousands of farmers to reaching millions,” Chikava said.
He underscored the double burden faced by small-scale farmers. “Climate threats to small-scale agriculture in Africa and South Asia are about more than food. They erode an economic sector that provides employment for the majority, particularly women. This is about poverty reduction, malnutrition, and women’s economic opportunities.”
So, helping small-scale farmers adapt to climate change is essential for driving progress in areas like reducing poverty and malnutrition and increasing economic opportunities for women. Improving crop and livestock productivity, meaning producing more food without expanding farmlands, is also critical for protecting wildlife habitats and natural resources and reducing food-related emissions.