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Spring time in Europe for Climate Smart Agriculture
Used under creative commons license from Twitter user @PostLandfill

The hazy term “Climate Smart Agriculture” (CSA) came into sharper focus this month after a series of high-level intergovernmental meetings that prioritized corporate-led solutions. While actual climate negotiators were immersed in talks in Bonn during the first two weeks in June (as part of the lead up to the annual UN climate meeting later this year in Paris), other groupings circled around the term at other key international summits. The most powerful western governments, known as G7 (Canada, France, Germany, Italy, United Kingdom and the United States), had their annual gathering on June 7 and 8 in Schloss Elmau, in Bavaria, Germany. CSA was on the agenda in both places, and it was also an important focus of the 39th session of the FAO held in Rome from June 6 to June 12, 2015.

CSA advocates define food security in the context of water and climate challenges, often equating it with increasing agricultural productivity and resource use efficiency. While increasing productivity of the resources is indeed desirable, unfortunately it is often conflated with increasing private sector investments in land, water and agricultural infrastructure in developing countries, and in the African continent in particular. 

In Bonn, the UN food agencies – International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the World Food Program and the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO)— organized an event with the World Farmers Organization (WFO) to share their experience ”in enhancing adoption of climate smart agriculture.” While WFO has small farmers and large farmers as its members, its advocacy positions on climate change tend to coincide with that of agri-biotech corporations. For example, the WFO, Canadian Federation of Agriculture and CropLife International (on behalf of Farming First) made identical submissions to UNFCCC in 2013, advocating for greater scientific research on agriculture. The lobbying efforts of these groups in the context of Rio+20 have been shown to have both suppressed other civil society voices and influenced the Rio texts on Agriculture.

There are also important leadership connections among the groups. In 2008, the then Director/ Manager of Corporate and Crop Protection Communications of the group, Robynne Anderson, became the founding chair of Farming First, one of the leaders in the WFO in 2008 when it was formed. At the time, she was also the spokesperson for the IFAP. As the founding president of the lobbying firm Emerging Ag Inc.—which hosts International Agri-Food Network (IAFN)—and Director General of IAFN, Anderson also facilitates the Private Sector Mechanism at the UN Committee on Food Security in Rome.

The G7 declaration from Bavaria acknowledges and commits to building on the long-term G7 efforts for food security and nutrition, including the L’Aquila Food Security Initiative (2008), the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition (2012), the Land Partnerships (2013) and the Global Nutrition for Growth (N4G) Compact (2013). These initiatives have evolved over the years from a sharp focus on public-sector commitments to end global hunger in the wake of the 2008 food price crisis to almost exclusive reliance on private sector investment and solutions. Several recent studies and reports point out how the New Alliance for Food Security and Nutrition in particular has pushed changes in policy frameworks, enabling the private sector to acquire land in African countries by displacing communities, and this without making any contribution towards food security. In fact, according to one of these case studies, these investments have diverted land and water resources away from food crops for energy crops; the study has resulted in a Call for Action, “Stop EcoEnergy’s Land Grab in Bagamoyo in Tanzania.”

The G7 declaration builds on the New Alliance proposal in ways that raise further concerns about food sovereignty. It endorses Sustainable Intensification (a term that includes use of GMO crops) and makes a nod to Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). GACSA is a 90 member platform launched in September 2014 to promote Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA does not exclude GMO crops as a solution) despite several concerns raised by civil society from the outset.  While advocates tend to leave the term CSA undefined, IATP has pointed out how, “Climate Smart Agriculture incentivizes destructive industrial agricultural practices by tying it to carbon market offsets based on unreliable and non-permanent emissions reduction protocols.”

Some countries like France, a member of the GACSA, have an ambivalent relationship with it. At the recent third Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture, the French Minister of Agriculture, Food and Forestry, Stéphane Le Foll, announced a public subsidy for an international research project  on restoration of degraded soils and soil carbon sequestration, which they see as a major option for supporting the three pillars of CSA (adaptation, mitigation, food security). However, the French Government spokesperson has indicated that they do not see agriculture as central to UNFCCC negotiations in Paris later this year. They also recognize the civil society concerns as valid, and they point to the need for those concerns to be addressed if GACSA is to be successful.

On the other hand, whether in Bavaria, Bonn or Rome, there seems to have been a concerted effort to promote GACSA. The FAO hosts the GACSA secretariat, a fact that was evidenced by their prominent role in the FAO conference. In Rome the co-chairs of the GACSA were fully engaged during the entire period of the FAO conference; GACSA has identified outreach (mobilization/ consolidating membership) as an important priority program area, with a special focus on an “Aggressive” communication and advocacy plan–communicating CSA and GACSA.

While there is certainly an urgent need to expand the public debate on climate change and agriculture, the kinds of solutions being proposed, and who controls them, are also vitally important. A recent briefing paper by European development network CIDSEshows that the attempts at climate smartness are more about corporate green washing than about building climate resilience or food security. For example, in addition to the ongoing lobbying efforts, the meetings in June were preceded by a gathering of 82 of the world’s leading companies (May 2015) to advance their roles in the ground-breaking Low Carbon Technology Partnerships initiative (LCTPi) with focuses on four areas that are directly relevant for food security:  Advanced Biofuels, Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS), Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and  Forests and Forest Products as Carbon Sinks.  This in turn was preceded by a meeting in early May of the GACSA Investment Action Group, which France plans to join in. The framing note for the meeting stresses the Role of Private Finance Investments in Climate Smart Agriculture.

The developments in June reveal a concerted effort on the part of the business sector, UN agencies and donor governments to work together to promote a corporate-driven global alliance to push investments in agriculture. So why not call it Corporate Smart Agriculture?