In order to feed a rapidly growing population, global food production will need to increase by at least 60% by 2050. Undermining efforts to achieve that goal are shifting weather patterns, including rising temperatures, unpredictable precipitation, more severe and frequent extreme weather events and the loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity. To what extent can climate-smart agriculture offset these negative effects on prospects for food security?
There is substantial evidence to show that climate change is already affecting agricultural production systems, especially in developing countries where rainfed agriculture dominates, and poverty, hunger and malnutrition are most acute.
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is increasingly gaining ground as a valuable tool in tempering the negative effects of weather-based changes on agricultural output. But what exactly is CSA? And what makes it different from other sustainable agriculture interventions? A capitalisation workshop, Catalysing actionable knowledge to implement climate-smart solutions for next-generation ACP agriculture, organised by CTA and held in Wageningen, The Netherlands from January 22-25, seeks to draw out best practices in an effort to shape future interventions and increase their impact.
FAO, which coined the phrase climate-smart agriculture in 2010, defines it as “an approach for developing actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security under climate change.
Specifically, CSA aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably increase agricultural productivity and incomes; adapt and build resilience to climate change; and reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas emissions, where possible. This latter point reflects agriculture’s role as one of the worst offenders when it comes to generating the global greenhouse gas emissions deemed responsible for much climate change. According to FAO estimates, in 2010 emissions from the agriculture, forestry and other land use sectors directly accounted for 22% of all total global emissions.
Designing CSA initiatives for farmers, with farmers
Climate-smart agriculture can cover a wide range of sectors, including crops, livestock, forestry and fisheries. Examples include conservation agriculture, agroforestry and weather-based insurance for both crop and livestock production. But in spite of the promise heralded by the CSA approach, the results are often disappointing, the workshop heard.
“There has been exposure to various CSA interventions with various projects and programmes, but implementation, results and impacts have not been that satisfactory,” said Joyce Mulila Mitti, a development practitioner from South Africa who has worked extensively on climate change.
Critical to successful initiatives is an often complex, integrated approach, matching each intervention to local conditions and involving farmers in design and implementation.
“Examples of interventions that can work include conservation agriculture, which reduces tillage, so farmers using tractors consume less energy, and there is less disturbance of the soil, which leads to improved soil structure and water-holding capacity,” said Mitti. “For livestock, you want to reduce the generation of methane gases, so that might mean adjusting the fodder you feed them. You can also change production systems, from cattle to small ruminants, because these demand less energy and less water. The idea of climate smart agriculture is to produce more with less.”
One solution developed by CTA highlights the importance of looking at the bigger picture, creating synergies between various components. The Scaling-Up Climate Smart Agricultural Solutions For Cereals And Livestock Farmers in Southern Africa project, being implemented in Malawi, Zambia and Zimbabwe, takes a holistic approach by aiming to deliver a bundle of CSA solutions to 140,000 smallholder farmers using an ICT-enabled extension mechanism.
A multi-pronged approach
“Given that climatic uncertainties vary radically across and with agricultural seasons, it is important to design a multi-pronged approach that integrates different mutually reinforcing CSA solutions together as a bundled package,” said Oluyede Ajayi, Senior Programme Coordinator responsible for agriculture and climate change at CTA. “This provides robust, multiple layers of protection that help farmers face the vagaries of climate change, in contrast to a single solution that could become ineffective depending on the swing and intensity of the weather within seasons.”
The CTA-led initiative involves bringing together a broad range of partners to make drought resistant seeds available to farmers, together with climate information delivered through ICTs, and supported by weather-based index insurance as a safety net. It also includes diversifying livelihoods through crop-livestock practices and facilitating multi-stakeholder policy engagement.
Key challenges to scaling up CSA interventions and impact include insufficient technical capacity, training, monitoring and evaluation, and inadequate inputs, seed systems and market opportunities. Other bottlenecks identified by participants are poor information flows between research, projects and farmers.
“An important constraint is inadequate communication and dissemination of best practices to influence policies and future programming,” said Mitti. “Expanding the evidence base is a valuable opportunity, including through workshops such as this, to find out what really works.”