'Climate smart' agriculture' – another World Bank resource grab targets Africa's poorest farmers

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Climate smart agriculture will put a dollar value on the carbon in African dirt, so it can be bought and sold on the markets, and polluters can then buy dirt offsets that will allow them to continue to pollute! 

by Rachel Smolker, BiofuelWatch
Climate Connections
, December 7, 2011

After 17 years of failing to achieve any meaningful emissions reductions, the future of the Kyoto Protocol itself is in question.

Emissions have gone up up up. The international community has decided that we shouldn’t let the earth warm more than 2 degrees, or is it 1.5? But most would agree we are already locked into more warming than that already. Feedbacks are not a distant possibility, but rather a current reality and we do not have the luxury of “picking a number” for the earth any more.

A few days ago, none other than the IEA warned that current trajectories in energy developments will result in “losing forever” the chance to avoid climate catastrophe, and at least 11 degrees of warming. We are cooking ourselves, and Africa is closest to the broiler flame.

In a speech here in Durban, former ambassador for Bolivia Pablo Salon called the failure to take meaningful action a “premeditated genocide and ecocide.”

But don’t worry. The World Bank has a great new plan to save the day.

And the plan is (drum roll please)….

Trade dirt for pollution?!?!

The bank is calling this “climate smart agriculture.” When I first heard about it i thought “hey – this sounds clever, what a smart idea. Smart is good!” But I had this nagging suspicion, perhaps because the bank seemed so enthusiastic. Also because they kept referring to it as a “triple win” (those rarely pan out).

I decided to look more closely, and after navigating layer upon layer of deception and greenwash, i think i now understand what “climate smart” agriculture is really about. Here it is:

The WB is very concerned about the well being full of dirt. Dirt, when healthy and well treated, contains carbon – but when dirt is treated like…well, dirt, the carbon (and nutrients) are lost, the soils become infertile, and farmers cannot grow food enough to feed themselves. A lot of dirt in Africa and elsewhere has been treated badly. Protecting and restoring the carbon in dirt, and making soils more fertile so farmers have more to eat would be a “win”. The WB would like to help.

The WB is also very concerned about global warming – this is so very evident from their history of investment in the dirtiest of fossil fuel extraction projects, and their concern for the well being of forests (which they believe would be best protected by marketing the carbon in trees (REDD) and removing the pesky indigenous peoples, (who have now called for a moratorium on REDD).

When the carbon in soils is lost, it oxidizes and goes into the atmosphere contributing to global warming, so protecting and restoring soil carbon is good for the climate. Reducing CO2 emissions from dirt would be another “win”.

The bank has determined that we need to attach a price tag to the carbon in dirt, and buy and sell it on the worlds markets. Farmers will make money and this will help them to “develop”. This, we are told, is especially pertinent for Africa, where the impacts of warming on agriculture, water etc are most severe, and the Africans have not yet had the pleasure of benefitting from carbon finance since they don’t have a lot of the kinds of industries that have so far won supports from carbon markets (although there is a massive toxic Bisasar landfill gas project here in Durban funded by the CDM…).

Climate smart agriculture will put a dollar value on the carbon in African dirt, so it can be bought and sold on the markets, and polluters can then buy dirt offsets that will allow them to continue to pollute! There will be a LOT to buy and sell, since there is so much dirt. Wooooooohooo! Which means the polluters will be able to continue polluting a LOT. Just think of the possibilities – why there is plenty of dirt all over the planet – a VAST potential.

Right now the price of carbon is a bit low, what with economic crisis… but the WB is a hopeful lot, and well aware of the potential. There are other cash flows that can also be redirected to pay for the carbon in dirt. Where overseas development aid, for example, might have been about ensuring that people can grow enough food to eat, it can be redirected to ensure that supports to farmers become dependent upon growing carbon.

The Bank cannot wait to get into the business of a market for dirt, in fact they have already got a pilot project going, wherein they will figure out, among other things, how to measure the amount of carbon going in and out of dirt (good luck with that…). They will also find out how much farmers benefit from participating in the project (so far it is estimated that they will receive 1 USD per year, the rest will be gobbled by transaction costs and project development expenses.)

To manufacture consent for their kindhearted “climate smart” agriculture plan, the WB has joined hands with the UN FAO and various political allies, including the South African ministry (who need to have something to show from Durban), the African Union, Brazil (lots of dirt there, they love anything to do with it) and others to ensure that “climate smart” is adopted. They hosted a number of meetings in the lead up to Durban, to ensure solidarity with their approach and launched a “call to action” just now in an event in the room next to where I am sitting here in the conference center.

Meanwhile La Via Campesina, the international peasant farmers movement has said “no thank you”. But of course, the World Bank never asked their opinion.  La Via set up a press conference to ensure that their opinion was heard, but it was canceled – to make way for another, apparently “more important” event (peasant farmers are very experienced with being displaced).

The push for “climate smart agriculture” is the latest installment in the plan to commodify everything, which seems to be the only thing so far to come out of all these negotiations. At its base “climate smart agriculture”, like REDD, is a resource grab of monumental proportions. Land, forests, water…all are increasingly precious resource essential to the production of not food, but also fuel (bio) and fiber (aka biomass) that is to become the raw materials for a new “green economy”. By now the WB’s eyes are popping out of its head – talk about win-win-win!

For those who can afford it – the financiers, fund managers, speculators and banks, markets in dirt will be a field day, but it seems rather unlikely that the poor people in Africa, or elsewhere, will be lifted out of poverty by growing carbon for markets. And if the trade in all that dirt is used as an excuse for ongoing pollution, we shall all soon be toast.

But the kind hearted folks at the World Bank point out that many poor farmers are having a hard time making a living, and it is only going to get worse with the impending droughts and weather extremes. These poor folks need money in order to “transform” their agriculture and rise out of poverty. So, the bank argues, climate-smart agriculture is a “win” for the climate, a “win” for the soils and crops grown in them, and a “win” for the farmers who won’t be so poor.

And the World Bank always has the needs of the poor at the top of their agenda.