In India, a surge in interest to make agriculture climate-smart

This farmer is using a leaf-colour chart to judge how much fertilizer to use. Similar technologies may soon be put to use in 500 more Climate-Smart Villages in the state of Haryana alone. Photo: P. Vishwanathan (CCAFS)
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Sep 23, 2015

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Dhanush Dinesh and Vanessa Meadu (CCAFS Coordinating Unit)

Regions

Business leaders, state governments, take action to safeguard food supply in a changing climate, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

Indian agricultural business leaders gathered last week to discuss ways to transform agricultural production under climate change, a critical challenge for a country that has the second largest worldwide farm output, and is the sixth largest net agricultural exporter worldwide. Their aim is to produce an Action Plan to improve the way businesses grow food, and develop ambitious targets to improve production resilience and reduce emissions by 2050.

To stimulate the discussion, the business leaders, who are members of the World Business Council on Sustainable Development (WBCSD), met with cutting-edge farmers in Haryana, Karnal who have been practicing climate-smart agriculture (CSA). The CSA approach aims to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and incomes; help farmers adapt and build resilience to climate change; and reduce and/or remove greenhouse gases emissions, where possible.

On arrival in Karnal, senior CIMMYT scientist Dr. M.L. Jat explains how climate-smart agriculture is implemented there. PhotoA. Khatri-Chhetri (CCAFS)

The farmers are working in Climate-Smart Villages (CSVs), in collaboration with researchers from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), local authorities, and civil society. Together, they have been testing and applying a range of agricultural interventions that are already helping them grow more food with less water and fertilizer, and plan for unpredictable weather. These tools and approaches, including laser land leveling, climate information services, and NutrientExpert, make good business sense not only to the farmers, but also to large agricultural companies that depend on stable crop yields to maintain their supply chains.

The business leaders, from major companies such as ITC, Tata, PepsiCo, Olam, UPL, Jain Irrigation and SAB Miller, hope to be part of the growing climate-smart agriculture movement. "Companies at the regional dialogue see CSA as a driver for climate resilient economic growth in the region,” said Jim Stephenson, Manager of Climate Change and Sustainability at PwC. “It was inspiring to see how farmers, business, and research organisations can work together to build a locally relevant farming approach with reduced inputs, improved yields and most importantly increased resilience," said PepsiCo's Jenny Bell. 

Participants are shown around the Climate-Smart Village (CSV). PhotoA. Khatri-Chhetri (CCAFS)

Many of the companies who participated have already established sustainable development initiatives, for example the Olam Livelihood Charter, which seeks to build resilient smallholder supply chains by offering farmer groups short and long term financing for crop production, purchasing and asset investments, and PepsiCo’s Sustainable Farming Initiative, which enables the company to measure the environmental and local economic impacts associated with their agricultural supply chain. The companies will consider ways to link their initiatives to climate-smart agriculture as a way of mainstreaming good practices and innovations.

Supporting climate-smart agriculture does not only make good business sense – it is good public policy. Agriculture is deeply embedded in India’s socio-economic fabric: it employs up to 50% of the country’s total workforce, making it the country’s broadest economic sector. Simply put, hundreds of millions of peoples’ livelihoods depend on their ability to produce food, and climate change poses a direct threat to farmers, and the people they feed.

Using technology to retrieve farming relevant climate information is one way in which climate-smart agriculture is implemented in Karnal. PhotoA. Khatri-Chhetri (CCAFS)

India’s state governments have taken notice of early successes. In Haryana, 27 climate-smart villages are under the pilot program, and based on their achievements, the Government of Haryana has kickstarted a program to launch an additional 500 CSVs in the state. Suresh Gehlawat, Additional Director Agriculture, Government of Haryana, noted that farmers were increasingly confronted with extreme weather events, making farming all the more challenging in a changing climate. “It is no longer a one-time phenomenon. We are seeing unusual weather events very often. Moving towards climate-smart agriculture through the Climate-Smart Village project is one way to insulate farmers from the impact of climate change,” he said.

R.S. Paroda, Chairman of the Haryana Farmers’ Commission stated that farmers themselves play a key part in this success, thanks to the participatory approach of CSVs which ensures farmer participation in technology development and adoption.

The CSV approach is now spreading to other parts of the country. In Bihar a pilot program is ongoing, covering 40 villages. In Gujarat, solar powered CSVs are being piloted. New proposals for CSVs across five other states are being developed under the CCAFS program by the International Food Policy Research institute (IFPRI).

All this comes just before December’s United Nations climate talks (COP21) in Paris, where world leaders will need to agree to a new climate deal.

“We hope that evidence of successful action on the ground, such as the CSVs in India, will help countries recognize that climate-smart agriculture can achieve multiple economic, food security and climate change objectives, and will inspire strong commitments and funding,” said Prof. Pramod K. Aggarwal, who leads the CCAFS program in South Asia.

Business leaders are also planning to announce ambitious private sector action at COP21. Last week’s dialogue in India was part of WBCSD-led global efforts to scale up CSA implementation, with similar dialogues convened in North America, Africa and South America. The Action Plan resulting from these dialogues will facilitate business action on CSA up to 2050, backed by rigorous science. Speaking at a forum earlier this year, Mr Peter Bakker, President of WBCSD explained “The vision for 2050 is a radical transformation grounded in science, scalable business solutions and associated policy requirements.”

See more photos from the field trip