Posted December 23, 2015 by Sophia Murphy   

TradeWTOFree trade agreementsWorld Trade Organization (WTO)

Used under creative commons license from world_trade_organization.

The World Trade Organization’s 10th Ministerial Conference, held in Nairobi, Kenya from 15-18 December came right on the heels of the final outcome of the 21st Conference of the Parties to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The contrasts were striking, and not just because of the shift from Europe to Africa, from northern winter to equatorial rains, and from environment to trade. There was also the level of interest: everyone who could not be in Paris was watching what went on there from afar, while few came to sit in the make-shift tents put up by the Kenyan Government as an NGO centre. The protest marches, organized by farmers’ organizations, gathered dozens of people rather than the several thousands who had come to WTO Ministerials past. The multinational lobbyists were few, many having turned their attention instead to plurilateral agreements such as the Trans Pacific Partnership, or TPP. Despite its long-standing support for the WTO and its agenda, The Financial Times newspaper did not even send its world trade editor. It seemed that the world could hardly have cared less.

Most importantly, the governments that met in Paris were evidently chastened by their repeated past failures and were at last willing to respond to the mounting political pressure to take action on climate, pressure that was evident in the demonstrations and civic actions that took place across the planet as the governments negotiated. Leaders came to Paris intent on finding a way through the political, economic and environmental complexities of reinventing the basis of economic life on the planet. We need the same for trade. Instead, the heart of the fight in Nairobi was over what the negotiating agenda should include. Many rich countries came to Nairobi wanting to tighten intellectual property rights, open up government procurement for foreign competition, and to deregulate investment and competition laws. Most poorer countries disagree vehemently with this agenda. They want to first complete unfinished business related to trade in agricultural commodities and industrial goods.

Juggling competing interests

The debate really matters because multilateral trade rules are a practical way to considering the deep power asymmetries that mar the international community. The alternative—plurilateral talks managed on a by-invitation basis—leaves the least powerful countries with no voice at all in the discussions. But it is a debate that needs domestic political support. Yet governments treat trade as a top-secret matter, frightened to even engage with parliaments, let alone citizens, on what is at stake. Industry groups get privileged access to their ministers and diplomats, while few countries bother to meet with public interest groups.

Thus, sadly, in Nairobi, governments had their sights set far—far—lower than they had in Paris. There were a few private interests there, keen to maintain privileges (the US cotton industry, for instance). But they had little to fear, despite the havoc their programmes cause for some of the world’s poorest people; the United States, as perhaps the single most powerful WTO member, was also not there for much more than blaming others for failure, despite their starring role in that drama. Just two days before the Ministerial began, the US Trade Representative published a scathing opinion piece in The Financial Times. (A piece I responded to at the time). More broadly, very few WTO members felt any domestic pressure to get a result in Nairobi and what pressure was evident was all in the name of shutting down debate and closing ranks.

This does not mean the Ministerial was not hard work: as one diplomat said to me, failure takes a lot of work, too. The diplomats met and argued, called impromptu briefings, and negotiated not just far into the night during the week, but also apparently felt the need for what has become the customary unscheduled additional day of talks to come up with a final declaration.

And the result? The press coverage goes from elegiac: “WTO Nairobi deals good for all”, Kenya’s The Standard; to the damning: “South suffers humiliating setback at Nairobi”, SUNS news service; to the view that the WTO is fading to irrelevance because developing countries cannot ‘get with the programme’: “Trade talks lead to ‘death of Doha and birth of new WTO’” in The Financial Times; a variation on which, importantly, did not blame developing countries for the result: “Doha is dead. Hopes for fairer global trade shouldn’t die, tooThe Guardian. A sense of civil society organizations’ views can be seen in this story, also in The Standard, that covered the final NGO press conference, “Poor countries walk away empty handed, again.”

Little new trade liberalization out of Nairobi

Ultimately, the so-called defensive interests prevailed—there will be little new trade liberalization out of Nairobi. For the diehards (and I am one) it was satisfying to see developed countries commit to the immediate elimination of export subsidies in agriculture (though there are some exceptions that will take time to be phased out). Yet the push to end other distortions in international agricultural markets yet again went nowhere. The EU was practically begging to be allowed to end its export subsidies but needed the US to make concessions on its use of export credits and food aid. The US more or less refused, despite some pressure from IATP and other public interest groups that work on food aid before the Ministerial.

Meanwhile the vexed (and aging) “new issues” of investment, competition and public procurement that developed countries want to negotiate and developing countries edged their way a little closer to the negotiating table, though not much closer. There are lots of truly new issues the WTO could usefully look at—to name just a few, consider the subsidies given to oil and gas industries, the failure to manage price risk and volatility in food commodity markets, and the long-standing but unaddressed market distortions created by oligopolies in agricultural input and commodity trading sectors.

But no objective scan of the multilateral institutions today would alight upon the WTO as a place where governments get things done. The UN General Assembly has come through with an ambitious agenda of development issues that will absorb developed and developing country attention for the next 15 years with the Sustainable Development Goals, looking at poverty, inequality, vulnerability and more. The UNFCCC has—finally—turned a corner to shift the debate towards what each country will do itself, and just a little away from the obsession with what everyone else should do to curtail climate change. By contrast, the WTO membership is petulant; the governments refuse to lead by example, preferring instead to point the finger at other countries, blaming others for the lack of progress rather than looking closer to home first.

For the WTO to be able to contribute, its member states must adopt a mandate for the organization that moves away from a narrowly defined (and economically questionable) faith in open markets as a panacea for all the world’s ills. There is much open markets can do, and much they cannot. There is a rich debate under way about the future of the planet and the realization of sustainable development. The WTO—which could offer a lot to the debate and to the realization of positive change—is so far missing in action.

Posted December 22, 2015 by Dr. M. Jahi Chappell   


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With the recent conclusion of climate talks in Paris (see Ben Lilliston’s coverage here, here, here, and here), which included strong pushes for “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA) by a variety of government, NGO and corporate actors, it’s worth returning to the recent conversations about agriculture at the FAO’s second Regional Agroecology Meeting. This meeting, which I attended in Dakar, Senegal from November 4-6 of this year, once again united scientists, civil society and members of government to discuss agroecology and its potential to improve small-scale food producers’ lives, support their extensive existing knowledge and improve environmental impacts from the agrifood system, from climate change to biodiversity.

One clear message voiced by civil society (which included groups representing pastoralists, fisherfolk and smallholder farmers from throughout the continent of Africa) was a desire to keep climate-smart agriculture distinct from agroecology. There has been interest from various actors in comparing or even combining agroecology—proposing to take “the best of both.” As we have written at IATP, we are skeptical of such an approach, not least because its “clever ambiguity” opens the door for practically anything to be called climate-smart. During conversations and consultation in Dakar, it seemed clear that, by and large, the civil society participants did not see what value “climate-smart” was bringing to the conversation or their efforts. They saw it as unambiguously different than what many of them were practicing in terms of agroecology, a term that spoke to many of their groups and their traditions. The concepts of agroecology also align with the efforts of Africa-wide organizations such as the Alliance for Food Security in Africa, which launched a series of agroecology case studies at the meeting, and intercontinental organizations such as La Vía Campesina, the smallholder family farmers’ movement which is currently headquartered in Zimbabwe and led by General Coordinator Elizabeth Mpofu. It was interesting seeing so many stakeholders expressing the fact that agroecology, along with food sovereignty, had already been identified as the path they see to a better, more sustainable future for both food producers and the climate. The message was clear that, whatever others’ interest was in climate-smart agriculture, what most of the farmers, pastoralists and fisherfolk (and no small amount of the scientists and government representatives) there wanted to focus on was support for agroecology. In fact, several participants pointed out an international convening in Nyéléni, Mali earlier this year had already brought together “small-scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples, communities, hunters and gatherers, family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people” to affirm the importance and centrality of agroecology.

The fact that these voices from small-scale food producers in Africa already reflect the positions of many of IATP’s allies on climate-smart as a “false solution” seems all the more reason to believe that we are on the right track with our critiques of climate-smart agriculture. Indeed, one participant (and proponent of CSA) at the FAO Regional Meeting did say, “Well, perhaps climate-smart agriculture is more of a slogan, but you know, slogans are important to politicians.” I think this may in fact be the case, and the root of the discomfort many of us feel about climate-smart agriculture. Frankly, I feel this old saw encapsulates CSA pretty spot-on: “What’s good is not new, and what is new is not good.” CSA does not, that I can see, add anything of substance to the science, practices and movement of agroecology. What it does add appears to be buy-in from some governments, NGOs and corporations. But what is this supposed “buy-in” worth when there are no firm commitments to what counts as CSA and what doesn’t, and no firm commitments to provide new funds to support good, participatory research and implementation? And even if there were such funds, what reason is there that they should be classified for “climate-smart” rather than for agroecology? One of those two terms has been around for 85 years and is based on a combination of modern science and thousands of years of farmer knowledge (hint: it’s agroecology). The other is based on a catchy phrase that entered the international lexicon five years ago or so, based on political jockeying. Now, I understand as well as the next guy that compromise is a necessary part of every effort, but the politics of this situation seem to simply be that some powerful players like the term CSA, but don’t know what it means, exactly; don’t know what new ideas it brings; don’t necessarily have new funding committed for it; and don’t have a distinct reason for using it instead of agroecology (except maybe it doesn’t ‘scare’ some people like agroecology does.) This may be the stubborn scientist in me coming out, but accepting a new term that involves so many “I don’t knows,” no additional resources and makes some powerful people less nervous does not seem a reasonable way to go.

An (unfunny) thing happened on the way from the FAO Agroecology Forum

It is worth noting a couple of other significant points from the meeting in Dakar. One is the interest by many groups in the Open Source Seed Initiative (OSSI). OSSI (which IATP has helped develop) seeks to keep the world’s heritage embodied in seeds and other germplasm[i] open for all to use, in perpetuity, rather than keeping it locked up behind intrusive and exploitative intellectual property regimes.[ii] Many African farmers fear, with good reason, that their traditional and indigenous seeds and varieties might be used to develop patented or otherwise restricted varieties by companies like Monsanto; or, that such traditions and heritage might otherwise be lost. This would be a grave shame as not only is the world’s plant and animal genetic diversity important for its own sake, our present and our future, but also because many traditional varieties have much to offer us[iii]

A case in point comes from the representatives of the Malawian Farmer-to-Farmer Project ( Nutritionist Dr. Mangani Chilala Katundu, along with farmers Anita Chtiaya, Alice Gubudu and Edwin Nyati Kasamba, attended the meeting in Dakar (representing this incredible project) told me that they were worried that international corporations or government pressure might lead the loss or co-optation of a local landrace of orange maize. This landrace, they told me, actually provided as much or more Vitamin A as attempts at “biofortified” varieties. It turns out, in fact, that this was recently confirmed in a study (co-authored by Dr. Katundu) published in the peer-reviewed journal Food Chemistry. I told them about OSSI, which ended up interesting a variety of farmers in Dakar; although, so far, OSSI does not have a branch or chapter in Africa. Additionally, the main power OSSI has brought so far is the ability to name and shame any companies or people who might try to take advantage of OSSI-pledged materials by locking them away behind patents. Nevertheless, despite the fact that OSSI does not create a legal barrier to taking traditional varieties out of the realm of the common good, Monsanto scientists have already made the Orwellian argument that keeping plant materials in the realm of the public domain may be “one of the most restrictive forms of access” of all.[iv] Because as a result, no company or individual could then demand everyone who ever uses a seed to pay them—the fact that seed sharing and diversification have happened for thousands of years before patenting apparently does not count.

To many of the farmer groups who attended the Dakar meeting with me, this idea—that protecting open accessibility of their common heritage to all is in fact more restrictive than a regime where farmers have to pay for their seeds each year, even if their ancestors helped breed those seeds—would have been funny, were the perverse corporate logic not so tragic.

[i] Germplasm is “the living genetic resources such as seeds or tissue that is maintained for the purpose of animal and plant breeding, preservation, and other research uses.”

[ii] “Today, only a handful of companies account for most of the world’s commercial breeding and seed sales. Increasingly, patenting is used to enhance the power and control of these companies over the seeds and the farmers that feed the world. Patented seeds cannot be saved, replanted or shared by farmers and gardeners. And because there is no research exemption for patented material, plant breeders at universities and small seed companies cannot use patented seed to create the new crop varieties that should be the foundation of a just and sustainable agriculture. Inspired by the free and open source software movement that has provided alternatives to proprietary software, OSSI was created to free the seed—to make sure that the genes in at least some seed can never be locked away from use by intellectual property rights. Through our Pledge, OSSI asks breeders and stewards of crop varieties to pledge to make their seeds available without restrictions on use, and to ask recipients of those seeds to make the same commitment. OSSI is working to create a pool of open source varieties, to connect farmers and gardeners to suppliers of open source seed, and to inform and educate citizens about seed issues.” (From

[iii] Altieri, Miguel Angel, Laura C. Merrick, and M. K. Anderson. "Peasant Agriculture and the Conservation of Crop and Wild Plant Resources." Conservation Biology1 (1987): 49-58; Chappell, Michael Jahi, Hannah K. Wittman, Christopher M. Bacon et al. "Food Sovereignty for Poverty Reduction and Biodiversity Conservation in Latin America [V1; Ref Status: Indexed, http://F1000r.Es/23s]." F1000Research 2, no. 235 (2013); Pautasso, Marco, Guntra Aistara, Adeline Barnaud et al. "Seed Exchange Networks for Agrobiodiversity Conservation. A Review." Agronomy for Sustainable Development (2012): 1-25.

[iv] See The (access-restricted) article referred to is Butruille, David V., Fufa H. Birru, Marv L. Boerboom et al. "Maize Breeding in the United States: Views from within Monsanto." In Plant Breeding Reviews: Volume 39, edited by Jules Janick, 199-282: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2015.

Posted December 21, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Image used under creative commons license from Twitter user weatherchannel.

When the text of a new global climate agreement reached by 195 governments was released this weekend, one word was conspicuously absent: agriculture. That doesn’t mean issues around how farmers produce food were entirely ignored; in fact, you can see agriculture’s shadow in nearly all parts of the Paris agreement—from national-level climate plans to climate finance to new initiatives on soil. But a clear path forward on how to limit agricultural greenhouse gas emissions and support more climate resilient agricultural systems is still too politically hot for governments to take on.

The decision to sidestep agriculture, at least temporarily, within the climate agreement was not surprising. Finding common ground on agriculture and food security is notoriously difficult in international settings (see long-stalled World Trade Organization negotiations). Much of the intransigence around agriculture lies in the enormous political and economic power held by an increasing small number of global agribusiness corporations, who have little interest in new rules that don’t fit with their current business model. There is strong resistance to new regulations for agribusiness sectors that are high greenhouse gas (GHG) emitters (particularly the big fertilizer and meat companies). After the Paris agreement was reached, the meat industry immediately put out a call to start aggressively lobbying governments to protect their interests.

This is an obstacle that will ultimately have to be overcome, as the global agriculture research consortium CGIAR estimates that one-third of global emissions are associated with the global food system. A report put out by Global Justice Now last week found that three agribusiness companies—Tyson Foods, Cargill and Yara—have a larger climate footprint than many countries.

Despite governments’ reluctance to take on agriculture issues directly, many elements of the agreement do have important implications for agriculture. In addition, the agreement sets up a framework where agriculture issues will be debated in the future. Here are a few key elements of the agreement particularly relevant to agriculture:

A stronger benchmark to reign in climate chaos: Countries agreed to not allow global temperatures to rise more than 1.5 C over pre-industrial levels—a stronger benchmark than previously discussed 2 C. Whether countries can reach this goal is questionable. National-level GHG reduction commitments outlined as part of the Paris agreement have the world on target for an estimated 2.7 -3.5 degree rise in the most optimistic scenarios. The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) will use the 1.5 C reference point in its future scientific and policy assessments, and it will be used as a barometer of progress in national level GHG climate assessments.  For agriculture, which is already experiencing the effects of climate change, setting a stronger benchmark should benefit farmers trying to adapt to extreme weather events. This more ambitious goal will also require greater reductions in agricultural-related emissions in the very near future.

Ratcheting up non-binding national climate commitments: At the heart of the climate agreement are national level commitments to reduce GHG emissions by 2025 or 2030, known as Intended Nationally Determined Commitments (INDCs). These commitments submitted by 186 countries explain how much GHG emissions will be reduced by sector, and they identify policies to reach those goals. According to CGIAR, some 80 percent of INDCs include agriculture or food, policies that cover both agricultural related emissions, as well as adapting to climate change.

Current INDCs commitments don’t get us close to the 1.5 C goal and, perhaps more discouraging, they are voluntary, not binding. The deal does set up a framework to ratchet up INDC commitments over time. In 2018, there will be an assessment of progress incorporating the latest climate science. In 2020, countries can ratchet up their commitments for the next five year period, and continually ratchet up climate goals every five years going forward. The agreement sets a long-term goal of reaching zero net emissions sometime in the second half of the century. Zero net emissions doesn’t mean no emissions; instead, it means that emissions can be offset by land-based efforts to sequester carbon, either through forestry or agriculture. The net zero approach has been sharply criticized by civil society groups like ActionAid and the Stockholm Environment Institute as a way for polluting industries to avoid making real emission reductions, while relying on land-based offsets that are both unreliable and could result in a host of bad outcomes for farmers and communities tied to agriculture or forests, such as land displacement.

Falling short on climate finance: Another pillar of the agreement is finance, more specifically how developed countries, particularly those most responsible for greenhouse gas emissions, will financially support developing countries who are dealing most urgently with the effects of climate change. Approximately 48 developing countries have cited the need for additional climate finance to implement their INDCs. In 2009, developed countries agreed to contribute $100 billion a year to developing countries in climate related finance by 2020. In Paris, they reaffirmed the $100 billion target (but again, no binding commitments for specific countries) and agreed to revise that goal (with the $100 billion as a floor) by 2025. Climate finance commitments continue to be criticized for both not being enough, currently only about $2 billion annually to dedicated climate funds like the Adaptation Fund and the Green Climate Fund, and for double-counting previously committed development aid. According to the Overseas Development Institute, public finance currently committed to by developed countries for climate change will reach only $18.8 billion a year by 2020. Climate finance efforts continue to be hindered by the absence of clear standards for how funds will be counted and where they will be delivered.

Poorly performing carbon markets still favored: The agreement continues to support the creation and expansion of carbon markets as the primary climate policy lever by creating two ways for countries to meet their GHG reduction pledges. First, by 2020 it will build upon protocols for creating carbon credits previously established within the Kyoto Protocol to create a new centralized market mechanism (a global carbon market). Any country could participate in that global carbon market, though there are continue to be big questions about demand for such a market.  Second, it supports a decentralized cooperative approach, where countries can link together their national-level carbon markets. Bloomberg News reported that 17 countries, including the U.S., Japan and Germany, announced in Paris that they will work together to set common protocols for national and regional carbon markets in order to connect them in the future. China will launch what is expected to be the world’s largest carbon market in 2017—further entrenching carbon markets as the go-to climate policy.

Poorly designed carbon markets have largely failed to produce an adequate price on carbon to drive down GHG emissions. According to a recent study, up to three quarters of carbon credits established by an existing UN program may not have resulted in any emission reductions. In the case of agriculture, mostly viewed strictly as an offset for polluters, IATP has reported on five reasons why carbon markets won’t work for agriculture, and how such offset projects are not appropriate for small scale farmers and serve project developers more than participating farmers.

Voluntary soil initiative launched: Agriculture was included in several voluntary initiatives launched around the talks, known as the Lima-Paris Action Agenda. One of these voluntary initiatives was a much publicized French 4 pour 1000 initiative focused on sequestering carbon in the soil through agroecological and agroeforestry practices. We wrote about this largely research focused initiative when it was announced earlier this month. A number of countries, research institutes and NGOs have already signed up. But big questions remain about what the initiative will look like on-the-ground, the level of participation from farmer and civil society organizations and how it will be funded. French Agriculture Minister Stephane Le Foll said he hopes to have these pieces in place for the next UN climate meeting in Marrakesh, Morocco in November 2016.

Where next for agriculture and climate?: As many climate justice organizations have pointed out, the deal fails on many important fronts. It doesn’t bind countries to strong enough emission reductions, it doesn’t provide enough public money to countries that most need it, and it continues to promote a carbon market policy approach that has largely failed.

For agriculture, the global climate deal avoids the tough questions about how to reduce agriculture-related GHG emissions from industrial systems dependent on synthetic fertilizer use and large open pit manure lagoons linked to confined animal production, while transitioning toward more climate-resilient systems, including identifying what agricultural systems are most climate-resilient. As is the case with oil and coal companies in the energy sector, powerful agribusiness corporations will be at the table to protect their interests in future climate policy. At the same time, there is growing international support for the more farmer-centered approach of agroecology from both scientists and social movements like Via Campesina—an approach IATP has strongly advocated for.

The global climate deal in Paris has set the stage for an escalating debate about the way forward on agriculture in a climate chaotic world. We can expect this debate to happen at the national level as countries implement and strengthen their INDCs, and at the international level in discussions around climate-finance and food security. A climate-resilient focus for agriculture will ultimately have to be integrated within national farm programs like the U.S. Farm Bill, and regional and global trade rules which often limit climate policy. To meet the challenge climate change poses for farmers and agriculture, governments will have to become a lot bolder than they were in Paris.

Posted December 14, 2015 by     Timothy A. Wise

AgricultureWorld Trade Organization (WTO)

Used under creative commons license from Justin Kernogahn.

On the eve of their Nairobi ministerial, WTO members should remember it is not food procurement policies in developing countries like India but unfair US agricultural subsidies which threaten free trade and farmer livelihoods across the world

On December 15, the world’s trade ministers will gather in Nairobi, Kenya, for the tenth attempt to craft a new set of trade rules under the World Trade Organisation (WTO). The so-called Doha Development Round (DDR), launched in Doha, Qatar, in 2001, promised to right the imbalance in previous trade negotiations that had favoured the United States, European countries, and other developed nations. Reforming unfair agricultural practices were at the centre of the Doha agenda.

On the eve of the Nairobi ministerial, that agenda itself is under threat. The US, EU, and Japan have proposed jettisoning the Doha agenda and the progress made before negotiations broke down in 2008. They have dismissed commitments made two years ago in Bali, Indonesia, to resolve objections to India’s ambitious National Food Security Act as an unfair subsidy to farmers. Agriculture, it seems, is barely on the Nairobi agenda.

Going along with the West would be a costly mistake for developing countries. They may well be facing a new era of low crop prices in which highly subsidised crop production in the US and other rich countries creates overproduction and dumping of cheap goods on global markets. If ever there were a need for new agricultural trade rules, now would be the time.

Changing economic landscape

US negotiators claim that economic growth in China, Brazil, India and other emerging economies changes the basis for the Doha framework, but what has really changed since the progress in Bali is the fall in global crop and commodity prices. This puts farmers back in the same economic squeeze they experienced between 1997 and 2005, when costs regularly exceeded returns from sales, and rich-country governments stepped in with subsidy payments to make up the difference.

The other change since Bali is the passage of the 2014 US Farm Bill, which proposes to do just that. The bill expands support through subsidised crop insurance by adding a variety of additional insurance schemes designed to compensate farmers if prices or revenues fall below particular targets.

According to projections from University of Missouri researchers, these programmes are almost certain to exceed commitments on the table in the Doha negotiations and probably will put the US in breach of its current WTO subsidy limits as well. Payments are expected to exceed $12 billion in the current crop year, well above levels in recent years.

A history of dumping 

This low-price-high-cost scenario could well lead to a new era of agricultural dumping. The WTO commits nations not to export at prices below domestic prices or below prices in other export markets. Beyond this kind of discriminatory pricing, though, the WTO agreements also define dumping as exporting at below the costs of production.

This was common practice for the US before the recent rise in commodity prices. The Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) in the US estimated that from 1997-2005 the US exported soybeans, corn, wheat, rice, and cotton at between 12% and 47% below farmers’ costs of production. A study of US dumping in Mexico estimated the costs to Mexican producers from the resulting depressed crop prices at nearly $13 billion over that nine-year period.

Unfair competition cost developing countries dearly, undermining local farm economies in favour of cheap imports. Since 2001, the world’s least developed countries (LDCs) have seen their agricultural trade deficits skyrocket from $4.6 billion to $22.3 billion in 2011 after crop prices shot up.

The WTO’s current Agreement on Agriculture proved particularly weak in preventing dumping. One successful case was brought by Brazil against the US for price suppression in cotton. Brazil won the right to take countervailing measures against US products, but the government never did so, in large part because US policies were deemed to be locked in by the previous Farm Bill. Brazil and the US formally settled the dispute last year based on changes to the cotton provisions in the new farm legislation.

A return to dumping?

New research suggests the US is already exporting corn at below the costs of production. Farmgate prices this year have been $19/ton below production costs, with US exports priced at $165/ton. With Farm Bill support prices at $179/ton, US corn farmers stand to receive some $6 billion in government payments this year.

New economic modelling by University of California researchers paints a particularly bleak picture for global cotton farmers. They find that the reforms in the 2014 Farm Bill to US cotton subsidies will not eliminate price suppression. They project that during the five-year life of the legislation, subsidies will average $1.5 billion per year, keeping 20% more land in cotton, increasing exports 29%, and lowering global prices 7%.

The estimated cost to other cotton producers is $3.3 billion per year due to lowered prices and lost markets. Indian producers would lose an estimated $800 million per year. The so-called Cotton 4 countries of Africa – Burkina Faso, Mali, Benin, and Chad – would collectively see $80 million per year in lost revenues, a heavy blow to small-scale farmers in small economies. These cotton-dependent countries have been promised relief in the WTO for more than 10 years.

WTO Nairobi needs to deliver on agriculture

Instead of sidelining agricultural negotiations, the Nairobi ministerial should be deepening discussions of fair trade in agricultural products. India’s food security programme should be declared a legitimate use of public procurement, not derided as an unfair subsidy. Developing countries need the kinds of protections proposed in the Doha Round – Special Safeguard Mechanisms to protect farmers from import surges, and Special Product designations for crops critical to food security and rural development.

But developing countries need much more as we enter a new era of low crop prices. They need meaningful protections against agricultural dumping by rich countries which can afford to subsidise their farmers.

Timothy A. Wise is Policy Research Director at Tufts University’s Global Development and Environment Institute and a Senior Research Fellow at the Political Economy Research Institute at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst. 

Posted December 11, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   

Image used under creative commons license from Twitter user GisellaLomax

Earlier this week, a leaked internal European Union document on climate negotiation priorities (posted by Corporate Observatory Europe) made clear that any global climate deal would not mention trade. Also this week, a group of concerned business associations (including the biotech industry) hurriedly wrote (subscription required) U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry warning him not to agree to anything that could impact trade rules established to protect intellectual property rights. Both documents show why powerful interests want to keep trade and climate agreements separate despite the numerous ways trade rules have not only facilitated climate change but limit our ability to set strong climate policy in the future.  

The trade-climate disconnect exists not only within the global climate treaty being negotiated here in Paris. The Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) does not include anywhere in its 5,000 plus pages the words “climate change.” The latest version of a U.S. Customs bill (subscription required) coming out of the House of Representatives forbids the President from considering climate impacts in future trade agreements.

The trade elephant in the climate room was something civil society groups, including IATP, raised at an official side event at the Climate Generations area yesterday here in Paris. Ilana Solomon from the Sierra Club outlined the history of the international trade regime as it has evolved at the World Trade Organization and now with the proposed TPP and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP)—in particular how these trade deals impact energy policy. Pascoe Sabido of Corporate Observatory Europe outlined multiple instances of corporate influence within the UNFCCC negotiations, and how special rights established in TTIP and the EU-Canada trade deal would grant polluting corporations special rights that undermine efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Ronnie Hall of the Critical Information Collective talked about how trade rules are affecting forests, particularly driving woody biomass production that is damaging to the climate.

I talked about how trade rules:

  1. Drive an export-focused system of agricultural production that is high in greenhouse gas emissions from the heavy use of synthetic fertilizers and tied to large-scale confined animal operations;
  2. Promote agricultural dumping, which has forced farmers off the land (farmers who will be essential for knowledge-based agroecology); and
  3. Push intellectual property regimes that reinforce the power of multinational seed corporations instead of supporting farmers’ rights and the protection of genetic resources needed to adapt to climate change.

A big area of contention here in Paris is how much of the deal will be binding. Mostly at the request of the U.S., but also of other heavy polluting countries like China and India, there is a desire to make much of the agreement aspirational and non-binding—soft law as it is known internationally. But make no mistake, trade agreements are binding hard law, with their own legal enforcement mechanisms. If we are going to save the planet, we’re going to have to come to terms with the many ways the binding hard law of trade agreements conflicts with the soft law of climate policy.

Posted December 9, 2015 by Shefali Sharma   

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Used under creative commons license from Fiona MacGinty-O'Neill.

This week the World Trade Organization (WTO) gave Canada and Mexico the right to impose over a billion dollars’ worth of sanctions per year unless the U.S. Congress repeals a common sense law, Country of Origin-Labeling (COOL) for meat (beef, pork and poultry). COOL informs consumers where animals were born, raised and slaughtered before turning into meat. The meat industry has spent millions of dollars lobbying legislators trying to repeal COOL since it was first enacted in 2002. So the WTO case, which has been consistently appealed by the United States Trade Representative since 2008, is a big victory for Big Meat because it gives legislators who are already in their pocket a “legitimate” reason to change the law in spite of overwhelming consumer demand for such labels.

In May of this year, we said that the WTO rulings on COOL confirm that free trade agreements undermine national and sub-national laws and regulations.  Now, as President Obama tries to convince Congress and the American public to support the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), the repeal of COOL by the Senate would send a clear message that common sense rules will be swept aside by trade commitments. TPP stands to impact all kinds of environmental, public health and food safety regulations—not only at the federal level, but also at the state and local levels, as a recently published IATP report demonstrates.

The Chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Pat Roberts (R-KS), is gung ho about repealing the law as soon as possible. However, Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), supports amending the law to make it “voluntary.” This would severely undermine consumers’ right to know and the thousands of cattle producers in this country who count on COOL’s enforcement to differentiate their grass-fed, high quality beef from the product that has been cobbled together in the cheapest manner by the global meat industry.

Groups representing farmers across the country are speaking out against the repeal of COOL:

This WTO decision is exactly why so many people opposed NAFTA 22 years ago and oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership today. Consumers are demanding more information about where and how their food is produced, and farmers and ranchers strongly support the country-of-origin labeling. Why should the U.S. have to pay tariffs for requiring these simple labels?” said Mabel Dobbs, a rancher from Weiser, Idaho, on behalf of the Western Organization of Resource Councils.

In fact, even the economic grounds for challenging COOL have been debunked. This was reiterated yesterday by R-CALF USA (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America) which represents thousands of cattle producers on domestic and international trade issues:

The entire value of Canada’s live cattle imports in 2014 was $1.753 billion and this represented an historical high. It is absolutely impossible that Canada could be suffering an annual loss representing 45 percent of Canada’s record high imports. Mexico’s live cattle imports in 2014 were valued at $739 million and it is equally impossible that COOL has caused Mexico to lose 31 percent of the value of its record level of exports.

One thing is certain: if the Senate repeals COOL, the campaign to stop TPP becomes even stronger, given the sweeping impacts the trade deal will have on rules we care about.  

Posted December 8, 2015 by Dale Wiehoff   

 Mennonite boy in  Chihuahua, Mexico.

News coming out of the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua is most often about narco-traffickers but, in recent weeks, attention has shifted to farmers protesting increased cost of production and shutting down the importation lane at the El Paso and Ciudad Juarez crossing. And a little further south, severe drought is driving Mennonite farmers off the land. A closer look at the history of Mennonite migration reveals a pattern connected to drought and dry land farming for the last 150 years.

Near the tiny village of Santa Rita, 50 miles from Ciudad Juarez, Mennonite farmers are packing up their belongings and heading for Argentina. Mennonites have a history of migration brought on by persecution for their uncompromising pacifist religious beliefs, but this latest relocation is the result of a drought that has ravaged the region since 2012.

With predictions that water will run out in the next 20 years from overuse, all kinds of farmers will be moving out of Chihuahua and looking for land and water to grow the corn, beans, pecans, apples, dairy and other agricultural products that have been the mainstay of this arid part of northern Mexico.

Mennonites were originally a Dutch Anabaptist religious community, established in the Netherlands in the 1500s.  They moved east across Europe to escape religious harassment into the lush Vistula Delta of Prussia and then south into Russia, the Ukraine and the Crimea and eventually as far as Siberia and Turkestan before reversing course and going west to America.

A major Mennonite migration to the U.S. from Russia took place in the 1870s, in the midst of a worldwide period of intense drought, parallel to what is happening in Chihuahua today.

Over the decades, the Mennonites perfected dry land farming practices that helped turn Russia from a grain importing country into a grain exporter. But the exemption from military service provided by Czars as far back as Catherine the Great began to weaken and restrictive laws governing land ownership in Russia prevented Mennonites in the Ukraine from establishing new farms. The lack of access to land sent some Mennonites further east to Siberia and south to Turkey.

All these events were taking place in the midst of an El Niño driven drought and famine that, by some estimates, killed 60 million people world-wide between the 1870 and 1890.

Fortunately for the Russian Mennonites, the opening of the American west, along with the arrival of trains, led to a reversal of their easterly migration and a jump across the Atlantic to the Great Plains states. They brought with them their knowledge of dryland farming and grain production. And this was not just any grain but Turkey Red, or, as we call it today, hard red winter wheat. Their arrival and introduction of more resilient crops and practices came at a crucial moment.  The world-wide drought conditions hit the American west just as the Mennonites were getting off the train. In addition to no rains, the droughts unleashed hordes of grasshoppers in search of any and all plant life in a broad swath of land from Minnesota to Texas.

The combination of drought and locusts transformed the landscape to leafless trees and barren fields. Corn, the leading grain crop across Kansas and Nebraska, was wiped out in many places, creating demand for Turkey Red wheat that was planted in the fall and harvested in the early summer. By 1910, wheat had replaced corn as the leading crop in Kansas and remains so today.

The conversion of the great western prairies from grassland and grazing to farmland growing wheat was a massive ecological, economic and social development that contributed to the U.S. becoming a major world power. The expanded wheat harvest from the Great Plains came in time to meet the increased demands for grain brought on by World War I. The price collapse that followed the war led to the rise of the populist movement, and its insistence on fair prices for farmers set the stage for New Deal farm programs that followed.

The next period of drought in the Great Plains created the Dust Bowl of the 1920s and 30s. Thousands of farm families fled the devastation brought on by economic collapse and drought. By 1940, 2.5 million people had moved out of the Great Plains states.

At the same time, starting in the 1920s, thousands of Mennonite farmers who had settled in Canada as part of the 1870 migration out of Russia and Turkey, started moving to Mexico over disagreements with the Canadian government. The new colonies used their knowledge of dryland farming to build successful farms that have become known for a local cheese. Today there are 60,000 Mennonites in Chihuahua, where they have turned to drilling deep wells for irrigation, causing problems with neighbors and local authorities.

For Mennonites it is an old story that combines religious beliefs, farming practices and weather; all three seem to conspire to keep them wandering in search of a place to farm. But all farming practices that produce more and more without regard for the costs, including the cost of water, will only shorten the cycle between growing abundant crops and farmers going out of business.

For more on drought and the drivers of climate change, visit IATP’s


Posted December 7, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   


Used under creative commons license from Takver.

 Marche Mondial pour le Climat

Paris - After four years of negotiations, countries from around the world aim to complete a new global climate deal in the next week. A new 48-page draft text was circulated this weekend and there will be a lot of horse-trading and late nights in the coming week. Here are a few of the key issues we’ll be tracking:

Can national climate commitments become stronger?

The essence of a proposed Paris climate deal are national commitments, known as INDCs, made by governments to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Those commitments were submitted prior to Paris and include how much each country will reduce emissions beginning in 2020 and continuing through 2030. They also describe national policies that will help achieve those reductions. Many of these include polices around energy, forests, agriculture and food security.

A clear weakness of these commitments is that they are voluntary, with no real accountability mechanisms in place—aside from public shaming. There is no roadmap for reviewing them and potentially ratcheting them up as the science and conditions change. Many countries and civil society groups are pushing for a five-year review process starting in 2020, known as a ratcheting mechanism.  Such a review would assess progress on current commitments and determine whether stronger commitments are necessary. The U.S. is pushing for a legally binding commitment to monitor, verify and report emissions to an international body, but there is some reluctance by developing countries who may not have the capacity to report emissions. IATP and other civil society groups want greater accountability and transparency in the reporting on those commitments—and a continuing ratcheting up of those commitments better aligned with historical contributions to climate change.

How strong of a commitment to food security?

While the draft text does not include the word “agriculture,” it does include the terms “food security” and “food productivity.” While “food security” is present in the Preamble and other parts of the text, the term “food production” is in the operative parts of the text (the specifics of what countries agree to). This is an example of how a few words can mean a lot within international negotiations. Calling to protect food production within the text is not the same as food security. We already produce enough food to feed the world, but many other factors, particularly extreme poverty, cause food insecurity. Food security is an established Sustainable Development Goal, agreed to in September, where countries agreed to eradicate hunger by 2030. The internationally agreed upon definition of food security comes from the UN World Food Summit in 1996: “Food security exists when all people, at all times, have physical and economic access to sufficient, safe and nutritious food that meets their dietary needs and food preferences for an active and healthy life.” The emphasis on “food production” is coming from Argentina, a major agricultural exporter, but likely also from agribusiness traders. Food production and distribution is more closely linked to agricultural business and trade, which is discussed at the World Trade Organization and multilateral trade partnerships. The food production framing serves global agribusiness companies, many of whom are major greenhouse gas emitters, according to a new report released earlier today by Global Justice.

How strong is the commitment to human rights?

Many countries and civil society groups feel it is essential that the agreement include strong references to the protection of human rights. Climate change related disruptions are already impacting human rights—the refugee crisis emerging from Syria is but one example. The UN human rights framework is a valuable realm of international law for assessing the impacts of climate change and an important tool for developing policy and actionable responses. Both Norway and the U.S. have been reluctant to include human rights as an overarching principle in the text. IATP signed a letter from U.S. groups calling on Secretary of State John Kerry to ensure that references to human rights remain strong in the climate text. The letter called on the U.S. to: “Explicitly recognize that human rights obligations apply when taking actions to address the impacts of climate change as well as actions to mitigate those impacts, thus ensuring the protection and promotion of human rights, including the rights of indigenous peoples, gender equality, inter-generational equity, just transition, food security, and ecosystem integrity.”

Who’s contributing money, how much, and where’s it going?

Essential to any global climate deal is money. Climate change is already causing enormous economic costs for the countries of the world. This is only expected to worsen. Additionally, countries need to begin to transition to cleaner energy and transportation systems, more resilient agricultural production and practices to protect forests and other natural landscapes. Discussions about finance quickly get into responsibility—who is responsible for historical emissions, who has benefitted from polluting economies and who should contribute the most to climate finance? In Copenhagen in 2009, countries agreed to a proposal by then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to supply $100 billion annually in public and private climate related finance by 2020. Many developed countries, including the U.S., cite a recent OECD analysis of climate finance that found that countries had already risen to  $62 billion by 2014,  on track to get to that $100 billion. Britain, France, Germany and Japan among others have made additional contributions this week. But the OECD analysis is contentious—largely because, as the OECD admits, there is no internationally agreed upon definition of what climate finance is. The dispute is partially over whether this is really new aid, or is it just re-packaging of existing development aid for education, agriculture and health that countries had already committed to. Civil society groups and the government of India (which issued a scathing critique of the OECD report last week) have criticized some of what counts as finance, things like market-rate loans and export credits. A report by Adaptation Watch earlier this year reached similar conclusions.

Going forward, civil society groups want a Paris agreement to set up a system to define and account for climate finance that is open and transparent. As Timmons Roberts and Romain Weikmans : “developed countries report whatever they want, since no system exists to discern what counts and what doesn’t. Likewise we have no agreement about what types of private finance should be counted, and how much.”

Additionally, there is no clear plan to look beyond 2020 in terms of finance commitments. Developing countries and civil society groups, including IATP, would like to see climate finance emphasize climate adaptation within funds like the Green Climate Fund, the Adaptation Fund and the Least Developed Country Fund—all of which have a broad public mandate. Other important opportunities to generate climate-related finance that are not part of the agreement but supported by civil society groups include a financial transaction tax, and the phasing out of fossil fuel subsidies; these efforts will continue at the national level after the Paris meeting.

There is guarded optimism here in Paris that a deal will be struck, though also a recognition that it will not be strong enough to meet the challenge of climate change. In such a wide-ranging agreement, the details will matter. Strong language that supports food security and human rights are essential to a meaningful agreement. As is a structure to continually ratchet up INDC commitments, as well as openly report on progress of those commitments. Finally, developed countries need to step up to the plate in terms of contributing more public money toward climate adaptation to better reflect their historic responsibility in causing the climate crisis. Participants seem hopeful that a Paris deal will be a first step of many on collective climate action and much-needed international cooperation. How big of a first step remains to be seen.

Posted December 7, 2015 by Juliette Majot    Hannes Lorenzen

Used under creative commons license from Josh Zakary.

On our way back home from the European Rural Parliament, where people from all over the Continent agreed to a Common Manifesto on the future of rural Europe, we were confronted with a very real human experience. Having left Schärding in Austria, where the citizens’ Parliament was held, we shared the crowded train from Passau to Munich with many refugees. We experienced the grace of heartfelt and practical kindnesses - the common humanity - offered to them by fellow European passengers and train personnel on the crowded journey.

Most refugees were totally lost - without European languages, without tickets, and sometimes even without a clear destination. Conductors patiently ascertained what languages they spoke, then helped by finding volunteer translators speaking Arabic and the many other languages needed. Cell phones were passed back and forth between refugees and other passengers, as refugees contacted friends and family. And always, between and among refugees and those reaching out to them, eye contact, smiles, the touch of a hand, the offering of comfort to people suffering months of flight and insecurity.

Schärding lies at the border between Austria and Germany. These days volunteers, rural communities and local authorities do their utmost to take care of the nearly 2000 refugees arriving every single day. Delegates from 40 European countries at the European Rural Parliament had already felt compelled to focus on the European refugee crisis, to considering what small towns and villages around rural Europe need, to help provide new homes and work for our newcomers.

The reality on the Austrian ground and on the train back to Munich underscored the urgency of this work.

And then the bombings in Paris, in Tunis, in Beirut, and the retaliatory bombings on Raqqa and other parts of war torn Syria. These hasty counter-attacks by global military powers with conflicting interests against Daesh is without any common plan for peacemaking in the region. The intensification of internal security and intelligence measures in our own societies comes without a plan for improved integration of marginalized people and disadvantaged communities, while also discarding basic civil liberties. Meanwhile we witness with the rise of the far right, a growing fear and rejection of millions of refugees fleeing from civil war in their home countries.

Misery compounding misery, all the while compelling the desperate migration we saw on the train.

If we imagine safety in mistrusting and locking others out, we will destroy not only our own unity and common values, but our humanity as well. We must reject, outright, nationalism, barely veiled racism and religious discrimination. We must reject the growing selection of supposed best choice refugees from among the masses as is currently done by the UK, Poland, the U.S. among others. Refugees seek refuge from dire situations. That is the common bottom line.

Peace in Europe, the U.S. and the Middle East cannot be preserved  through violence, or without ending the abuse of religious, economic and military power that continues to feed disparities and exclusion. It must emerge from many myriad civil initiatives giving all citizens a chance for a decent life.

The terrorism of 13 November in Paris is one of a long string of violent acts involving the loss of many invaluable lives. The Paris tragedy reminds Europeans that our open societies are vulnerable to global terrorism and to internal disparities and conflicts; it reminds us that we are part of a long history of violent relations with and within the Middle East; and it reaffirms our knowledge that peace in our own countries cannot be preserved without making peace within and beyond our own borders.

The reflex of many in Europe, the U.S. and elsewhere is to lock the door, close the borders, retaliate, declare more war, but on whom? For the millions of refugees fleeing war, closing borders means denying them shelter from civil war and terror. Is this not further destabilizing other neighbor countries and regions as well as our own societies?

As rural actors, we are very concerned about this turmoil. We are starting to realize that the refugee tragedy has roots in the natural resources and climate crisis. Spurred on and intensified by climate change, we’ve seen drought, crop failures, shortage and scarcity of water and land driving people into conflict. This fuels destructive relations between communities and countries in the Middle-East – and us.

How historically tragic that the area now controlled by Daesh in Iraq-Syria is also Upper Mesopotamia, cradle of civilisation itself and birthplace of agriculture 10,000 years ago. This was the Fertile Crescent.

And with what compelling circularity is it that world leaders are meeting in, of all cities, Paris, to try to address the climate crisis?

60 years ago European nations pacified their relations by pooling their natural resources beyond national borders – their coal, steel and farm products - through common policies. And now, after so many walls have come down, we see reappearing new fences and borders.

As European governments close their borders to desperate refugees, Europe - not just the EU – is losing common ground. Nationalism overruns democracy and solidarity. In the U.S. a growing number of state governors and presidential candidates are building their own barricades, calling for the rejection of all those who are themselves victims of a violent spiral that includes American military intervention across the Middle East. President Obama may plead for welcoming refugees, but he cuts a lonely, lame duck figure in a highly politicized and polarized debate.

What can we do as ordinary people about all this? Well, quite a lot. Above all, we should not withdraw in fear and despair. We must have the courage to speak out, to confront our own fears and biases. To overcome the frustrations and despair of people who feel excluded in our societies. To be ready, willing and able to meet and support refugees – to show practical solidarity, as so many are already doing. As we saw on that train from Passau to Munich.

Then, together, we can leave the spiral of violence. Let’s leave the last word to a famous European refugee, who himself grew up in Munich and was welcomed into the U.S. in 1932:

Peace cannot be kept by force; It can only be achieved by understanding. 
(Jewish Refugee Albert Einstein)

Hannes Lorenzen  Agricultural and Rural Convention Europe
Juliette Majot, Executive Director, Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy, US

Posted December 4, 2015 by Ben Lilliston   


Paris – The term “climate smart agriculture” (CSA) is popping up frequently in the official events of the global climate talks here in Paris. But what climate smart agriculture actually means seems to depend on who’s talking. In fact, the term has entered into an Orwellian space of meaning both everything and nothing simultaneously. This vacuum has created room for agribusiness and some governments to use “climate smart agriculture” as a convenient marketing slogan to describe business as usual practices that do little to address the unfolding climate crisis that is already deeply affecting the global food system.

The term “climate smart agriculture” is the product of clever political jockeying of previous climate conferences –first emerging in 2010 after the failed climate negotiations in Copenhagen in 2009. At that time, it was part of an effort pushed by the World Bank and a handful of countries such as the Netherlands and New Zealand to push developing countries to accept agriculture into global carbon markets. Since then, the poor performance of carbon markets (particularly in Europe) as well as the shift in global climate talks toward voluntary pledges to reduce emissions has at least temporarily taken the wind out of the sails for a global carbon market. But that hasn’t slowed the momentum of “climate smart agriculture,” whatever it means.

At a series of side events and announcements this week, CSA was variously described as including: climate-resilient genetically engineered seeds, more precise use of synthetic fertilizers and agroecological practices and organic agriculture. It was described as simply a framework for ideas and information sharing in one context and a bottom-up implementation program in another. The slippery definition of CSA, as well as the formation of the corporate-heavy Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA) last year, has been strongly criticized by civil society groups. In an open letter to GACSA earlier this year, civil society groups criticized the Alliance’s lack of social or environmental safeguards and failure to prioritize farmers’ voices, knowledge and rights.

Without clear definitions, global corporations such as Walmart; Syngenta; and the fertilizer company, Yara, have filled the void, branding themselves as “climate smart.”The World Business Council announced earlier this week a host of agribusiness initiatives branded as “climate smart.” Monsanto, also touting its climate smart agriculture approach, announced this week its new “carbon neutral program.”

The various sessions on climate smart agriculture here in Paris also provided insight into how different countries and regions are using the term. At a GACSA session hosted by the U.S. delegation, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack touted both the agency’s soil health program and innovations in new drought and heat tolerant seeds (genetically engineered), greater efficiency in livestock production (referring to confined animal feeding operations) and precision agriculture (a term used to describe the more efficient use of inputs like fertilizers and pesticides in commodity crop production) as climate smart agriculture.

The Costa Rican Agriculture Minister, Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini, had a different view. He emphasized the word “smart” in CSA—pointing out that this means it is a “knowledge-based” approach to agriculture. He highlighted efforts on agroecology, agroforestry and working within the local ecosystem to help farmers remain profitable while building climate resilience.

There were also sharp differences on how trade intersects with climate smart agriculture. Vilsack made the case, reinforced in a paper released by the agency this week, that increased trade from countries like the U.S. could help countries adapt to disruptions in agricultural production caused by climate change. (A new study by an MIT economist, also released this week, reached the opposite conclusion.) The Costa Rican Agriculture Minister, having been pressured earlier this year by the U.S. Trade Representative to drop his country’s ban on the cultivation of GMOs, stressed that advancing climate smart agriculture will require a re-thinking of trade rules—particularly the sharing of genetic resources. Many countries and the FAO have called for policies that integrate the sharing of genetic resources as an essential part of national climate plans. The Costa Rican minister urged the audience to read the 2013 UN Conference on Trade and Development report, Wake Up Before It’s Too Late, which called for a rethinking of trade rules as they relate to responding to climate change. (IATP contributed a chapter on trade liberalization, volatility and corporate concentration in agricultural markets.)

The absence of a clear definition and growing criticism by civil society of GACSA is starting to have an impact. At an event held about the African Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, participants stressed that the initiative had nothing to do with GACSA. They described that effort as a bottom-up, implementation effort led by Africans. At the packed announcement of the French-led soil initiative we reported on earlier in the week, participants went to lengths to explain that this was not part of GACSA.

The larger concern with GACSA and “climate smart agriculture” is how it might be inserted within various climate policy mechanisms at the UNFCCC, the associated Green Climate Fund, the FAO and the World Bank—and various national and regional carbon markets. The U.S. Agency for International Development is already integrating “climate smart agriculture” within its programs.

Part of the push on “climate smart agriculture” seems to be an effort to drown out the rising support for agroecology coming from both scientists and social movements. Agroecology, with an established scientific grounding and general consensus of practice, also includes social elements and emphasizes the importance of farmers’ knowledge (particularly women) and community level empowerment. How agroecology and CSA might differ came up in multiple panels here in Paris. As a participant in the African discussion explained, “Agroecology is part of CSA, but not all of CSA is part of agroecology.”

One of the strengths of agroecology is that it has many other benefits besides climate resilience, including an emphasis on food sovereignty, food security and nutrition, and improving livelihoods of smaller scale farmers. Participants at an agroecology panel noted the inherent challenges of fitting the multidimensional aspects agroecology within the rigid, siloed UNFCCC framework of mitigation and adaptation. Climate smart agriculture doesn’t share that challenge. Without definition, it seems to fit anywhere. And that is the CSA's biggest asset for agribusiness—its branding opens the door for greenwashing while distracting from the more transformational changes that are needed to cope with climate change. 

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