Climate smart agriculture: Unlocking the puzzle
Jules Siedenburg critically discusses Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) approaches, highlighting both the potential prospects and challenges in achieving the ‘triple wins’.
Despite its importance, farming is already in trouble in many countries and faces looming threats. Notably, small-scale farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia make up a majority of the 1 billion food insecure people in the world. These communities also tend to be highly vulnerable to climate change and in many places its impacts have become palpable in recent years, including increasingly variable rainfall and more frequent and dramatic droughts, flooding and cyclones. Consequences for farming communities can include reduced crop and livestock productivity, and sometimes crop failures and livestock mortality. Such impacts are predicted to increase over time due to climate change.
How agricultural production copes with climate change and how farming practices respond to it are therefore critical questions. ‘Climate smart agriculture’ (CSA) offers potential answers.
Introductory guide to CSA
I have developed a guide on CSA examining the concept further and providing links to further useful research. What I note is that CSA has emerged as a family of agricultural technologies that aim to deliver on both core farming objectives and climate change objectives. Specifically, these technologies promise synergistic ‘triple win’ outcomes, as demonstrated in myriad case studies of local successes, some of which is highlighted in the identified key readings. This ‘triple win’ includes:
- sustainably increasing agricultural productivity or incomes
- building resilience to climate change impacts (i.e. climate adaptation), and
- combating climate change (i.e. climate change mitigation).
Winners and losers?
CSA seems to hold amazing potential, yet this has not been realised to date, beyond numerous yet typically isolated case studies. Simply put, CSA technologies have generally failed to disseminate spontaneously, raising questions as to why. This state of affairs constitutes a conundrum, especially since these technologies tend to emphasise readily accessible inputs, notably innovative ways of managing local natural resources. The literature cites numerous barriers to farmer adoption of these technologies, yet still this state of affairs remains unsatisfactory and troubling.
SDGs and COP21 agendas
At COP21, organisations, practitioners, researchers and policy advisors/makers will attend discussions and meetings to critically examine CSA, promote ideas and share practical experiences. A lot of learning will emerge over the next 10 days. The road ahead for CSA is exciting, with intelligent discussions to be had about the challenges that it also presents.
You can find the Climate Smart Agriculture Key Issues Guide here: www.eldis.org/csa
For more reading on CSA issues, you can visit the Eldis Agriculture and Food thematic section