Farming plays key role - both good and bad - in climate change, UN reports

17 September 2002

Farming plays a key role in climate change - both as one of the sources of the problem and as a recipient of its impacts, according to a new study published by the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO).

The agency's annual State of Food and Agriculture report, which was released today in Rome, includes a review of the current global and regional agricultural situation, world trade, commodity prices and the implications for agriculture of the Fourth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference.

In the special chapter on harvesting carbon sequestration through land-use change, FAO says an estimated 80 per cent of global carbon stocks are stored in soils or forests and that a considerable amount of the mineral originally contained in those areas has been released as a result of agricultural and forestry activities and deforestation.

Agriculture and forestry practices confine and fix carbon into the soil, plants and trees through photosynthesis, reducing atmospheric greenhouse gases.

According to the report, farming and forestry activities have the potential to counteract the effect of emissions made elsewhere by reducing deforestation, generating increased forest stocks, adopting agroforestry schemes, reducing soil degradation and rehabilitating degraded forests.

A separate section examining the role of agriculture and land in the provision of global public goods says that farming, fisheries and forestry have an importance beyond that of providing the world with food and raw materials necessary for survival and well-being and ensuring the livelihoods of farmers, fishermen and foresters worldwide.

People employed in these sectors of the economy play a role in managing resources that benefit the world at large. "Through proper management of these resources, farmers, fishermen and foresters provide a range of benefits to others, such as landscape conservation, watershed protection, biodiversity conservation, ecosystem stability and maintenance of fish stocks," the report says.

While these public goods are widely recognized as benefiting large numbers of people, they cannot be expected for free, the report says. Some public goods are global in nature and benefit all of humanity. But because so many people benefit from these public goods without paying, the report concludes that "mechanisms for compensating the providers are necessary to ensure that socially desirable levels of the good will be provided."


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