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2016-06-28

Oxfam calls on food companies to reduce emissions in their supply chains

Rice Flooded paddy fields - a major source of methane (Photo: Sandy Hartmann)

The top five food commodities (rice, soy bean, maize, palm oil and wheat) together cause more greenhouse gas emissions than any country’s individual footprint, new research presented by Oxfam shows. According to the report “Feeding Climate Change”, emissions from the production of these key food commodities are only surpassed by the footprint of China and the US. If the Paris Agreement’s goals to reach “net-zero” emissions by 2050 and limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius is to be reached, more sustainable agricultural practices need to be adopted. For food and beverage companies this means undertaking efforts to make drastic emissions cuts, especially in the agricultural supply chains that are responsible for the bulk of their greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. “The Paris Agreement was a big step forward, but we can’t meet its goals without further urgent action,” said Oxfam International’s food and climate policy lead, Tim Gore. “Business and industry leaders (...) must show that Paris is a springboard for deeper emissions cuts and do more to help farmers on the front lines of climate change. The food and beverage sector should be leading the way,” he added. The report identifies emissions from farm soils as a major contributor to climate change. For example, methane produced by flooded rice paddies and nitrous oxide from the use of fertilizers are some of the “super-pollutants” produced by farm soils. Together, these soil emissions are as damaging to the environment as those produced by deforestation to create new farmland. According to the report, rice production is the main culprit of the five key crops. Rice has a significant carbon footprint because of the methane emitted by flooded rice paddies, which contributes about 1.5 percent of global GHG emissions and a significant proportion of agricultural emissions. However, there is no shortage of farming approaches that minimize emissions while supporting adaptation and improving the productivity and food security of small-scale producers, the report says. One innovation that could play a vital role in cutting the massive emissions from rice production while also benefiting small-scale producers is the System of Rice Intensification (SRI). SRI increases farmer’s yields by changing the management of plants, soil, water and nutrients. Instead of continuously flooding fields to prevent weed growth, plants only receive the ideal amount of water and the soil is temporarily kept dry. SRI therefore produces more rice with less water, agrochemicals and seeds while studies have also shown that this method produces less GHG emissions per kilogram of rice compared with conventional rice production. Oxfam calls for a change in how these crops are produced in a way that supports small-scale farmers and helps to build their resilience to climate shocks. The private sector must therefore respect farmer-led innovations such as SRI. According to Gore, “food companies not only need to outline science-based emissions cuts in their supply chain and work with small-scale farmers to implement them, but also help these farmers thrive in the face of the changing climate by guaranteeing them a living income. If food companies fail to act, it’ll be impossible to keep the promises of the Paris Agreement,” he said. (ab)

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The Original Report

Agriculture at a Crossroads
The original version of the full report, five regional reports and the Synthesis Report in English, with a feature that allows you to make comments and/or add important information.

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Donors of globalagriculture Heidehof Stiftung
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