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Climate smart agriculture

CSA increases crop yields, whilst storing more soil carbon and providing greater climate resilience (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
CSA increases crop yields, whilst storing more soil carbon and providing greater climate resilience
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

As a major user of freshwater and fossil fuels, a significant producer of greenhouse gases and a frequent trigger to deforestation, agriculture has tended to be seen as part of the climate change problem rather than an agent of mitigation. The concept of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) seeks to reverse that pattern, albeit with different emphases according to the current levels of agricultural development.

Developed countries, for instance, may focus on reducing energy inputs and emissions, and look for suitable opportunities for biofuel production. Others may look at opportunities for carbon trading from agricultural production, while the least developed countries are likely to be predominantly focussed on adapting their agricultural systems to meet the challenges posed by a changing climate.

But is CSA to be a useful term for stimulating and guiding change, or just another fashionable phrase with a short shelf-life? It potentially calls for a radical transformation of farming systems, but how might this be funded and scaled up? These were some of the questions New Agriculturist put to members of the research community working in this area. Points of view presents their responses.

What is Climate Smart Agriculture?

Improved seeds should ensure that crops do not fail completely when confronted with drought or flood (© FAO/Paballo Thekiso)
Improved seeds should ensure that crops do not fail completely when confronted with drought or flood
© FAO/Paballo Thekiso

Climate resilient agriculture has as its focus the effort to maximise farm output in a changing climate. But Climate Smart Agriculture is this, plus a drive to move agriculture out of the box where it is part of the problem, and into the box where it is part of the solution.
George Jacob, Communications, Self Help Africa

By promoting agricultural best practices, particularly Integrated Crop Management, conservation agriculture, intercropping, improved seeds and fertilizer management practices, as well as supporting increased investment in agricultural research, CSA encourages the use of all available and applicable climate change solutions in a pragmatic and impact-focused manner. Resilience will be key, but 'climate smart' is broader and underscores the need for innovation and proactive changes in the way farming is done to not only adapt but also mitigate and increase productivity sustainably.
Farming First coalition

CSA is agriculture that is resilient and adapted to climate change; helps reduce emissions and sequester carbon; reduces pressure on forests; maintains ecosystem services and biodiversity; and produces food, fibre and fuel crops that the world needs.
David Howlett, Africa College, Leeds University

Of global importance?

With a predicted 9 billion people by 2050, agricultural production will need to increase by 70 per cent to meet new demands for food, feed, fuel and fibre. As agriculture accounts for up to 30 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it's crucial that Climate Smart Agriculture is developed to achieve future food security and climate change goals.
Farming First coalition

CSA reduces pressure on forests and maintains ecosystem services and biodiversity (© Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF)
CSA reduces pressure on forests and maintains ecosystem services and biodiversity
© Charlie Pye-Smith/ICRAF

The problem is that agricultural systems which perform poorly also require little energy, while the productive ones require more. There is a need to develop an approach to look at agricultural production and energy costs. Increasing the productivity of low producing systems (like in sub-Saharan Africa) has probably the lowest greenhouse gas expense and hence should be supported.
Hillel Magen, International Potash Institute

Ensuring food security under a changing climate is one of the major challenges of our era. CSA has a great role to play at this defining moment because it addresses the food security and climate change problems together, rather than in isolation. CSA is the only sector that offers the triple win of increased productivity, reduced emissions and enhanced resilience to climate change.
Ademola Braimoh, Senior Natural Resources Management Specialist, World Bank

CSA is about increasing productivity and income in a changing environment where a solution to combat climate change is urgently needed. It's an opportunity to improve livelihoods while enhancing all types of agriculture in different countries all over the world.
Alberto Sandoval, Senior Natural Resources Officer - Climate change, FAO

So what's new?

Climate based insurance products are becoming increasingly available (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Climate based insurance products are becoming increasingly available
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Minimizing risks to climate extremes, insects, and diseases by using multiple crops, diverse planting seasons, crop rotations, minimum or no-tillage, etc., all are principles used by generations of farmers since ancient times. Some (like no-till) have been refined and now are fundamental techniques in agriculture practice for countries like Canada. What is new is the challenge of making these approaches accepted and used globally.
Marco Rondon, Climate Change and Water Program, IDRC

Hitherto, mitigation has been viewed as an issue for developed countries and adaptation is perceived as a priority for the developing nations. The truth is that there is a great value addition in integrating adaptation and mitigation because both share the ultimate goal of reducing the undesirable impacts of climate on human livelihoods.
Ademola Braimoh, World Bank

Given the challenges faced by agriculture in terms of global warming and the likely increased severity and frequency of extremes, agriculture has to adapt. In many cases incremental adaptation will be insufficient, and transformational adaptation will be needed. It will include much more attention to issues that have not been so high on the development agenda in the past: weather advisories; seasonal forecasting; climate-based insurance products; and carbon markets.
Bruce Campbell, Director, CGIAR Research Program on Climate change, agriculture and food security

CSA practices propose a transformation of agriculture, in the way we grow food and treat the environment in a changing climate. It outlines ways to preserve and enhance food security by changing policy and agricultural production systems. A way to achieve this transformation is by working at the landscape scale with an ecosystems approach.
Alberto Sandoval, FAO

In favour of farmers?

Global carbon markets need to be further developed (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
Global carbon markets need to be further developed
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Climate Smart Agriculture will only be attractive to farmers if its adoption is incentivised either in terms of high-level financial incentives or in terms of significant gains in productivity. CSA practices will not be adopted without these gains or incentives being spread throughout the community of smallholder farmers and for that there is a need for an enabling environment, encompassing everything from strong governance, better infrastructure and access to markets and better access to inputs including finance, seeds and systems of extension
Prof Gordon Conway, Agriculture for Impact

Carbon finance associated with CSA practices is an element that will interest most farmers, but the level to which it would benefit smallholder farmers is an issue that needs thorough evaluation, due to challenges in amassing financially profitable carbon units.
Yasin Mahadi, Camco/Future Agricultures Consortium

Smallholder farmers cannot invest heavily in their land, but new methods of farming which are low-input, and yet which result in increased outputs, are particularly attractive. It can also be attractive because it promotes an integrated farming approach that, while more labour intensive, can be low cost. Access to labour is not a problem for most smallholder farming communities, while access to capital is.
George Jacob, Self Help Africa

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Who pays for CSA?

In a developing country context, major public investment may be needed to kick start some CSA technologies and practices. If farmers are going to incur costs in putting carbon into the soil, those costs will need to be recouped somehow - for example in higher food prices or in subsidies to pay for environmental services.
Bruce Campbell, CGIAR

To tackle deforestation, integrated action across REDD+ and agriculture is required (© Neil Palmer (CIAT))
To tackle deforestation, integrated action across REDD+ and agriculture is required
© Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Consumers would pay in one way or another. For large-scale production, premium prices associated with "green" labels could potentially play a role similar to what we have now for organic and fair trade products. For small scale farmers, initial financial support and access to markets are necessary before they can effectively shift to sustainable practices.
Marco Rondon, IDRC

All over the world, a huge quantity of public funds is spent on greenhouse gas emission reduction in the private, industrial sector. In our view, it would be more productive, prudent and fair to utilize public resources on promoting CSA as this will have medium and long term consequences related to the very survival of humanity.
Dr. K. R. Viswanathan, Senior Advisor Climate Change Adaptation and Climate Resilient Development, Swiss Embassy, New Dehli

A blend of public, private and development funding is required to tackle climate resilience, low carbon growth and food security issues. There is a need to integrate climate matters into agricultural development plans, and since agriculture is the major driver of deforestation, there is need for integrated action across REDD+ and agriculture.
Ademola Braimoh

Ultimately climate smart pays for itself. The benefits in terms of food security and sustainability are far greater than the cost of supporting farmers, or the costs of inaction, in terms of human, social and environmental as well as financial costs.
Farming First coalition

Scaling up CSA

Global carbon markets need to be further developed and these markets, along with REDD+, need to incorporate soil carbon sequestration incentives. To do this we need a fast and cheap way of effectively measuring carbon sequestered in the soil across a large number of small farms.
Prof. Gordon Conway

Policies need to be developed to incentivise and reward climate smart practices, including carbon sequestration. Education, training and knowledge will also be critical - including early warning systems to alert farmers to weather changes, along with support and promotion through farm extension services. In addition, we need increased support for research, development and technologies, to ensure wider availability of drought tolerant crop varieties.
George Jacob

Education, training and knowledge will be critical in scaling up CSA (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
Education, training and knowledge will be critical in scaling up CSA
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Our future agriculture needs to be flexible and able to deal with a range of uncertain impacts of climate change. It should be highly productive while at the same time low in emissions. This will only be possible if we have resourceful farmers, farmers that are well-educated, have access to infrastructure, inputs, varieties, markets, knowledge and information. So, above all, let us invest in empowering smart agriculturalists!
An Notenbaert, International Livestock Research Institute

Immediate priorities should include the realisation of the G8 funding commitments made in L'Aquila; national government commitment to earmark specific funding to re-establish and improve extension services; a strong and global commitment to supporting public-private partnerships as a means to advance research and the adoption of new practices and technologies; and specific commitments to research funding in key crops and on key issues, such as water use.
Farming first coalition

Early action is needed to identify, pilot and scale-up best practices to strengthen institutional capacities and enhance experiences that can help make informed choices to transform agriculture. Tools and knowledge on Climate Smart Agriculture must be further enhanced and shared. We must invest in education, capacity development and communication of climate-smart practices.
Alberto Sandoval

Not the whole story

If Climate Smart Agriculture can increase food production and be sustained over time, it may lead to higher global food security. However, producing more food is only one of many chords that need to be orchestrated before every human on the planet can consume the minimum daily calories required to sustain life. Currently, food is available - the challenge for poor people across the globe is accessing food they can afford. Increased productivity is necessary but not sufficient to ensure food security.
Marco Rondon

CSA practices propose a transformation of agriculture, in the way we grow food and treat the environment in a changing climate (© FAO/Giulio Napolitano)
CSA practices propose a transformation of agriculture, in the way we grow food and treat the environment in a changing climate
© FAO/Giulio Napolitano

Climate Smart Agriculture adds mitigation to a focus on well-established agricultural strategies around raising productivity, growth through modernisation, technology development and the green revolution. Yet whilst the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture reinforces the status quo around growth, the evidence base to suggest that growth approaches are the solution to, and not just the cause of, the climate problem, remains at best inconclusive.
Rocio Hiraldo/Andy Newsham, Institute of Development Studies/Future Agricultures Consortium

CSA is the latest attempt to reconcile the dual, competing, prerogatives for achieving global food security: increasing agricultural productivity whilst maintaining environmental integrity through a combination of mitigation and adaptation strategies. Unfortunately the practical results of these dualistic trade-offs often create unforeseen consequences, such as an increased reliance on technological and other inputs. This can further marginalise those that are already excluded from the global development agenda, thereby exacerbating existing inequalities in the food system.
Laura Pereira, Oxford University/Future Agricultures Consortium

Date published: November 2011

 

Have your say

Income from carbon/REDD+ transactions can be used to help ac... (posted by: Douglas White)

It is very inteesting and we have to apply in our areas. I a... (posted by: Moe Moe)

Thanks for this summary. I have been wondering the same - Wh... (posted by: Elisabeth Simelton)

 

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