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Speeches & Transcripts

Rachel Kyte: Global Landscapes Forum Opening Address

November 17, 2013

Rachel Kyte Global Landscapes Forum Warsaw, Poland


Minister, ladies and gentlemen, friends, thank you so much for giving the World Bank Group this opportunity to speak with you today. So I’m going to start with an exercise: For those of you who were in Durban or in Doha, can you put your hands up? My message to you is congratulations you’ve done it! Here we are at the first Global Landscapes Forum. For those of you for whom this is the first exposure to a climate negotiation, welcome. We have a long journey to travel together. 

So, I’d like to congratulate the organizers of the Forum for bringing the farm and forest communities together. The future of forests, food, and climate are so closely bound, that it is vital that we start developing a shared agenda. The tasks before us are daunting and cannot be put off. We need to build healthy productive landscapes, as you saw in the video, that support the livelihoods of billions of people, and we must slow climate change. I think that we are gathered here today to find ways of achieving both at once.   

Just nine days ago, I was just north of Kisumu in Kenya, on the farm of John Obomo and Pauline, his wife. They, with a lot of help from a lot of the acronyms in this room, were transforming their own lives, certainly transforming the opportunities for their children, by managing their landscape in an integrated way. The primary objective was not to reduce emissions. The primary objective was to become food secure, which through genomic research in maize varieties, genomic research in cowpeas and chickpeas and ground nuts and pawpaws was making it possible, with research in how to conserve water and how to irrigate using drop-per-crop technology was making a difference. That we could take a breed of goat from one side of Kenya, understand it, and introduce it into the local population. That we could bring heat-resistant sheep to that farm and offer an opportunity for greater wealth.

At the same time, the scientists, some of whom are here, are measuring emissions from the smallholder farms to understand, plot by plot, what do we know about this triple win. The triple win of managing land so that yield will go up, so that you are food secure, so that income will go up, so that you can put your children in school, and so that emissions will come down.

I understand that some of the negotiators here, that they do not yet believe that there is a triple win. I understand that there is skepticism, but you in this room know differently, and it is our collective challenge to bring this evidence and this data to these negotiations and to see a change in the way that we talk about this issue. 

So I’m inspired by your work. I, like many of you, strongly believe that an integrated landscape approach can help us achieve our twin development and climate goals more effectively. If we continue to fund crop expansion on the one hand and forest protection on the other, we simply waste taxpayers’ money. We are also wasting precious time as a result of a disjointed, discombobulated dance. 

The latest science shows we urgently need to turn down the heat. Prospects of a 2 to 3°C warmer world within our lifetimes are very real, and agriculture is particularly vulnerable, and everybody who depends on it even more so. Over the next 50 years, climate change could reduce food crop yields by 16 percent worldwide and up to 28 percent in Africa. Increasingly frequent and devastating floods and droughts, together with longer-term temperature changes, already take a heavy toll on the people who can least afford it. 

For us at the World Bank Group, we believe that if you don’t tackle climate change, we cannot achieve our shared missions with those of our clients to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For that reason, we are stepping up mitigation, adaptation, and disaster risk management work, redoubling efforts to look at everything we do through a climate lens. We believe that our contribution is to focus on the solutions that make the biggest difference: helping put a price on carbon, supporting the removal of harmful subsidies, and we are deeply committed, therefore, to climate-smart agriculture and landscape management approaches. 

Climate-smart agriculture seeks to increase productivity, strengthen farmers’ resilience to climate change, reduce emissions, and store more carbon in rural landscapes.  It’s not a luxury, it’s an imperative. We need to reduce the vast emissions coming from agriculture and associated land use change if we are going to have productive and resilient landscape management, if we are going to feed 9 billion people by 2050. And we will also have to reduce staggering, staggering amounts of waste in our food supply system. 

But landscape management, climate-smart agriculture is also a huge opportunity. Because climate change and food security are coming to a dangerous head, the world’s farmers therefore have captured our attention. Every crisis is an opportunity. Let’s not waste this one, and let’s help transform the way that we manage farms and forests together in the wider landscape. Whether it is high-tech farmers in industrialized countries or a farmer – usually a woman – struggling to produce food in precarious conditions in low-income countries, we have the opportunity to help them now. 

The question is, where to begin? Building and standing on your shoulders and everything that you’re already doing. Positive change begins with a deeper appreciation for the synergies between human activities and the physical environment. It also takes imagination to move from a predatory situation, in which the land is progressively stripped of its natural resources, to a model in which human prosperity is built on preserving or enhancing natural wealth. 

We don’t have that system built into our economic models today, but we at the World Bank Group are working on it, together with many of you, and I think that we can get there. One of the great parts of my job is I get to see first-hand, as I did in Kenya just nine days ago, how this can actually work at the micro level, and the question of how we can scale and speed up the scaling of these successes. One other success within our portfolio is in Ethiopia. It is a work-for-pay program – it’s called the Productive Safety Nets Program – that has rehabilitated more than 600,000 hectares of degraded lands to date, increasing  soil and water conservation through community projects. The immediate goal was to provide work and support to some 8 million rural citizens who are chronically food insecure. But the approach, based on a broad understanding of resilience, is recognized as having boosted Ethiopia’s natural capital and capacity to adapt to climate change. 

What makes these kinds of solutions stick? Simply put, development and climate change interventions work when people on the ground reap tangible benefits. And, of course, when you’re working on the ground, you don’t call them climate change and development interventions. In Costa Rica, what we would call climate-smart techniques work very well for ranchers and farmers: by planting or preserving tree, farmers provide shade for cattle and coffee; by maintaining those trees along streambeds, they protect their natural water sources; by growing nitrogen-fixing grasses, and rotating the cows in their pastures, the ranchers are saving on cow feed and fertilizer. The trees that store carbon and provide wildlife habitats also earn them carbon credits. It’s a wonderful system in which the farmers’ self-interest reinforces behavior that benefits the broader collective. 

The farmers I met in Kenya were not practicing climate-smart agriculture to reduce greenhouse gases. Nor should they have to worry about emissions generated on other continents by big polluters. Their concerns were more immediate: how to feed their children, how to educate their children, how to manage when rain patterns are increasingly erratic, how to cultivate the land when soil and water are washed away into deep gullies. By switching from growing maize to intercropping vegetables and fruit trees, the farmers in the pilot program I visited were able to triple their income. In a part of the world where almost half the children under the age of 5 are malnourished, that is a powerful incentive. That is something that we can all agree about.

If practiced on a large-enough scale (in combination with upstream interventions to better regulate water flows), tree planting, conservation agriculture, and contour farming could start to repair landscapes such as that ones that I’ve seen. Large-scale farmer-assisted restoration has happened elsewhere and resulted in impressive, long-term economic and environmental gains.   

So the question that we have to ask ourselves, here better than anywhere else, is what is stopping us? If simple techniques are known to increase farmers’ productivity, save money, heal the environment, why are not climate-smart techniques conquering the land at scale today?

In our contemporary high-tech society, it is tempting to think the secret of success is simply good design: climate-smart solutions will spread and gain momentum on their own because they are “smart.” Yet we know from personal experience that there are plenty of healthy, rational choices that fall by the wayside unless there is a supportive and enabling environment.

Yields are only one dimension in the decision-making process of farmers. We need to get a whole set of incentives right to support people in making sustainable livelihood choices. Although the benefits of climate-smart systems are impressive, the transition to sustainable productive systems can entail significant expenses – especially initially, when farmers forego income from old activities and before positive returns from the new systems materialize. You are seeking leaders in a community that are prepared to take a leap and try something new. Coordinating actions across landscapes also requires investments in time and social capital, which farmers may simply not have. We need to learn more about what drives the successful adoption of climate-smart practices, and be prepared to support the shift through public funding.

The Terrafrica partnership has found that insecure land tenure, lack of capital and limited farm inputs are barriers to adoption of conservation agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa. Studies suggest that when land rights are more secure, farmers will be more likely to take long-term risks and invest in their plots. As a result, productivity increases. Clearly, and I think we all know this, we need to make land tenure a central part of the landscape agenda if we are serious about addressing food security and climate change, and seeing irreversible progress. 

So, if we’re going to talk about land tenure, then we have to talk about gender. Tackling gender inequality head on, full on, is our responsibility. This is not as a token issue. Because women farmers produce as much as 80 percent of most crops in many low-income countries, but have more limited assets than men, facilitating their access to land, their access to capital, will be a fundamental game changer. In Ethiopia, again, besides the work-for-cash program I mentioned, the key to reviving agriculture in the region may have been a land certification effort that reassured farmers their land would not be taken from them without compensation, and gave women for the first time a right to half the marital land. 

In the words of Tashequ Woretaw, a woman farmer with one hectare of land: “Before getting the certificate in my name, it was just socially understood that the land belonged to my husband. If anything happened to me, I was supposed to leave the home without having anything out of our common property. So I was not really interested in putting any long-term investment in the land.” After receiving a land certificate, Tashequ planted trees and used part of the land to grow grass to fatten her livestock. For women farmers like Tashequ, confidence in property rights was a prerequisite to investing in change. It is also a pre-requisite to getting access to credit. You have to have something to collateralize if you are going to grow your assets. Gender not only changes the way we think of who and how we manage the land, it will change our research priorities too. 

At the country level, the best-laid plans for climate-smart and equitable growth can only go so far if land governance and law enforcement are too weak in the face of powerful interests. Working across sectors to improve watershed management, trying to rationalize land use in areas where forestry concessions, mining permits, nature reserves, and agricultural activities frequently clash and overlap, is extremely challenging in the absence of credible rules and public maps. Together with partners at the FAO and others, we at the World Bank see a strong link between the responsible governance of tenure of land, fisheries, and forests and sustainable development outcomes.  If we have clear land tenure and commitment to transparent markets and the rule of law, we can consistently attract better quality long-term investors than countries with opaque rules. 

Companies, too, are starting to feel the rewards of aligning their corporate behavior with their objectives of return over the long run. All because supply chains do better with transparent market regulation, we can have better competition and price premiums attached to voluntary certification schemes. The threat of negative publicity, and resulting losses in market share, has done a lot to encourage better land stewardship and responsible business conduct. But the business driver for business corporates today is access to a secure, available, predictable supply chain, and this is driving corporate behavior the world over.

I talked at the beginning about the skepticism of some of the negotiators that a triple-win exists, that we can increase yields, that we can increase incomes, and that we can mitigate climate change from better landscape management approaches from climate smart agriculture. In Durban, we managed to get agriculture on the negotiating agenda. In Doha, we took a glancing blow with a bit of a set-back. And I’ve just read the language that emerged from SUBSTA at 3 o’clock in the morning, and we’ve taken another blow. 

I think that this is a particular set-back for the continent of Africa, for whom an integrated approach to these issues is so important. So I understand the skepticism, but I would ask negotiators to pay attention. I would ask all of us to do whatever we can to take each one of those negotiators and the ministries to whom they report and sit down with them and explain to them what science is showing. Tell them about all of the examples where we can see that it’s working today, and talk about the consequences of not incorporating this into the negotiating agenda. 

Punting climate-smart agriculture negotiations from SUBSTA 38 to SUBSTA 39 to SUBSTA 40 means that these negotiations run the risk of turning their backs on some of the most vulnerable and poorest people in this world and that will not build a climate negotiation that works. 

I don’t just stand here and say this. In the World Bank Group, we’re absolutely committed to everything we can do to support this agenda, and we offer our help and our support to every negotiating team if they wish to understand further how we think that this is something that can benefit all and make the climate negotiations stronger. And it won’t just be us, it will be us and every one of our partners in this room. So this is an offer of help, it’s not a castigation of what has happened. Let’s just turn a page, here in Warsaw, and decide that over the next 12 months we’re really going to deal with this seriously.

Today, we have more tools than ever before to quantify and visualize the connections between human activities and the environment. From crowdsourcing to satellite imagery, from natural capital accounting to participatory mapping, we have more data, more resources, more images, more evidence. We also have great research from across the globe represented in this room and at this conference. We have large-scale examples of “triple wins”.

So what’s missing? Do we need to hone our message? Are we spending too much time painting a picture of climate gloom and land use trade-offs? Is the price of carbon, or the lack of one, keeping us down? I hope this first-ever Global Landscapes Forum will generate the enthusiasm and steady exchange of ideas among farmers, investors, planners, researchers and the development community, men and women, to kick off climate-smart agriculture in a big way.  Let’s make the most of our moment in the limelight to make things right for farmers and the planet. Let’s start here.