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United Nations: UN Special Envoy Agnes Kalibata reacts to climate inaction

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“How long will inaction define us? asks Agnes Kalibata, UN Special Envoy for the 2021 Food Systems Summit. Asked by Forbes On agriculture in Africa, it cannot hide its frustration with rich countries’ inability to follow through on emissions reduction plans and climate finance pledges, despite their significant contribution to the challenge of climate change.

As Chair of AGRA (formerly Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa), a non-governmental organization working to improve the productivity and livelihoods of smallholder farmers in Africa, Agnes KalibataShe believes that the African continent will be more resilient to climate change if it benefits from “real” investments along the lines of the Marshall Plan, rather than incremental solutions that did not enable global change.

The consequences of climate change have prevented African countries from tapping into the development potential of a thriving agricultural sector. However, the African Development Bank is convinced that with the help of ambitious investments, obstacles to agricultural development can be removed and agricultural production in Africa can rise from $280 billion annually to $1,000 billion by 2030.

Agnes Kalibata, farmer’s daughter and former Rwandan Minister of Agriculture, knows firsthand the power of agriculture to reduce poverty and bring about economic stability.

She tells how she felt during the revitalization of the agricultural sector in Rwanda during the six years she held the position of Minister of Agriculture and Livestock (2008-2014) and describes her happiness when her efforts resulted in 20% growth to the national economy. “You could feel the shift happening around you,” she recalls. “There was work there that hadn’t existed before.”

However, when Agnes Kalibata finished her ministerial term, having ensured food security in Rwanda, farmers began to feel the impact of the failed seasons caused by climate change.

“You have a farmer who puts all his savings into a crop, and then the rain doesn’t come…” she says, shaking her head. “This is a very small capital that can be wiped out in one dry season.”

Now, after nearly a decade of years spent leading the agricultural sector in Rwanda, the effects of climate change on the African continent have steadily worsened. temperatures have risen faster than the global average; Extreme climatic conditions, droughts, land degradation, floods and pest infestations have had devastating effects on the region’s economies and food security.

“We know that it is the countries located at the equator, such as the African continent, that will have the most difficulty adapting,” she explains. However, we do contribute Less than 4% of climate change. […] For years, rich countries have made unfulfilled promises. Africa has no place in a world warming by 1.5 degrees. »

According to a published study Climate Policy InitiativeClimate Action Finance on the Continent On average 11% of annual fundingyou can 277 billion dollars needed to combat climate change. While capital is badly needed to adapt to climate change, most of the financing has gone to mitigation, with 60% of adaptation money coming in the form of loans, adding pressure to countries in financial difficulty.

Countries vulnerable to climate change have argued that the multinational finance system needs to be “redesigned” to respond more effectively to the climate crisis, but change has been slow.

“Has Africa been let down by the world? I would say yes, in the sense that we have spent a lot of time denying climate change,” she explains. We spend a lot of time not seeing what is happening around us. And even as we began to realize that climate change was real and affecting people’s lives, the complacency continued. »

With the strongest consequences of climate change-related events, such as the recurrence of severe droughts in the Horn of Africa, the contribution of agriculture to poverty reduction has been limited.

As a special envoy to the United Nations Food Systems Summit 2021Agnes Kalibata has worked with governments and world leaders to direct national food systems towards assessing and addressing the issues of COVID-19 in a pre-existing context of climate change challenges.

According to Agnes Kalibata, the awareness raised by the COVID-19 virus has led to higher than expected participation from the African continent, as 49 out of 51 African countries participated in the 2021 Food Systems Summit by adopting a common position. “It was important for Africa to participate in the 2021 Food Systems Summit. […] This is exactly what I was hoping for. That we commit, that we make our voices heard and that a follow-up mechanism is put in place by AGRA and others. »

The mechanism set up at the 2021 Food Systems Summit to share experiences among African countries, coupled with the unprecedented impact of multiple global crises, will spur Agra’s strategic reorientation, causing it to re-evaluate its approach to the ‘Green Revolution’.

The rules have changed Agnes Kalibata says. “Climate change has eroded the traditional knowledge of farmers, and with no huge sums of money available to invest in irrigation, businesses have declined. […] When covid-19 hit, resources had to be diverted. Countries that were just beginning to care about what the agricultural sector could bring them were running out of cash.

The conditions under which Agnes Kalibata succeeded in driving the growth of the Rwandan agricultural sector have become radically different and, therefore, the previous mechanisms for stimulating this sector need to be reviewed.

“I am aware, from a global point of view, of the challenges posed by the green revolution,” she admits. “We now have a diet perspective, which allows us to avoid making the same mistakes that other people make. We strive to reduce our environmental footprint And to make sure we can be part of a lasting solution while feeding our people. »

AGRA has always maintained that one of the reasons for the low agricultural productivity in Africa, compared to the rest of the world, is due to the limited use of high-yielding, climate-appropriate fertilizers and seeds. Since its renewal, the organization has remained loyal to the strategy of providing these inputs to farmers as part of its sustainable food systems approach.

“In Africa, our problem is that we don’t produce enough, and therefore we impoverish the environment,” she explains. “Farmers who don’t produce enough end up relying more on the environment. The fertilizers and seeds we use allow us to get decent harvests with less impact on the environment.”

Many of AGRA’s strategies have proven successful, according to Agnes Kalibata. “I grew up on a small farm. My dad was a farmer.” “My life was marked by the fact that we didn’t have access to basic inputs, like fertilizer and seeds, that the rest of the world takes for granted. I’ve also worked in agriculture and I’ve seen the difference in the life of a half-ton farmer using the same energy as a five-ton farmer. »

Agnes Kalibata believes that ” fair balance One country is between extremes of “rule of poverty,” where farmers do not have access to yield-enhancing inputs, leaving them at the mercy of environmental conditions, and the other is industrial agriculture, which impoverishes the environment and contributes about a third of the world’s total carbon emissions.

However, while AGRA’s new strategy came under criticism, Agnes Kalibata held firm. “I don’t apologize for the way we’re behaving in support of farmers. I don’t apologize. We can’t let people die because we refuse to use fertilizers; we can’t use fertilizers at the expense of the environment.” […] My lack of excuses comes from the fact that I know we have to strike the right balance. I like food sovereignty, but I don’t like poverty rule. I believe that the agricultural sector will lift us out of poverty. »

In addition to providing farmers with the latest fertilizers and seeds, AGRA works to address market failures, aiming to open up the private sector to make it more viable for job creation, and to enhance the resilience of the sector. Improve technical capacity, infrastructure and access to irrigation.

Under its new strategy, the NGO is experimenting with sustainable and regenerative farming methods and working to protect and increase production of indigenous African crops while improving yields of staple crops.

We want to improve the productivity of staple crops for farmers. We want to give them a choice. Today, options are essential, as they allow farmers to succeed in a particular crop or switch to an alternative crop if that crop fails,” says Agnes Kalibata.

Using lessons learned from the 2021 Food Systems Summit, AGRA was able to work with three African countries to design cutting-edge food systems strategies. These strategies integrate the needs of governments, farmers, businesses and communities, while highlighting areas that require additional investment, all at the intersection of food security, food production, food security and environmental benefits.

For the future, Agnes Kalibata wants to be optimistic. She believes that African leaders have recognized the potential of agriculture and is inspired by the speed with which innovation is being embraced on the continent. The only limitation left is the lack of “real” investments.

“I know what’s possible,” says Kalibata. I know that agriculture is a multi-billion dollar industry that Africa has failed to capitalize on to alleviate poverty and feed its people. We try to define a new way of doing business for us because we know we have to survive whether the world is moving forward or not. »

Translated article from the American magazine Forbes – Author: Daphne Ewing Chow

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