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Concepts, evidence, viewpoints

Banner -Neil Palmer - CIAT - Flickr

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) aims to deliver an agricultural transformation that responds to evolving circumstances and needs. One foundation is ecosystem management and sustainable land and water use. Another is conducting site-specific assessments to identify suitable technologies for each locality, and to evaluate any potential trade-offs.

Many CSA solutions resemble those long advocated but still insufficiently realised on the ground, such as measures to use improved seeds, control erosion, and foster tree planting. CSA initiatives offer fresh impetus to overcome barriers to farmer adoption – such as knowledge gaps or weak support institutions – while adjusting solutions to the new reality of climate change.

Proponents of CSA suggest that its three objectives can be achieved synergistically, offering an integrated ‘triple win’, and cite numerous examples of local successes. For instance, a survey of several hundred CSA projects found that they had doubled farm production on average despite climate change impacts, while also helping mitigate climate change. Many of these results were achieved by projects that fostered farmer adoption of practices which rehabilitated degraded lands while harnessing synergies between farm components (i.e., crops, livestock, trees). A difficult question for CSA advocates is why neighbouring communities often fail to adopt these technologies if they hold such promise, while another is how local successes might be scaled up.

Meanwhile, sceptics suggest that these ‘triple wins’ are difficult to achieve in practice, and that pursuing them can have adverse effects due to trade-offs between these three goals and power dynamics between different stakeholders. For instance, in some areas maximising mitigation gains could mean deprioritising food production, so how these different priorities are balanced would be a key project or programme design question in such cases.

Agriculture has become increasingly prominent in the international climate change negotiations, thanks in part to strong advocacy from the African Group of Negotiators. Africa has led this charge due to agriculture’s centrality to many African economies, which makes them both especially vulnerable to climate change and well-positioned to benefit from enhanced emphasis on CSA.

Image credit: Neil Palmer, CIAT - International Center for Tropical Agriculture / Flickr