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Smallholder farmers in Africa, South Asia get $1.4bn climate boost

A picture shows the entrance of the Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort, on Monday during the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference. - AFP
A picture shows the entrance of the Sharm El Sheikh International Convention Centre, in Egypt's Red Sea resort, on Monday during the 2022 United Nations Climate Change Conference. - AFP

SHARM EL SHEIKH, Egypt: Small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia reeling from global warming impacts got a $1.4 billion philanthropic boost on Monday to help them adapt to a world increasingly impacted by climate change.

The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation grant, distributed over four years, is earmarked for scaling up regional innovations that build resilience against drought, heat waves and extreme flooding amplified by a warming world, said an announcement at the COP27 climate summit in Egypt's Red Sea resort of Sharm el Sheikh.

Extreme weather has ravaged crops and reduced yields this year across four continents.

Organisations representing some 350 million family farmers, meanwhile, released an open letter to world leaders on Monday warning that global food security is at risk unless governments boost finance for small-scale production, and calling for a shift from industrial agriculture toward more diverse, low-input methods.

"The surge in hunger over the last year has exposed the fragility of a global food system" ill-equipped for climate shocks, the letter from 70 organisations representing farmers, fishers and forest producers said.

"Building a food system that can feed the world on a hot planet must be a priority for COP27."

Nearly a hundred world leaders are kicking off the two-week UN summit in Egypt to speed the greening of the global economy and increase financial flows to developing countries where climate impacts are already shaving GDP points off their economies.

Agriculture forms the backbone of many African economies, employing on average over 50 per cent of the labour force and accounting for a third of total African gross domestic product.

At least two billion people worldwide depend on smallholder farms for food and income, but currently only two percent of global climate finance helps them adapt to climate change predicted to deepen food and economic crises over the coming decades.

"The effects of climate change have already been devastating, and every moment the world delays action, more people suffer, and the solutions become more complex and costly," said Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman.

"Leaders must listen to the voices of African farmers and governments to understand their priorities and respond with urgency."

The money will be channelled to so-called climate-smart agriculture projects, including new digital technologies, innovations in livestock farming, and -- working with the UN's International Fund for Agriculture Development -- support for women smallholder farmers, Suzman said.

A "weather intelligence platform" developed with the Kenya Agriculture and Livestock Research Organisation, for example, will allow farmers to better anticipate climate threats, with potentially crop-saving updates delivered via cellphone text messages.

"More funding is necessary to ensure agricultural and technological innovations are widely available to vulnerable communities," Bill Gates, who is not attending the summit, said in a statement.

Analysts welcomed the new funding stream, but cautioned that much broader support was needed.

"The Gates Foundation initiative is important and timely, with COP27 being dubbed the 'Africa COP'," Elizabeth Robinson, director of the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment, said.

"But the scale of the problem is such that governments, private sector and international organisations all need to increase their commitments to food security."

Overall, there is an annual $41 billion adaptation "finance gap" in Africa, according to the Global Center on Adaptation, based in Rotterdam.

Claire McConnel, a food and agriculture expert at climate policy think tank E3G, said philanthropic funding and public finance can play an "important role" in leveraging private sector investments for adaptation.

"Partnerships with African farmers' organisations and research institutes based on the continent will be key to ensuring investments meet farmers' needs and money is spent effectively and efficiently," she said, commenting on the announcement. - AFP

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