Bringing rural expertise to COP27: Richard Kachungu, Young Emerging Farmers Initiative, Zambia27 February 2023
Richard Kachungu is the Director of Resource Mobilization for the Young Emerging Farmers Initiative – a Zambian non-governmental organization working to achieve climate resilience, improved nutrition and secure livelihoods by involving youth in agriculture. He talks about his experiences of attending COP27, and the essential role of young people in a just rural transition.
What are the pressing climate and environmental issues that need addressing in your country?
One of the biggest issues we’re facing in Zambia right now is extreme weather, especially flooding. During the rainy season we see a lot of flash floods, in both rural and urban areas. So we urgently need some strategies to improve our resilience to floods.
Another pressing issue is land degradation due to poor agricultural practices. Many Zambian farmers overuse synthetic fertilizers. This not only means that our soils have lost much of their value, but – as global fertilizer prices spike – it’s also becoming increasingly difficult for farmers make a living. We have to promote more sustainable farming methods.
Why is it important that farmers’ voices and rural perspectives are heard at events like COP?
Farmers and rural communities are on the frontlines of the climate crisis, so they need to be given a platform to speak and explain how climate change is affecting them. It’s essential that decision makers at events like COP understand that climate change isn’t some abstract concept but a real thing affecting real human beings. It shapes how they live, whether they can take care of themselves, and whether they can support their families. So it’s vital that their perspectives are heard and considered during negotiations and decision-making.
What role do rural communities play in the race for sustainable and equitable food systems?
Farmers, rural communities and Indigenous People play a vital role because the traditional knowledge needed to protect our natural resources is embedded in the ways they produce their food. So it’s very important that these people are centre stage in the just rural transition. We also need to help them appreciate just how important they are – that the world’s natural ecosystems are dependent on them continuing to practise their traditional methods of conservation, preservation and food production.
What did you see and do at Sharm El Sheikh?
I was very excited to see the Food Systems Pavilion and happy that food systems were prioritized in a lot of discussions. I was also invited to speak at some events at COP27, and to take part in panel discussions, which allowed me to talk about how the Young Emerging Farmers Initiative is working with young people in food systems. A lot of people I met were keen to find out how we operate, as it can be difficult to encourage young people to work in food production. So it was very exciting to share our perspectives on this subject.
What expectations did you have going in to COP27? Were those expectations met?
Unfortunately, my expectations for COP27 – especially regarding climate finance – were not really met. I expected more meaningful commitments. I expected more action. And I expected developed countries to step up and lead, both to secure commitments for climate finance and to put actions in place to ensure these commitments would come to fruition.
I was also hoping for more empathy towards developing nations as they attempt to deal with the impacts of climate change. Countries like Zambia have contributed the least towards climate change but are the ones bearing its brunt. When important issues like loss and damage were raised, I felt that discussions became sidetracked by a focus on technicalities, and that we lost sight of the bigger picture.
What lessons have you taken from COP27?
We know that rural communities and Indigenous People are essential to a just rural transition. But at COP27 I heard a lot of people from developing countries making the same point: it’s difficult to convince someone to do something if they’re still hungry. So we need to really think about how best we can help improve the lives and livelihoods of these people, and ensure that the food system works for them and meets their needs.
I also learned that a just rural transition requires more than just policy – it requires action. Policy remains essential, of course, but without implementation we will not achieve the just transition we need. Fortunately, there is power in numbers and in unity. We need to unite as a world and demand action if we’re going to make this transition a reality.
What do you hope to see at COP28, and what can your organization contribute towards that goal?
For me and my organization, we hope to contribute our expertise of working with young people in the food system, especially in rural areas, to COP28. A lot of people seem to forget that the majority of the world’s population, especially in developing countries, are under 20 years old. They are the ones who will have to lead the response to climate change in the future. So it’s vital we get them to participate meaningfully in transitioning the global food system. I hope our knowledge and experiences from the Young Emerging Farmers Initiative can enlighten people on how best to go about this.