Wednesday, December 4th, 2013...4:14 pm

The Road to Forming an Alliance

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It is now Day 2, mid-day at the 3rd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change in Johannesburg. We’ve digested hours of content on everything from the need for an agreed upon definition of resiliency to transferring scientific knowledge to the local level on climate-smart agricultural technologies. Yet, at this stage it’s safe to say we have more questions than answers.

There are representatives from over 30 countries here and we are still figuring out who is in the room from governments, private sector, NGOs, research institutions, etc. While we are humbled to learn from some of the major international players present, it is also apparent that some influential stakeholders are absent, notably large agribusinesses outside of South Africa.

Following on the heels of Warsaw COP19, and the failure to include agriculture in the agenda, the need for an alternative forum for multilateral discourse on climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is becoming increasingly clear. In comments made during conference breaks, we have overheard people questioning the relationship between the CSA Alliance and the UNCP process, between the Alliance and the Global Research Alliance, and between the Alliance and the Climate Clean Air Coalition? Some are confident the Alliance will add value while others refrained from commenting until this Alliance is more developed, conceptually and practically.

The conference seems to be moving forward on two tracks. On one level, there is the formal program – a robust agenda packed full of presentations from policy experts, practitioners and academics. The second is taking place behind closed doors and in quiet moments between sessions, in which likely state participants in the Alliance try to gauge interest, concerns, opportunities, and leadership roles. This is diplomacy in action.

The possibility of a Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance has been referenced repeatedly, but the design process is planned to take place tomorrow afternoon. Will it be an Alliance of multiple parties from different sectors, bridging the Global North and Global South? What about the north-south and south-south divisions?  Or, will it be action-oriented, designed to shift national and international policies? This is not to say that these are mutually exclusive, but there is palpable tension between national interests and creating a unified approach to combatting climate change in the agricultural sector. Ultimately, creating win-win partnerships needs to be based on incentives, and it remains to be seen what tangible incentives there are for key parties, be it the United States or South Africa. For now, few concrete details have emerged. The Alliance will be voluntary, but what will its operating structure look like? How will the decision making process look? Who will be the key members?

We hear feedback that the Alliance presents the opportunity to raise the discourse on agriculture internationally and that the more attention raised on these issues, the better.  This early stage of implementing a Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance agenda is an important one. It is imperative that CSA not be pursued as a second Green Revolution. If the input intensive model of agriculture is used, then CSA will fail. The interests of agricultural seed, chemical, and equipment producers to expand their market shares must not trump development goals. Agribusinesses should be a partner in CSA initiatives, but with careful attention to their scope of influence.

Many of the solutions talked about at this conference focus on management solutions, and rightly so. The trouble with management solutions is that they are often less physically tangible than technological approaches. It’s easy to see a new irrigation project or field full of improved varieties of a crop, but changes in human capacity and new approaches to agriculture take time and committed investment. In a world that demands quick results for development dollars, the long-term approaches that are necessary for management development to be successful get left behind. CSA requires a long-term commitment that will require a shift in the conversation with donors. We hope to see this kind of commitment as a central piece to the Alliance.

At present, the Alliance appears well positioned to facilitate shared knowledge with other international processes and bodies, specifically the United Nations. As a voluntary body, it may inform parties, hopefully influencing policy, but the jury is still out on whether it will incite action.

Stay tuned as we continue to publish updates in the lead up to the main event: outlining the timeframe for the Alliance on Thursday afternoon.

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