Are we ready for ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’?

27/09/2014 at 12:06 pm 2 comments

With demand for food set to increase 60 per cent by 2050, world leaders, major corporations and civil society met at the United Nations Climate Summit on 23 September 2014, and pledged commitments to transform agricultural practices by increasing productivity while reducing carbon emissions.

Here’s the UN press release on the occasion, which was welcomed by UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, saying “I am glad to see action that will increase agricultural productivity, build resilience for farmers and reduce carbon emissions.”

And here is the Statement for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition at the Climate Summit, presented on the day:

In today’s world there is enough food for all to be well-fed, yet one person in eight is still undernourished. Ensuring food security and good nutrition for the world’s population is one of our most pressing challenges. With the world’s population expected to exceed 9 billion people by 2050 and climate change already impacting all aspects of food security, food systems need to be more sustainable and more productive. The progressive realisation of the right to adequate food in the context of national food security is more difficult in the face of climate change, and smallholder farmers, often women, and indigenous peoples are acutely vulnerable.

Given the significant relationship between food security and climate change, our task is to dramatically scale up efforts to make agriculture more resilient. We welcome the UN Climate Summit’s focus on agriculture and climate change as it offers a platform for catalysing substantial, scalable and replicable contributions.

We undertake to improve food security and nutrition by incorporating climate-smart approaches into agriculture of all types and all scales, in order to achieve the following three aspirational outcomes: (i) Sustainable and equitable increases in agricultural productivity and incomes; (ii) Greater resilience of food systems and farming livelihoods; and (iii) Reduction and/or removal of greenhouse gas emissions associated with agriculture (including the relationship between agriculture and ecosystems), wherever possible.

We acknowledge that context-specific priorities need to be determined by farmers, based on the social, economic and environmental conditions at each site, and according to the specific type and scale of agricultural We recognize the essential role of farmers, fishers, foresters and livestock keepers, and collectively aim to enhance the resilience of 500 million people in agriculture by 2030, through the implementation of climate smart agriculture approaches, as an essential component of attaining global food security.

We invite you to join us in these critical endeavours.

It seems, though, that not every one is excited by the invitation. A coalition of NGOs said

The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture will not deliver the solutions that we so urgently need. Instead, climate-smart agriculture provides a dangerous platform for corporations to implement the very activities we oppose.”

Earlier, former CEO of Concern Worldwide, Tom Arnold, had set the scene for a discussion in Ireland, with this article in the Irish Times.

In it, he says that

“squaring this circle of increasing food production while reducing emissions will be very difficult,” but that “this growing focus on Climate Smart Agriculture presents an opportunity for Ireland.”
“What is needed … is a coherent Irish policy on climate change, backed up with credible national commitments. …  A certain percentage of the highly respected Irish development aid programme should focus on climate-smart agriculture.” And “framing a coherent Irish position will require considerable discussion involving Government, scientists, interest groups and civil society.”

In essence, what Tom Arnold proposes is that, six years after the “Hunger Task Force” report brought a new focus to Irish development cooperation (and which resulted in great Irish leadership on issues like agriculture and nutrition), Ireland should now take up a second issue for a global leadership role: climate smart agriculture.

Are we ready for the challenge?

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2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Maureen Coffey  |  28/09/2014 at 7:15 pm

    Now, although climate change is a rather broad term including ice ages and as such not useful as a guide for any (!) policy as it misses directional guidance, let’s all applaud that making agriculture more resilient is a very worthy goal. No matter under what guise agriculture gets the needed funding to close the “reliability gap” between farming and e.g. manufacturing, in today’s desertification-prone, top-soil losing deforested environments, investments into sustainable agriculture is a must. Be it aquaponics or any other method that allows more intensive farming for a still growing world population while making it more stable and insulating it against the vagaries of climate or weather, should all be welcome.

  • 2. Isabella Rae  |  08/10/2014 at 9:16 am

    In an effort to contribute to the shaping of an effective post-2015 development agenda, Gorta-Self Help Africa have engaged in a series of internal and external discussions to devise ways to address new and emerging challenges to our programmes overseas.

    We recognise the urgent need to increase agricultural productivity, while preserving the integrity of ecosystems and enhancing the resilience of local food systems. In the global arena there is a lot of discussion on the changing role of agriculture. There has been a serious paradigm shift between the old school green revolution approach to agriculture to a more sustainable method that works for the rural smallholder and subsistence-level family farming in resource-poor conditions, operating with few purchased inputs and limited technology. We know that the entire chain of food production and consumption in addition to indirect emissions resulting from land use changes predominantly driven by agriculture are responsible for over 30% of global greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Therefore business as usual is just not an option.

    Meeting increasing demand on agriculture for food, fuel, fiber and carbon storage – in the context of population increase, greater climate change impacts and agriculture emissions – will ultimately require the transformation of agricultural production systems.

    While we acknowledge the risks of a transformative approach, we believe that as an organization and as a sector we have the technical skills and abilities to lead change in our programme countries, and together rethink food systems and redefine them in view of inclusive economic growth and social development.

    In this sense we believe that Yes, we are ready for the challenge.

    Gorta-Self Help Africa recently held an international learning event in Burkina Faso on the theme: Sustainable Agricultural Intensification in the Context of Climate Change.

    The learning exchange – which saw the participation of both science and development practitioners, and discussed our agricultural development approach with examples from all of our country programmes – recognised the need for agricultural transformation via a sustainable intensification approach (SAI).

    Gorta-Self Help Africa SAI model is based on livelihoods diversification, integrated farming systems and social inclusion as key pillars. It is an integrated approach that has the potential to increase agricultural productivity, promote economic viability while maintaining the integrity of ecosystems.

    In particular, SAI aims at:

    1) Increasing agricultural productivity per unit area above existing patterns of production, including food and cash crops, livestock and other productive activities. Although intensification is frequently associated with increased yields as a result of greater use of external inputs, it may also arise from improved varieties and breeds, use of unexploited resources, improved labour productivity, and better farm management – for example improved irrigation practices or better pest control;
    2) Promoting economic viability; Despite the constraints and problems land users have, they are willing to adopt improved practices that provide them with higher net returns, lower risks or a combination of both; and
    3) Lowering environmental and/or social cost. The principles of increased production presented above, to be truly sustainable should also aim at improving ecosystem functions and services. Best practices must be environmentally friendly, reduce current land degradation, improve biodiversity and increase resilience to climate variation and change

    Climate-smart agriculture is very much part of our SAI approach in that it focuses on productivity and resilience with emphasis on the integrated management of natural resources. While we see that increasing production while reducing emissions may seem a difficult task, we believe that context specific and adapted technical approaches can achieve this goal. Field-based evidence has shown us how climate smart agriculture interventions can work, if accompanied by parallel initiatives in capacity building, sensitisation, and policy engagement.

    With regard to the risk of this approach opening further space for large corporations’ inappropriate interventions, we feel the way to address such risk is by lobbying for the adoption of appropriate private sector regulatory frameworks at country level – to the development of which, our sector can contribute.


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