AIM to ARM: Advocating for the transformative role of smallholder farmers at COP26

Author: Meg Kauthen, Sustainability Designer

Launched today at COP26, the Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate or #AIM4C) is a broad initiative to drive more rapid and transformative climate action in the agricultural sector, empowering agriculture to be part of the solution to address the climate crisis, build resilience to its impacts, and create co-benefits of climate action.

For over a decade, Melbourne-headquartered Business for Development has worked with smallholder farmers and knows how simple, pragmatic approaches can help tackle the seemingly intractable issues being discussed at COP26. Much like consumer action, agricultural practices matter – from a single smallholder farmer to big industry.

We see change on the ground with each and every farmer. Farmers like Regina from Kenya, who now have access finance to buy quality inputs, and is trained in sustainable agriculture practices can change her life and the life of her family. “My household income has improved, and I can now pay my three children’s school fees, meet household needs, and have a surplus to start saving. This is so rewarding for me and my family.”

Agriculture is one of the biggest employers in the world, with a third of our population obtaining their livelihood from the sector. Break this statistic down further and appreciate that 90% of the world’s 570 million farms are managed by family or smallholder farmers. As you take a sip of your coffee or bite into a delicious chocolate bar, it is highly likely that the raw ingredients were produced by smallholder farmers, who grow around 80% of the world’s food.

When the team at AIM for Climate gather in Glasgow this week, these farmers need to be front and centre in any strategy developed. In our experience, arming farmers needs to be two-pronged – first, mitigating the environmental impacts of farming, and second, increasing farmers’ resilience to climate change.



Arming smallholder farmers with climate smart agriculture practices is key to tackling climate change and reversing the degradation of our natural resources.  Currently:

  • Our food system generates about 26% of total global man-made greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions – by comparison this is more than the total of all our cars, trucks, trains, and airplanes GHGs combined.
  • Food production accounts for about 70% of all water used by humans. Global water scarcity is further compounded by the progressive deterioration of water quality. And as you would imagine, farming is one of the biggest polluters of our water ways with runoffs from fertilisers (including manure) disrupting fragile ecosystems.
  • Finally, our global food system is the primary driver of biodiversity loss. As we’ve cleared areas of grassland and forest for farms, we have lost crucial habitat. As a result, agriculture alone threatens 24,000 of the 28,000 (86%) species at risk of extinction.


Yet, when agricultural operations are sustainably managed, they can preserve and restore critical habitats, help protect watersheds, capture carbon through soils and tree crops, and improve soil health and water quality.

At Business for Development, we understand the practicalities of implementing climate smart agriculture practices such as soil management, integrated farm management, crop rotation and using, drip feed irrigation – all solutions designed to fit within a smallholder farmer’s budget – often a meagre US$1-3 per day.

To add to the complexity of any solution discussed at COP26, they must be effective in improving yields, be available and affordable for farmers, and finally, be rapidly scalable if we are to avert the growing impact agriculture has on our climate.

If we are to speed up our action to mitigate the environmental impact of agriculture, we need to partner. Partnerships built on trust, commitment and communication with a shared vision underpin sustainable economic growth.  We have done this on a country level through creating partnership ecosystems between governments, community-based organisations, the private sector, research and financial institutions to embed long-term, system-wide transformation – aligned and committed to SDG 17.  If AIM for Climate is to reach its objectives, developing cross-sector partnerships on a national and global scale is now imperative.



Climate change is expected to disproportionately affect smallholder farmers and make their livelihoods increasingly precarious, with poorer countries having fewer resources to deal with it. The economic division between rich and poor will be further exacerbated.

Climate change is often referred to as a “threat multiplier” because of its potential to aggravate many of the current challenges and threats already being faced in developing countries. It has already contributed to instability, food insecurity, displacement and migration, and existing conflicts escalation.

While climate change is a global issue, it is experienced on a local scale. For example, while some locations will have too little rain to farm, others may experience extreme weather events causing crop loss due to flooding. The Intergovernmental Panel for Climate Change (IPCC) latest report demonstrates below the extreme changes in precipitation under various climate scenarios.

To meet a changing climate, local adaption strategies are required. Events accompanying climate change are transforming conditions faster than many smallholder farmers can keep up with. That is why it is incredibly important now to support farmers to adapt to the changing climate before it causes further threats to human security.

The world will need to feed 9 billion people by 2050. That is 2 billion more mouths to feed under an uncertain environment. If we are to achieve such a feat, the world needs to mitigate and adapt agricultural practices and arm our smallholder farmers. AIM for Climate has a tall order to fill in the coming days. Let’s hope AIM for Climate reaches the decision-makers to drive the changes needed to support nearly a third of the world’s poorest people, smallholder farmers.

There has never been a more important time for courageous and confident leadership – from smallholder to shareholder to CEO.

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