Download Now! Actions to Transform Food Systems under Climate Change

How smart is Climate Smart Agriculture?

How smart is climate-smart agriculture? Photo: World Bank
(view original)

By Brent Swallow, University of Alberta. Also read his follow up post Climate Smart Agriculture can be pretty smart

In 2010 a cluster of United Nations and pan-African organizations released a little book entitled Climate Smart Agriculture (PDF).

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) “seeks to increase sustainable productivity, strengthen farmers’ resilience, reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and increase carbon sequestration.” The little book and the concept are getting a lot of attention here at COP17.

I’ve attended two side events on the topic so far. CSA seems to resonate with the programs and priorities of donors. For example, a representative of the Norwegian Government explained that CSA fit perfectly with their two development priorities of climate change and food security. The French food giant, Danone, explained how Climate Smart Agriculture resonates with their multi-million dollar Corporate Social Responsibility initiative that seeks to improve the well-being of smallholder farmers well-being while reducing GHG emissions. The World Agroforestry Center is delighted with the concept: planting and protecting trees in agricultural systems is one main practices that is promoted in CSA initiatives. In their CSA initiative, the Government of Ethiopia is providing farmers with seedlings for 100 million Faidherbia albida, a tree that is remarkably well-suited for integration with crops.

But people are asking the questions: how smart is Climate Smart Agriculture? We are told that CSA requires more careful adjustment of agricultural practices to natural conditions, a knowledge-intensive approach. Yet we know that agricultural extension systems remain weak in Africa. Other studies have shown that inorganic fertilizer (nitrogen and phosphorous) is the key to raising the productivity of Africa’s agriculture and organizations like AGRA focus on improving access to fertilizer and markets. And to prove that CSA sequesters carbon that could justify carbon offset payments, doesn’t it require huge investment in measurement and reporting that would be more costly than the value of the carbon offsets that would be generated?

More work is needed. Fortunately, today is Agriculture Day at the UNFCCC so perhaps some of these questions will receive adequate answers.

Brent Swallow is an Environment and Development Economist and chair of the Department Resource Economics and Environmental Sociology at the University of Alberta, Canada. This story was originally posted on his blog.