Global Ag Leaders Talk Climate Change

They're looking at ways to make ag more climate friendly, yet feed more people

What happens when you put 50 government ag ministers together in one room? They talk about farming and how to feed the planet, among other things.

That's what happened in Berlin last week as Ag officials from around the globe attended a panel discussion during Green Week, Europe's largest food exhibition. The topic: Climate change and agriculture.

Ilse Aigner, Germany’s Federal Minister of Agriculture, had invited the leaders in order to launch an international initiative to combat the effects of climate change.

This is the kind of discussion that needed to take place at the climate change conference in Copenhagen in December, but agriculture was strangely missing from the agenda back then.

Not this time. Aigner's goal for this meeting was to find out how to change agriculture around the world so that it has less impact on the climate, yet remains productive enough to feed a growing world population.

That's ag's mission statement now.

“We should use Copenhagen as the occasion to state “Now, more than ever!” says the minister in presenting the closing document, whose signatories represent around half of the world’s population.

The ministers came to terms with several key points, which you can read here. Let me sum up their conclusions:

  • Farmers are impacted more harshly than others when it comes to the negative consequences of climate change. That's especially true for small-scale farmers in developing countries, where one bad growing season means not only profit losses but potential starvation.
  • The central task of agriculture is to produce an adequate food supply for the world by sustainable methods. That will be particularly challenging as food output must increase by at least 70% by the year 2050.
  • Agriculture must increase its supply of sustainable resources. Efforts should be made, for example, to promote the use of renewable energy, to store carbon underground, to create links between agricultural research in various countries, to assist the training of farmers, to provide them with consultancy services, and to encourage an international transfer of technology.
  • Land is finite. Assuming global warming is real, large amounts of productive land may be lost to desertification – much more than the land gained from currently cold regions.
  • Food production causes greenhouse gas emissions. Any expansion of farming will increase those emissions, particularly from animal production.

Russia appears to be making good progress on many of these fronts. “We have introduced a program intended to boost our agricultural production by 40% by 2020”, Yelena Skrinnik, the Russian Minister of Agriculture, told the panel. Her country has also drawn up a national doctrine on climate change, which has helped to achieve a 30% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over the past 17 years.

You can see the ministers' recommendations at the German Agriculture Department's home page, by clicking on the link above.

In case you're wondering, USDA Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack was not in attendance.

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