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Farmer communication and supportive policies key to wider adoption of climate-smart agriculture

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Overcoming the challenges of CSA adoption requires clearer communication of CSA to farmers and policy makers

© Cecilia Schubert, CCAFS

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Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is a game changer for smallholder farmers in Africa. Many farmers battle with the impacts of rising temperatures, frequent floods and droughts that affect productivity and profits. Extra effort is needed to boost their adoption of CSA practices.

Success in their efforts would be reinforced if climate-smart agriculture (CSA) approaches were widely adopted, researchers say. Helping farmers understand the benefits and processes of implementing climate-smart practices and technologies – some of which have been promoted for many years, is key to improving the adoption of CSA.

“Most of the technologies that are climate-smart are knowledge-intensive,” says Joyce Mulila-Mitti, a researcher and plant specialist who has worked with FAO in Southern Africa providing support for crop production intensification.

“To convince a farmer, they need to understand why they have to change and why they are doing things differently. With climate change the message is to produce more with less by improving input use efficiency but farmers have to appreciate the rationale of changing how they farm, and this means building the capacities of both the farmers and the extension service to promote CSA.”

National Smallholder Farmers Association of Malawi (NASFAM) Head of Farm Services Unit, Wycliffe Kumwenda says that inadequate and conflicting information at farmer level hinders the massive adoption of CSA. With CTA support, NASFAM is implementing "Scaling-up climate-resilient solutions for smallholder farmers in Malawi" project that promotes weather-based index insurance, drought tolerant seeds and information communication technology (ICT)-enabled weather information services.

"Buy-in from policy makers is also important to promote the adoption of CSA approaches", Mulila-Mitti says. She points to the importance of regional targets and peer review mechanisms to motivate policy makers and help monitor the uptake of technologies that support agriculture productivity. As an example, she cites the establishment of Plant Protection committees in several countries to monitor and address the Fall Army Worm (FAW) outbreaks in Africa as a potential model to promote CSA approaches.

“The opportunity we have is that CSA has a mitigation effect on fall army worm and we can use that as an entry point to scale up conservation agriculture. We see that farmers who practice conservation agriculture have had significantly reduced damage from the FAW, that is an opening where we can deal with policy makers,” she said. Such results help strengthen the case for increased policy commitment to CSA.

“We need to provide information about CSA to policy makers,” says Kumwenda. “They should understand it and its benefits and NASFAM has been engaging Members of Parliament in the Agriculture and Natural Resources Management subcommittee on biannual basis and we have also been taken them to CSA fields to appreciate what CSA can do.”

Reflecting on experiences in a current CSA project to help more than 150,000 smallholder farmers in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, CTA’s Oluyede Ajayi concludes that clear communication and training of CSA to farmers, good partnership with public and private sector players and targeting CSA to locations of farmers where they have the best potential to respond to the given problem can ensure effective adoption of CSA approaches.

This article was created through a CTA-led process to document and share actionable knowledge on 'what works' for ACP agriculture. It capitalises on the insights, lessons and experiences of practitioners to inform and guide the implementation of agriculture for development projects.

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