Bringing science into policymaking around agriculture and climate change

Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)
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Nov 12, 2017

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Lili Szilagyi and Fabian Verhage (CCAFS)

Experts explore the opportunities and constraints around the science-policy interface for climate-smart agriculture.

As most countries included agriculture adaptation and mitigation in their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in the Paris Agreement, there is real need and opportunity to bring information, evidence and science into the policymaking processes.

At the Policy Advantage event on the sidelines of COP23, speakers presented lessons learned from already existing examples, discussed the needs of policymakers for bringing science into policy, and shared development partners' perspectives on facilitating the science-policy interface for climate-smart agriculture.

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The science-policy interface: framework and examples

Science has to be credible, legitimate and relevant, but in the "age of big literature" these criteria are not enough to inform policymaking. Martin Kowarsch from the Mercator Research Institute on Global Commons and Climate Change (MCC) shared lessons from research around these three criteria.

In the realm of climate change adaptation and mitigation, there is high demand for more assessments on the solution options in research. He stressed the need for knowledge to better understand the practical implications of the options, in terms of productivity, economic implications, distributional effects, food security, and also cultural effects, among others. "Better understanding these implications would help to better integrate these policy fields. In light of these practical implications, we might have to revise the initial sets of means and policy goals," he added.

After the reflections on the science-policy interface on the global level, Godefroy Grosjean from CIAT shared successful initiatives from the national level, such as the CSA Country Profiles and CIAT's Climate Policy Hub in Asia that inform policy-making to scale up climate-smart agriculture.

In the context of research for development, there are lessons to be learned. While credibility of research is highly important to have an impact of decision-making processes, research legitimacy and relevance are equally essential, said Grosjean. He also emphasized that the process is almost as important as the output, adding that the policy process is complex, involving overlapping policies, competing objectives and information overload.

Policymakers' perspective: needs and experiences

Building on the presentations of the researchers, three policymakers illustrated the potential of the science-policy interface with three exemplary initiatives. Alicia Ilaga from the AMIA Platform of Partnership and Innovation, demonstrated how science is used to advise climate action on the ground in the Philippines and vice versa. One initiative she talked about is the establishment of Adaptation and Mitigation Initiative in Agriculture (AMIA) villages across the Philippines to inspire and help communities to manage climate risks. Through its Climate Policy Hub initiative, CIAT supports the Government of the Philippines in achieving thousands of such resilient agricultural communities. Alicia Ilaga also presented initiatives such as the National Color-Coded Agricultural Guide Map (NACCAG), the Crimate Risk Vulnerability Assessment (CRVA) and Prioritizing Climate-Resilient Agriculture (CRA) in the Philippines that all serve to support the AMIA villages.

A second illustration on how science can inform policymaking successfully was provided by Lucy Ng'ang'a from the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture. She highlighted the need of scientists to understand what the gaps are in the policies, even in existing policies. She gave the example of the USD 250M Kenya CSA project for increasing productivity of smallholder farmers under climate change. To effectively implement the project, it was necessary to conduct climate risk profiling of 24 counties, which was done in partnership with CIAT. As a result of this partnership, interventions in the counties are based on the analyses which include an account of the underlying causes of vulnerability, ongoing adaptation strategies and recommendations for potential adaptation options. This partnership provides a good example of scientists engagement with policymakers on the national level.

The importance of aligning research with existing policies was stressed as well by Margaret Yoovatana from the ASEAN Climate Resilience Network (CRN). She explained that ASEAN CRN could better justify contributions to CGIAR, if its research activities related to priorities set by countries. Moreover, she emphasized the importance for scientists to provide evidence on the results of climate action, so that they could strongly negotiate with their positions to implement climate-resilience practices.

Development partners' pespective on facilitating the science-policy interface

In the session that followed, development partners shared their view on the importance and shortcomings of the science-policy interface. Dr. Anthony Nyong from the African Development Bank (AfDB) mentioned a few inspiring examples about how the bank's programmes inform policymaking in agriculture. One of such examples is the Africa NDC Hub which the AfDB set up to align NDCs with national policies so the countries don't see themselves implementing NDCs, but instead see themselves implementing their national programmes that will contribute to the NDC targets.

The importance for policy ownership was shared by Olu Ajayi from CTA, who said that climate-smart agriculture is far below its potential. We need to communicate to policymakers not just problems, but highlight the successes as well to spark interest. It's also important to identify the policy champions who already support the approach.

Ilaria Firmian from IFAD highlighted the three ingredients for bringing science into policymaking. First, generating and communicating the evidence to inform the policy; learning alliances among different research organizations such as IFAD and CCAFS can be leveraged to support such policy dialogue. Second, strengthening the local institutions and foster dialogue with policymakers. And third, supporting local governments to operationalize local and national policies. Here, the role of research is not yet fulfilled and it can contribute significantly by assessing the effectiveness of policies and how they bring tangible results for farmers.

Building on what was said by the previous speakers, Mi Nguyen from the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA) stressed the importance of action-oriented research to catalyze action on climate-smart agriculture. She as well expressed the need for solution-oriented knowledge from research.  Cost-benefit analysis of different approaches and trade-offs is crucial and "we need to disseminate much more of that to give more options to policymakers in terms of broadening the toolbox and as well to attract investment."

Last but not least, a call was made by Gerd Fleischer from GIZ for more evidence on agricultural interventions for climate change adaptation and mitigation. He emphasized that it is crucial to get the inputs of scientists to move forward, and this is why GIZ supports CGIAR and other research organizations, to get the science and evidence to make sure agriculture is included in the climate change discussions.

The event made clear that science plays a crucial role in the setting of policies, and that there are still many opportunities to strengthen this role. There is a clear need for  organizations such as CCAFS, CIAT and IFAD to promote climate-smart agriculture in policies and investments, and ultimately make sure agriculture is not left out from the climate negotiations. To successfully provide input, researchers should understand existing policies, their shortcomings and the national priorities on which they have been based. Secondly, policymakers want solutions; solutions that can also operationalize their existing policies, so researchers should provide policy-makers with these. And thirdly, scientists should communicate about the evidence to show that these interventions bring about positive change, so that policymakers and development organizations can argue for them.

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