Civil Society Snub Zuma’s African Agri-Solution

Zuma giving his COP17 speech

South African President Jacob Zuma’s declaration on “climate smart and carbon markets” as a climate change solution for African agriculture has raised suspicions among roughly 100 civil society organisations at the COP17 conference in Durban.

The host nation has been accused of playing against the rest of Africa, “it pretends to be for Africa but it’s not, instead it is toeing the line of worst polluters,” says Teresa Anderson of the Gaia Foundation at Friday’s press conference.

A letter signed by African and international civil societies sent to African negotiators at the conference, called for them to reject efforts to place agricultural soils within carbon markets. The agricultural work programme “would lead to agricultural soils and agro-ecological practices being turned into commodities to be sold on carbon markets, or used as sinks to enable industrialised countries to continue to avoid reducing emissions,” the letter says.

In a joint statement the Gaia Foundation, African Biodiversity Network (ABN), Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP) and EcoNexus, alleges that president Zuma has declared his intention to have a decision on agriculture, while the World Bank is promoting the so called “Climate Smart Agriculture” and carbon offsets as the future of African agriculture and climate solutions.

The civil society groups raised concerns that this vision for African agriculture will lead to land grabs, farmer poverty and food insecurity, and only worsen global climate change. South Africa has not been different from the previous hosts, they have been “secretly engaging with the US. That is appalling”.

It is suspicious that South Africa is talking agriculture because there have been no discussions on agriculture yet at this conference, Anderson asserts. “An agreement on agriculture at COP 17 would supposedly be as consolation prize to Africa for failure on legally binding targets – but the consolation prize is a poisoned chalice. It will lead to land grabs and deliver African farmers into the hands of fickle carbon markets,” she says.

Simon Mwamba of the East African Small Farmer’s Federation says: “Climate smart agriculture is being presented as sustainable agriculture – but the term is so broad that we fear it is a front for promoting industrial, green revolution agriculture too, which traps farmers into cycles of debt and poverty.”

Anne Maina of the ABN says climate smart agriculture comes packaged with carbon offset. “Soil carbon markets could open the door to offset for GM crops and large-scale biochar land grabs, which would be a disaster to Africa. Africa is already suffering from land grab epidemic – the race to control soils for carbon trading could only make this worse”.

Biochar involves the burning of woody biomass, usually from trees, to make charcoal for burial in the soil. It is claimed, by the proponents of biochar, that this permanently removes carbon from the atmosphere and sequesters it in the soil. It is also promoted as a major “geo-engineering” solution to global climate change, as well as a means of improving soils and addressing poverty.

Maina adds that, “The World Bank and SIDA-supported projects in Kenya are being used to convince African governments that this is a workable solution for agriculture investment. Yet even the project proponents admit that farmers will not benefit from carbon payments; they are likely to earn between $5 and $1 per year.”

Civil societies states that not only will African soil carbon credits generate tiny revenues for farmers, but the soil carbon projects will allow the biggest polluters to continue to pollute. Steve Suppan of IAPT asserts, “African communities, among the most vulnerable to climate change, will suffer from the continued failure of rich countries and companies to finance adaptation projects, particularly for agriculture, the main source of African livelihoods.”

He concludes that, “If that isn’t a curse, I don’t know what is it.”