Agriculture: Nothing to expect from Copenhagen

December 3, 2009

fm1During 7 to 18 December, 2009, the world leaders from 192 countries will meet in Copenhagen, Denmark, to negotiate an agreement at the COP 15 of the UNFCCC to keep global temperatures below catastrophic levels. The Conference of the Parties (COP) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) was adopted in 1992 as the basis for a ‘global’ response to the problem. The COP 15 conference claims that the ultimate objective of the Convention is to stabilise greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere at a level that will prevent disastrous human interference with the climate system.

Various studies have already shown that a rise of 2 degrees Celsius in global temperatures would probably destroy 30 percent to 40 percent of all known species, generate bigger, fiercer and more frequent heat waves and droughts, more intense weather events like floods and cyclones, and would raise the sea level by at least a meter, displacing millions. Needless to mention, such studies have always been bad news for the peoples of Bangladesh. It is now taking much worse turn with the politics associated with games of powerful countries and the ‘civilization’ built on fossil fuel and non-renewable energy. The future of this ‘civilisation’ is now tied with mighty energy companies, who must gain command over the global energy resources, a situation that is structurally determined by the very idea and conception of ‘civilization’, ‘growth’ and ‘development’. Such ideas and the ‘world’ proper to these notions have been realized and could be maintained only through religious belief in technology, war industry and massive violence. This is the reason why climate change negotiation is fundamentally premised on quick technological fixing of the problem, creating level playing field for powerful global actors for trade in technologies in the name of ‘mitigation’ and impose technological ‘adaptation’ on weak countries totally undermining the resilience and capacity of the vulnerable communities to deal with climatic variability. In their efforts to ‘help’ vulnerable countries for climatic disasters, ‘global experts’ are replacing local knowledge and local institutions. Multilateral and bilateral donors are busy creating new investment sector for big investment so that ‘credit’ is provided to create ‘effective demand’ for technologies to solve problems created by green house gases (GHG), so that transnational companies find a new ‘sector’ to invest for profit. This is very obvious if we follow the debates and positions of various countries in negotiations. Climate change negotiation are tied to the trade negotiations, creating level playing field in technological competitiveness in the global market and for least developed countries it is ending up how the weak states can receive funds to purchase experts and technologies from rich countries opening a new window for ‘aid’.

The ‘facts’ on climate change and the urgent necessity of taking positive steps are clouded by the new games in the global arena in association with few so called climate change ‘NGOs’. Now few global actors decide how to interpret climate crisis to fit into the politics of their game. In other words, they decide how to ‘shock’ the world to ensure the continuity of the present unsustainable global system and reversely how to globalize the local struggle of the people against such games in order to tame and dismantle the peoples’ resistance against the crime, being committed against the most vulnerable and the most desperate people; no matter where people are geographically located in search of a livelihood. The climate change is not a North-South or West-East issue – it is the issue between the peoples of the world against few powerful global actors organized as state, multinational corporations and private societies.

In a new projection by the US-based Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), published in the American Meteorological Society’s Journal of Climate (2 June, 2009), the mean global temperature could increase by as much as 5.2 degrees Celsius this century if “rapid and massive action” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions is not taken. Previous studies have indicated an increase of 2.4 degrees Celsius. A 90 percent chance of the temperature increasing by 3.5 degrees to 7.4 degrees Celsius during the next 100 years, is obviously shocking news for Bangladesh. Even before this disaster happens, at present the problem is to deal with the global actors who decide about the fate of the planet. The peoples of Bangladesh will have to face both with the facts and the politics of climate change.

There are many issues that must be taken up by the people’s movement around the globe keeping the Copenhagen theatre in mind. In our first take on the conference, we may discuss agriculture. We need to critically discuss the way global actors talk about ‘mitigation’, ‘adaptation’ and similar terms in order to understand various goals, objectives and projects consistent with the politics of power.

Participating countries at the UNFCCC are now working on a draft text that is broken down into sections, which are being negotiated by sub-groups on the topics signaled within the Bali Action Plan. Bali event was depressing, therefore, Bangladesh can hardly anticipate any positive outcome from Copenhagen. However, Bali decision initiated new negotiations and outlined certain areas that the new agreement would include. This is the background of the cooperative sectoral approaches sub-group text, that we are concerned here. The text is currently riddled with brackets and alternative paragraphs and contains a specific section on the agricultural sector in the context of mitigating the adverse effects of climate change phrased by “cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions.” Since agriculture has received particular attention in these negotiations some basic information is necessary before we can read the text critically before the Copenhagen event. Even, before we start reading such text, we need to ask, what exactly ‘agriculture’ is. What should we look into the text?

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Agriculture by definition can not be any other art except the ‘art of inclusion” of those species, varieties and knowledge practices in the practical sense that if any species, varieties and knowledge practices are ‘excluded’ temporarily to produce food now and create a food system and food culture using the ‘space’ available now in the nature, could also be conserved, regenerated and maintained for the future use. Agriculture, therefore, is an art of creating space within space. Since we always confuse between ‘space’ and ‘place’ the debate on the relation between population and land resurfaces with questions like how certain amount of land could sustain so many people. Such questions can arise only in a perverse consumer society where peoples are seen only as ‘consumers’, as if they are created only with a hole in their face to be fed without any ability to reorder or reorganize the ‘space’ they inhabit assigning new ‘place’ for different entities to produce their needs using themselves as means of production. Communities also redirect their desire and need as a life affirming livelihood strategy that appears to others as distinct ‘culture’, ‘rituals’ ‘moral values’ etc. Food, ecology and culture stands on the same plain, and a truth that is lost in discussion of agriculture and food production as stated in the SANFEC South Asian Statement of Concern on Food, Ecology and Culture, in 1996. 1

In the art of food production and life affirming livelihood strategies, peoples and their knowledge are constantly evolving. There is nothing called ‘advanced’ formal science’ or informal ‘indigenous knowledge’ – a distinction made to ensure the authority and power of corporate science and not to assess the performance of different knowledge practices. Farmer’s science is ‘science’ and follows all formal procedures to produce anticipated results, just like laboratory science is ‘science’ despite the fact that Thomas Kuhn reminded us that science is equally informal and intuitive just like working in a farmers’ field. In this dichotomy of formal and informal knowledge, farmers stand at the receiving end of technology as a ‘commodity’ bearing profit for the corporations.

Before we critically read the UNFCCC document on Agriculture from peoples’ perspective in contrast to corporate propaganda, we must keep sharp distinction between agriculture and industrial food production. They are completely opposite ideas. Agriculture is not industry that receives ‘inputs’ to produce ‘outputs’ for the market to make profit and ‘wastes’ to dump on the environment without internalizing the cost of environmental and ecological damages. Corporate policy paradigm is incapable to asses the performance of different agricultural systems, including their own ‘food factories’. The dominance of corporate paradigm forces us to engage with the global policy debates and we are often forced to take tactical position, rather than spelling the primal principle or the strategic stand: life is threatened not now or not today by climate change but by the very ideas of progress, development, growth, science, technology and lifestyle. While we keep this primal principle in mind, we also need to prepare for the Copenhagen conference in order to make us visible and heard on behalf of the peoples of the world demanding support for life affirming activities such as agriculture instead of industrial food production.

By the model of agriculture as capitalist factory, yield is calculated by inputs consumed by the factory as labour, raw materials and machines to make profit in the market; therefore, except consumers with money capable to purchase food from the market; rest of the global population is disposable. They are not ‘workers’ and do not contribute to make profit or unable to purchase the food as commodity from the capitalist market. In the neo-liberal economy it is more so since the role of the state in ensuring distribution of food outside the market mechanism is seen as a kind of ‘sin’. The idea is propagated that if fossil-fuel based capitalist factories of industrial food production, touted as ‘agriculture’, can not sustain people who are not ‘consumers’ or ‘workers’ we need to terminate the disposable population. Fascinating to see that population control is resurfacing with the so called mitigation strategies in the coming conference. Not a surprise at all.

Life affirming agricultural activities do not necessarily need the mediation of money, capital or state to ensure food ‘security’ at the household or at the community level, particularly in countries like Bangladesh endowed with profound knowledge of agriculture. Food consumption at the household and the community level in rural areas is dependent on agriculture. It is not always mediated through the market but the ability of the biodiverse-households to directly consume what they could generate in terms of systemic yield, not in terms of any particular commercial crops or even ‘staples’. In contrast to industry, agriculture is by definition biodiverse, organic and is based on plural knowledge practices associated with various intuitive insights, rituals, cultures and practices creating diverse conditions and opportunities for innovations and artistic explorations, i.e. science and technological practices; each and every peasant household is literally a scientific laboratory; in the sense science claims procedural proof and demonstration of truth by showing the same results if same methods, procedures or rules are followed.

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Copenhagen conference is seen as working towards a new agreement that will convince powerful actors the urgent need to enhance the implementation of United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). The Convention, together with its Kyoto Protocol, includes commitments that addresses climate mitigation and adaptation globally, but has to take place since implementation has historically been weak. From Bangladesh perspective perhaps it is a public relations effort with the global actors to convince the people that they are indeed serious about the rapid destruction of the world we all live.

The new agreement intends to include more meaningfully the US – which is a signatory to the UNFCCC and the Kyoto Protocol but notoriously succeeded in never ratifying the later. Developing countries also have no fixed mitigation commitments under the Convention or its Protocol. Official policy of the US expressed by George Bush that the lifestyle of US citizens is not negotiable, has hardly been changed even under Obama administration. The idea of level playing field for trade is also a stumbling block since reducing the emission of green house gases is contradictory with the idea of trade, growth and industrial development. The ecstasy of the Earth Summit of 1992 is by now over, and the peoples are also exhausted to see that hardly anything has been achieved in concrete terms except rhetoric or at best the recognition that environment, ecology, biodiversity and lifestyle are indeed critical areas that must be addressed today or tomorrow before it is too late. Nevertheless, the damage such as ‘global’ rhetoric and the behind the scene strategy cause is dismantling local efforts and resistance against destructive development and technological policies. In the name of solving the problems by ‘experts’ and global institutions, resistance and initiative of the local people is undermined and killed. This is very much true for the peoples of Bangladesh who had to live with flood, river erosion, droughts and climatic variability all year round and traditionally have been brilliant in ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’ are now observing experts and specialised NGOs on climate change to teach them how to survive in flood, drought, oceanic surges and river erosions. Farmers saw in a span of few years how their seed systems have been destroyed in the name of the need for ‘higher productivity’ with high yielding and hybrid varieties of rice as well as genetically modified varieties of rice, vegetables and fish. With the excuse of climate change, the transnational companies are desperately offering farming communities of Bangladesh genetically modified salt resistant, drought resistance or flood resistance varieties of rice and vegetables, but of course through deceptive and coercive micro-credit programmes. The rhetoric of ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’ has literally been translated in Bangladesh as creating market for GMOs forcibly and allowing international corporations and research organisations to use Bangladesh as a trial field and experimental ground for their products that could be potentially hazardous for biological life cycles and may cause irreversible biological pollution. It is obvious that the farming communities, who have developed nearly 15,000 varieties of rice, till now have local varieties to deal with flood, drought, salinity and various climatic problems including various forms of natural disasters. In the name of climate change these varieties are disappearing soon only to reappear as the proprietary technology of some companies with minor changes at the genetic level.

These are not the areas where agriculture in the Copenhagen will receive attention but on the official rhetoric known by now as “cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions”. Agriculture here appears only as a sector and the issue of ‘food security’ has not been explicitly mentioned in the text. The present text provides two options. In the first option, it instructs Parties to make efforts to enhance mitigation in the agriculture sector. In the second option, it instructs Parties to promote and cooperate in the research, development, application, and diffusion of technologies, practices and processes, as a means to enhance sector-specific mitigation.

Some people read the first option as containing an important reference to the efficiency and productivity of agricultural production systems. They read the text as an entry point to negotiate with the powerful actors to address global ‘food security’ over the long term in a sustainable manner. However, the text does not provide any hint to structural, technological or economic issues that are at the heart of the problem, including the increasing control of food chains by few powerful corporations. It also contains a number of references – there are some bracketed considerations that some people assume could be important for developing countries, such as the need not to harm the interests of small and marginal farmers; the need to take into account traditional knowledge and processes; the need to acknowledge linkages between mitigation and adaptation; the need for agricultural production systems to be improved in a sustainable manner; and the need to promote and cooperate on technologies, practices, processes and methodologies. However, all these elements are bracketed, and one can hardly expect any ground breaking compromise even on such very liberal propositions.

But in the second option, a cooperative approach at the heart of mitigation strategies is placed in a way that measures taken should not result in barriers to, or distortion of, the international agricultural trading system. It also calls on the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) to develop a mitigation work programme, and invites Parties to submit their views on this.

According to Alexander Mueller, Assistant Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO)Agriculture is a sector where mitigation action has strong potential co-benefits for sustainable development (food security, poverty reduction among the 70% of the poor living in rural areas, environmental services) and climate change adaptation (improving agro-ecosystem resilience). Most of the mitigation potential from agriculture could be achieved through soil carbon sequestration (89%) and roughly 70% could be realized in developing countries. In addition, there is also potential to decrease emissions of other non-carbon greenhouse gases (N2O and CH4 ) through more efficient use of fertilizers and improved rice and livestock systems. By this time, it is evident that climate change has an adverse affect on agricultural productivity and on the marginal and poor farmers. Crop productivity is declining, especially in the seasonally dry and tropical regions due to drought, change in seasonal rain and by changes in winter season.

However, the arguments are crooked and unfair. It is important to keep a watch on how the paradigm of disaster caused by industrial civilization is now being shifted to the agrarian communities. The fact that is now often highlighted is that agriculture contributes to GHG emissions. Industrial countries in their research passionately point to the fact that agriculture also releases a significant amount of carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide into the atmosphere, amounting to around 10-12 percent of global anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions annually. If indirect contributions (e.g. land conversion, fertilizer production and distribution and farm operations) are factored in, the contribution of agriculture could be as high as 17-32 percent of global anthropogenic emissions. The implicit logic is to establish that we, the developed countries, are not the only culprits in making a hole in the sky; it is you, the farmers around the world are also responsible. In this trick what remains unsung is the massive contribution of industrial food production to GHG emissions and not the biodiversity based agriculture, such as Nayakrishi Andolon of Bangladesh. In contrast the strategy in biodiversity-based agriculture is also to produce greens as car sink.

As we mentioned earlier, facts and politics are not the same issue. The ‘fact’ that agriculture also emits green house gas is not the issue to argue, bringing the fact the forefront is mainly to push the burden of mitigation on the farming communities around the world. Interestingly not much to restructure industrial food production into agriculture but to do the opposite, such as we saw during the military regime with civilian façade of Caretaker government in recent times (2007-2008) in Bangladesh. We saw how the Army chief himself was keenly interested to transform our rice fields into hybrid rice production and advised us to eat ‘potatoes’ instead of rice.

While industrial civilization can not be structurally ‘readjusted’ to mitigate GHG hazards and when United States rather insists that the life style in highly industrialized societies is not negotiable, poor farming communities must ‘adopt’ technologies to solve the global problem which is hardly a fault of their own or the livelihood strategies for sheer survival. It is rather critical that the agrarian lifestyles are re-investigated to understand how to reconstruct the future of the world. The stance of non-negotiation over lifestyle still stands in global negotiations despite the fact that the International Assessment on Agricultural Knowledge, Science and Technology for Development (IAASTD), which is the most comprehensive assessment of agriculture to date2 said the future of agriculture lies in biodiverse, agroecologically based farming (including organic agriculture) that can meet social, economic and environmental goals. Bangladesh is rich in this area and there is strong movement of farming communities known as Nayakrishi Andolon – an innovative biodiversity-based ecological agriculture that has proved how agricultural productivity can be enhanced by integrating the advances in biological sciences with the historically rich knowledge practices of the farmers of this delta.

According to IAASTD reliance on resource-extractive industrial agriculture is unsustainable, particularly in the face of worsening climate, energy and water crises. Short-term technical fixes, including genetically engineered crops, cannot adequately address the complex challenges facing agriculture, and often exacerbate social and environmental harms. Nayakrishi farming communities maintains nearly 2,500 varieties of rice and there are many varieties that they use to meet the challenge of climatic variability such as oceanic surge, flood, drought, disruption in hydrological cycles and other man-made disasters. IAASTD adds that achieving food security and sustainable livelihoods requires ensuring access to and control of resources by small-scale farmers, especially women. Needless to mention, indigenous knowledge and community-based innovations are an invaluable part of the solution.

Why it is so? Nayakrishi type agrarian knowledge increases resilience within the agroecosystem; its biodiverse agro-ecology increases the ability to continue functioning when faced with unexpected events of climate change. Resiliency to climate disasters is closely linked to farm biodiversity; practices that enhance biodiversity allow farms to mimic natural ecological processes, enabling them to better respond to change and reduce risk. Scope to build up this resilience is much more easier because of the profound contribution of biological sciences both at macro and molecular level. One can be physicist to make our life easier with innovations that are now part of our life, or the same physical science can be used to produce nuclear bombs or weapon of mass destruction. The promise of the biological science is enormous in taking up the challenge of climate change if we strictly adhere to the principles of ecosystemic approach to agriculture to promote bio-diverse production system. Thus, farmers who increase intra-specific diversity suffer less damage compared to conventional farmers planting monocultures. Moreover, the use of intra-specific diversity (different cultivars of the same crop) is insurance against future environmental change.

Biodiversity based ecological agriculture preserves soil fertility and maintain or increase organic matter and therefore is capable to reduce the negative effects of drought while increasing productivity. Water holding capacity of soil is enhanced since maintenance of the top soil become the priority instead of destroying the soil to cultivate HYV varieties with water pumps extracting ground water for irrigation. By Nayakrishi type agricultural practice builds organic matter, helping farmers withstand drought. In addition, water-harvesting practices allow farmers to rely on stored water during droughts. Crop residue retention, mulching, and agro-forestry conserve soil moisture and protect crops against microclimate extremes. Conversely, organic matter also enhances water capture in soils, significantly reducing the risk of floods. In short what IAASTD is arguing has been proved over and over again in biodiversity-based ecological agricultural practices. If policy makers are indeed serious in ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’ to face the challenges of climate change in their sectoral approach to agriculture, biodiversity-based ecological agriculture must receive appropriate attention and resources.

Since the opening days of the UN Framework on Climate Change (UNFCC) meeting in Accra, the discussion that took place last year (2008) during 21-22 August at a workshop as part of 3rd session of the Ad Hoc Working Group on Long-term Cooperative Action (AWG-LCA) significant differences emerged on how one is to interpret “sectoral approaches. Luiz Machado of Brazil, Chair of the AWG-LCA, opened the meeting pointing at Article 4.1(c) that states, “all Parties, taking into account their common but differentiated responsibilities and their specific national and regional development priorities, objectives and circumstances, shall:

“Promote and cooperate in the development, application and diffusion, including transfer, of technologies, practices and processes that control, reduce or prevent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases not controlled by the Montreal Protocol in all relevant sectors, including the energy, transport, industry, agriculture, forestry and waste management sectors.”

He also informed that some discussions of sectoral approaches have already taken place at the Bangkok and Bonn meetings of the UNFCCC, and that various Parties have emphasized that ‘sectoral approaches” should not replace ‘national commitments” to reduce GHG emission. However, the issue remains to be negotiated is how this is complemented with efforts to ‘transfer technology”. This is where the crucial issue lies that will come up in the coming Copenhagen theatre.

Position of the European Union can be clearly read from the arguments put forward in the Accra workshop. They would like to use the term ‘sectoral approach’ to include ‘technology and policy co-operation’, and similar approaches that is linked with carbon market. According to the EU, one major type of sectoral approaches includes technology and policy cooperation, and other such approaches not linked directly with the carbon market. The target is national policies and measures for emission reduction and therefore ‘technology agreements’. For European Union, and equally for all industrial countries this interpretation of ‘sectoral approach’ offers the advantage of targeting specific barriers, enhancing private investment, and supporting technology diffusion, deployment and transfer in various sectors. From such workshops, policy papers and documents from various conferences, one can easily foresee that the Copenhagen will become a negotiating table for powerful actors to create a new sector for investment and profit in the climatic disaster, they have essentially created making all life forms in the planet vulnerable and now using the ‘shocking facts’ to further enhance concentration and accumulation of capital at a time when global economy is showing symptoms of increasing tendencies of limited scopes for investment and profit.

On behalf of LDCs, position of Bangladesh remained critical of ‘sectoral approach’. Diplomatically Bangladesh can not undermine the negotiation as a means of powerful countries to sell their technologies and experts. Systematic campaigns against Bangladesh as a ‘failed state’ and the ‘haven of Islamic militants’ become more obvious in such negotiating arena where the concern of the country is bullied down even when the fundamental questions are asked such as why we need the ‘sectoral approach’ and what exactly this approach would like to address? Needless to mention, that if total emissions are critical to addressing global warming, then sectoral approaches are not a substitute for national emissions targets. So called ‘sectoral approaches’ that cut across different nations are also problematic since national contexts are different and their relation within the international division of labour constantly undermines their struggle to survive economically is the unequal and unbalanced global scenario. It is more so since in most of the countries like Bangladesh efforts to mitigate within the framework of UNFCCC so far, implies reliance or dependence on investment and proprietary technologies of powerful countries and remaining at the end of ‘consumption” of these technologies. .

However, Bangladesh echoes what the powerful countries would like to hear. Sweet words such as ‘sectoral approaches” can, despite the concerns expressed explicitly, can contribute to technology development and transfer. Like industrialized countries, Bangladesh also argues that such approach can help to develop tools, methodologies and technologies to identify emission reductions that can be realized cost effectively; barriers in specific national sectors can be identified. However, sectors that are global and all countries have a role – such as marine and aviation, should also be addressed immediately.

So at the end of the day, Bangladesh ends by begging sector specific technologies and the so called ‘best practices’ taught by transnational corporations to make them available to LDCs on a priority basis. The same rhetoric is used only with change in syntax, verbs and nouns asking to develop mechanisms for technology transfer without challenging the paradigm of intellectual property rights as a barrier to development and progress for LDCs. Begging for technology transfer, where intellectual property rights are involved, becomes a farce. More so, when the position of Bangladesh ultimately is to deny and ignore the resilience, capacity and knowledge of its peoples to face the challenges of natural and anthropogenic disasters, it has no meaning.

In summary two issues prevailing in the discussion, (a) so called ‘sectoral approach” should not replace national overall targets (for Annex I countries) and (b) it should not be a barrier to free trade – it should not become an alibi for trade restrictions. However, sectors such as coal-fired power generation, iron and steel, cement and road transport, the emissions or energy per unit of production could be evaluated, and compared between countries. A method should be in place to measure the mitigation actions taken by different countries.

True that developing countries, including Philippines for the G77, India, China, Brazil, Bangladesh (for LDCs), Grenada (for small island states) and Saudi Arabia were critical of ‘sectoral approach’. They were concerned that the approach to set sectoral standards or benchmarks could be used unfairly against developing countries. The “sectoral efforts” to combat climate change at the national level should not be confused with international “sectoral agreements” involving targets, standards and comparisons between countries. The position that now stands is “cooperative sectoral approaches and sector-specific actions, in order to enhance implementation of Article 4, paragraph 1(c), of the Convention” and on “the effectiveness of mechanisms and tools for technology cooperation in specific sectors”.

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At least for the time being, until conditions are created for positive outcomes in global negotiation, the priority of Bangladesh should focus on national capacity building without begging from countries who are culprits of making the hole in the sky by emitting GHGs. Peoples of developed countries are not the ‘culprits’; they are equally victims of the paradigm of development, growth and technology. Peoples of Bangladesh must develop alliances at the peoples level by all means to face the global challenge. Third worldism is an old game and ultimately provides an ideology for the elite of our countries to become more intelligent, efficient and parasitic beggars reinforcing the global tendencies to destroy our own capacity and resilience against the culture of consumption, destruction and profiteering. What kind of paradigm could guide us to develop our own strategies to combat climate change?

As we mentioned earlier, Nayakrishi Andolon does not make artificial distinction between ‘indigenous and traditional knowledge’ and the so called ‘formal’ knowledge or ‘science & technology’. Either knowledge practice is ‘science and technology’ in the true sense of the knowledge and wisdom to solve real problem on earth or they are simply corporate propaganda and lies in the name of ‘science and technology’. There is no reason to un-necesessarily romanticize ‘traditional’ life styles. The issue is much simpler: do we stand for life affirming activities or do we contribute to the destruction of life, diversity and the joy in living. as we do now. In this sense traditional knowledge practices are immensely valuable and must be the key source of information on adaptive capacity, as these knowledge practices are centered on the selective, experimental and resilient capabilities of farmers. There is no one type of knowledge practice when we say indigenous knowledge. It is diverse and farmers cope with climate change, in different ways. Strategies are numerous and farmers are always inventing while farming in the field. Crop failure are managed through a mix of increased use of local varieties depending on the nature of the problem, water-harvesting, extensive planting, mixed cropping, agroforestry, and intelligently integrating non-crop species and varieties including management of uncultivated space. In Nayakrishi, notion of ‘pest’ or ‘weed’ is literally absent, since the challenge is to transform the ‘pest’ into biological resources and ‘weeds’ into uncultivated food, medicine, fibers, or biomass for green manure. Traditional knowledge, coupled with the right investments in plant breeding, could yield new varieties with climate adaptation potential.

Farmers are also breeders and they constantly ‘select’ the varieties they need for their system to make it resilient. Biodiversity-based ecological approach to agriculture is centered around the real people and the real farming communities and not on plants, animals, fish or any other species or varieties as if they exist only as ‘raw’ materials for food factory without any organic and integral connection or relation with the community.

Scientists are now convinced that biodiverse ecological agriculture considerably enhance the sequestration of carbon dioxide through the use of techniques that build up soil organic matter, as well as diminish nitrous oxide emissions by two-thirds due to no external mineral nitrogen input and more efficient nitrogen use. Organic systems have been found to sequester more carbon dioxide than conventional farms, while techniques that reduce soil erosion convert carbon losses into gains. Nayakrishi type agriculture is also self-sufficient in nitrogen due to recycling of manures from livestock and crop residues via composting, as well as planting of leguminous crops.

In Bangladesh, farmers have demonstrated their resilience during the Cyclone SIDR – a major natural disaster in 2007, by cultivating local variety crops as opposed to HYV and Hybrid, facing the challenges of late monsoon during 2009 and planting late varieties of local variety Aman. Dr Ahsan Uddin of Campaign for Sustainable and Rural Livelihood (CSRL) of Oxfam-GB in a keynote paper at a discussion held on 23 November, 2009 emphasised cultivation of HYV varieties, including BRRI 40, 41, BRRI 47, BRRI 33 and Sharna Sub-1, in the country accordingly as those are salinity-, drought-and flood-tolerant varieties and successful in monga-hit area. He suggested BRRI 33 for monga-hit area while BRRI 40 and 41 are for drought-prone area and BRRI 47 for area with salinity (The Daily Star, 24 November, 2009). This is an example how agricultural experts in Bangladesh promote varieties developed by scientists in the so called ‘formal’ systems ignoring the knowledge and resilience of the farming communities. Scientists in National Agricultural Systems now work closely with agro-business corporations. Climate Change is used as an excuse to promote genetically engineered stress resistant varieties, which are potentially harmful for the agriculture and particularly for the farmers.

In 2009, the monsoon was delayed missing its early June deadline. A senior agriculture official told Reuters (25 June, 2009) “Lack of rain and high temperatures with little moisture in the air signal the monsoon is being delayed this year, and may lead to a poor yield of rice, the country’s main staple, in the new fiscal year. “During monsoon Aman rice is planted which accounts for nearly a third of Bangladesh’s annual rice output. The other main rice variety is Boro, which largely depends on irrigation. The monsoon lasts in Bangladesh until the end of September, but sees heavy showers in its initial month (June) when average rainfall is nearly 460 millimeters. But this year (2009) the rain was delayed by three weeks. According to the Bangladesh Meteorological Department the total rainfall of June, 2009 was less than half the average. However, there was belated but ample rains in July-August helped recover the losses. Projection of the poor yield from aman season implicitly contributes to a policy that favours import of rice and promotion of ‘hybrid’ varieties in the boro season. Under these circumstances, efforts were directed towards commercialization of seed sector against the farmer’s seed system more towards promoting corporate seeds and not directed towards promoting local varieties and towards preserving genetic diversity that have developed over thousands of years in diverse eco-systems.

Examples show that farmers applied their own knowledge to face the effects of Climate Change, or change in weather conditions in the Aman season which is their major rice crop. In Nayakrishi areas such as Tangail and Sirajganj, farmers were worried about delayed rain. The seedbeds dried out and could not be transplanted, specially those of HYV varieties. But then they relied on local varieties both broadcast and transplanted such as Horinga digha, Lakhmidigha, Chamara Digha, Lal Dhepa, Bhawail digha, Shada Dhepa, Patishail, Patjag, Bokjhol, Bhasha manik, Dudh kolom, Tulshi mala and others. Most of them performed very well about 3.5 to 4 tons per hectare. Performance of local varieties depending more on water such as Horinga digha & Lakhmi digha did not perform at the same level compared to the high yielding local varieties. In those cases yield was about 2 to 3 tons (compared to its normal productivity of 3.5 to 4 tons) but there were no crop loss. But the HYV variety faced a crop loss. This is the key point in understanding the so called ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’ demonstrated by the farming communities.

On the other hand, HYV varieties such as BR 11 and BR 39 could not perform and in many cases, the plants dried up. The local varieties performed very well in the low lying areas. The Financial Express projection on 30 October, 2009 showed that “in all likelihood the country is headed to be blessed by a bumper harvest of aman paddy, barring any unforeseen calamity. The projected output of aman rice in the current season is 140 million tons which is higher than the projected output of such rice in the previous season”. In the drought prone areas in Pabna and Chapainabganj, farmers planted oil crop sesame in the dried Aman fields and recovered losses from Aman seedling losses, and planted rice when there was rain. The farmers planted crops not only as human food crops but also as fodder for livestock. But they did not wait for some experts who hardly knows anything about the history of Bangladesh agriculture, hardly any expertise in biodiversity-based production systems or at least knowledge of the farming practices and the resilience of the farmers to advise them on ‘mitigation’ and ‘adaptation’. The training in industrial food production is of little value in mitigation and adaptation in countries like Bangladesh.

Copenhagen may end up being marketing and investment strategies for green technologies. The UN says the world needs an investment of US $ 200 billion to fight climate change The present regime in Bangladesh is promise bound to take a leap to ‘Digital Bangladesh” and committed to ‘green’ Bangladesh with technologies from ‘second green revolution’ i.e., biotechnology and genetic engineering. This will not help the farming communities or the people of Bangladesh, but certainly help the corporations. Before taking a leap to hi-tech in agriculture, it must be realized that Green Revolution is mostly responsible for making climate crisis more disastrous.

  • 1. SANFEC is a South Asia regional network of organizations working with biodiversity-based ecological agriculture. It was formed in 1996 before the World Food Summit, held in Rome Italy.
  • 2. The IAASTD was a multi-stakeholder assessment involving more than 400 experts over a period of four years, and was co-sponsored by the World Bank, FAO, UNEP, UNDP, WHO, UNESCO and GEF.
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    14 Responses to “ Agriculture: Nothing to expect from Copenhagen ”

    1. Hilary Clinton Business on January 25, 2010 at 9:01 am

      Saw your Blog bookmarked on Reddit. I love your site and marketing strategy.

    2. Abdullah Dewan on December 15, 2009 at 3:14 am

      Farhad Mazhar wrote a 6,337 words article on climate change –presenting everything through his narrow and negative perspectives. He does not see anything positive about multinational corporations. He thinks COP15 is staged for marketing carbon reducing technology and high tech products –What a skeptic and what a waste of time and space –6,337 words article achieving what? He wants to solve world’s food production by using organic fertilizers.

      I finished reading the entire piece in 10 minutes skipping paragraph after paragraph as fast as I could skim–who wants to read this self-imposing and variously conflicting ideas.

      He could easily divide the issues in 6 separate pieces –articulating each issue while avoiding his narcissistic views.

    3. Faisal on December 8, 2009 at 1:28 pm

      Thanks Mr. Mazhar for your worthy, timed, and public aware writing. However, it would be nice if the article would be more terse and concise and alternatively, it could be published in several articles. Yet, please continue this effort.

    4. Krisibid S M Momin on December 8, 2009 at 11:31 am

      Dear Mr. Farhad Mazhar,

      Thanks for your long article.
      Would you please write some article on`GMO’?

      Regards,
      Momin

    5. Zahin on December 7, 2009 at 1:39 pm

      Excellent write up. Its a wake up call for all of us. Wish the big ears could hear it. Thank you Mr. Mazhar.

    6. Mustaq Khan (Economics) on December 7, 2009 at 12:52 pm

      I urge all to read the last para conclusion part again & as follows:

      “”Copenhagen may end up being marketing and investment strategies for green technologies. The UN says the world needs an investment of US $ 200 billion to fight climate change The present regime ……….., but certainly help the corporations. Before taking a leap to hi-tech in agriculture, it must be realized that Green Revolution is mostly responsible for making climate crisis more disastrous.”"

      I agree on most counts and wish to congratulate Mr Mazhar for such in-depth views. I wish also to bring to the notice of the readers that Chevron signs $90 billions deal with Japan selling clean energy Gas to Japan from Australia. This has happened already.

      Do we not see that all our acts… big ones are driven by monetary interest. The solution the Copenhagen summit is going to agree upon is only to fulfill the greed of the conglomerates those driving this propaganda.

      I wish to urge for humanity’s sake once; let us all join hands for the sake of billions suffering Humans on this planet earth,(living below subsistence level) as we witness daily.

      The solution however could be very simple & if implemented on an individual level:

      We need to ADOPT:
      HONEST DISPOSITION
      SIMPLE & CLEAN LIVING
      AUSTERITY IN EVERY ASPECT OF OUR DAILY LIVING
      NO WASTAGE

      None of the above require Billions in investment but the result is guaranteed if we only wish to test.

      Mustaq- Sydney, Australia

    7. Faham Abdus Salam on December 7, 2009 at 8:41 am

      Dear Mr. Mazhar

      The fundamental problem with climate change science is the perception that man-made carbon di-oxide is responsible for it. There is NO SCIENTIFICALLY CONCLUSIVE proof that man-made CO2 is causing climate change. Just to give you an example-The hottest year in the recent past was 1998 and global temperature has plateaued since. But CO2 emission has not reduced since. We have to understand that climate change is a billion dollar industry based on mumbo-jumbo science. It is the politicians and economists who have almost zero knowledge about science, determines the discipline

      We third world countries will be far worse-off if we accept this climate-change propaganda. With increased population and energy demand we will be left with no other reasonable option other than being completely energy-dependent on super-powers. You can’t burn coal, neither can you make big dams for proper environmental reasons. So either you buy electricity from us or buy the closely monitored nuclear technology at unbelievably inflated price.

    8. Mizanur Rahman Apel on December 5, 2009 at 12:49 pm

      I would like thank Mr. Farhad Mazhar for this important write up at an appropriate time. Everybody is busy with so-called new issue but nobody is busy for farmers-seed issue.

      Thanks again.

      Regards

      Mizanur Rahman Apel

    9. Ahamuduzzaman on December 4, 2009 at 8:11 pm

      Excellent… I do believe that Mr. Mazhar and his campaign for “seed war” will get approval from the higher decision makers… We all r surprised to see the wastage of Govt. fund… The Govt. highups r not missing any tours… Who runs the state?

    10. Saroj Shabaj on December 4, 2009 at 1:55 pm

      Let me thank Farhad Mazhar for writing this article. It is a bit too long. The write-up could have been more effective if it could be edited to make it brief pointing the arguments sharply. It is correct to observe that unless worldwide alliance of peoples’ movements are not organized such international level summit meetings where interest of big multinational corporations influences the most, it is difficult to expect any positive outcome.

      Grassroots level awareness is seriously lacking in almost every country. Particularly, regarding redefinition and recognizing appropriate development strategies. It is very important to organize national and international level debates at civil society levels concerning development strategy vis-à-vis environment issues. Issues around environment should be included in the school curriculum of every country. We cannot expect any effective change without worldwide peoples’ movements.

    11. Saif Tinku on December 3, 2009 at 10:57 pm

      It is a very important write-up. Thank you, Mr. Farhad Mazhar.

      One thing I like to mention here. The carbon emitter developed countries maintaining circumstances even in a global summit that the leaders of LDCs cannot raise voice for emission cut.

    12. Rais Hasan on December 3, 2009 at 10:24 pm

      Dear Mr. Mazhar,
      Deep appreciations for your commendable aritcle on Agriculture vis-a-vis COP 15.
      Would you please confirm whether CH4 belongs to non-carbon GHGs as mentioned in para 3.6.
      Regards,

    13. shottovashi on December 3, 2009 at 9:51 pm

      I just wonder why Bangladesh even bothers to participate in these sort of conferences and again waste the public funds. Yes, if they can smell some more aid to flow, which would eventually be in the politicians’ pocket, they have every inspiration to attend and work hard. Otherwise, the whole world knows, as it is mentioned somewhere in the text, that it is a failed state, I mean a banana republic. They actually should add that this country is in the dark ages and everyday sliding backwards with regard to the power generation. We have load shedding everyday all over the country other than the residences of the ruling elites. Even the hospitals often do not have power supply. Judging from our history, we should assure them that we will not build any power generation plants. Even if we do, we will have them mismanaged and unable to run (they also know we cannot maintain even the kaptai hydroelectricity plant built by Ayub Khan during Pakistan time) So, how can we possibly pollute the world?? And frankly speaking all the calamities so far were blessing for Bangladesh. Can you imagine, only our calamities draws the attention of the world of Bangladesh and our leaders then smilingly collect donation and pray for few more calamities to arrive. Otherwise, many of these politicians would have lost interest in running, I mean ruining, the country. Hi Bangladeshis, you want to pretend to be a digital country (it is copied from U.K.) without power supply. But the world knows us so well. Like they say, you can pretend, but we can see what is behind your “mathar achal”, the ghomta.

      • G F Hamim on December 4, 2009 at 12:08 pm

        Dear shottovashi

        Yes, the world knows about our ‘capacity’ that we are good at mis-managing, but we cannot anyway let them get away with it.

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