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Farming Must Wait in Line at Stalled Climate Talks
email this pageprint this pageemail usGerard Wynn - Reuters
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December 05, 2010

Cancun, Mexico - Incentives for climate-friendly farming must join a line behind forests and a stalemate over greenhouse gas emissions targets at U.N. climate talks, say experts halfway through a two-week conference.

It is unsure whether practices which increase farm production - an urgent need - can also cut greenhouse gas emissions.
Agricultural experts say the talks in Mexico's Cancun beach resort can "open the door" to the sector, which emits 15-30 percent of global greenhouse gases, depending on whether or not forest clearances for farmland are included.

The United Nations' food agency and farming research groups say it is urgent to help farmers cut carbon emissions, using practices which, if possible, also increase yields and protect crops from more extreme weather.

A major Russian drought this year was one factor which prompted the Food and Agriculture Organization this week to forecast food prices would remain high.

The Nov. 29-Dec. 10 climate talks in Cancun are stalled on a new deal to cut carbon emissions, after present targets end in 2012 under the Kyoto Protocol.

"There's a whole range of issues to deal with, the Kyoto Protocol and reducing emissions from deforestation, first," said Inger Andersen, vice president of sustainable development at the World Bank, adding that governments should widen carbon markets to embrace the sector.

Lobbyists and researchers want Cancun to sign off a "work program" for agriculture, the first stage in negotiating over a period of several years incentives such as payments for practices that trap the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.


Tilling less and applying manure and crop waste can increase soil carbon, and have the double benefit of raising yields, especially in degraded areas of, for example, sub-Saharan Africa where populations are most dependent on farm incomes.

"I want to see the door opened for agriculture, acceptance of the work program," said Bruce Campbell, head of a new $200 million fund channeled through a consortium of groups called the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, announced last month.

The fund would focus on warning systems to help farmers prepare for the type of the drought that this year slashed Russia's harvest, and to link climate and agricultural research.

Predicting the impact of climate change on farming is made difficult by the detail needed.

"For potatoes you're concerned about the minimum temperature," said Gerald Nelson, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington.

"It has to be below 22 degrees Celsius (72 Fahrenheit) at night for the tuber to set."

Uncertainty over future food demand multiplied the imprecision of climate models, added Nelson.

"It's going to get warmer. Higher temperatures mean more precipitation, what we can't say is where that will come down. For most farmers it will mean figuring out changes in weather patterns."

It is unsure whether practices which increase farm production - an urgent need - can also cut greenhouse gas emissions.

"Farmers in Zimbabwe urgently need more fertilizer, which will emit (the greenhouse gas) nitrous oxide," said Campbell. "The key thing is how much we can bring emissions down. I don't think people want to hear that yet."

(Editing by Mohammad Zargham)

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