‘Climate-smart agriculture’ is turning 10: is it time to celebrate?

Participatory climate-service and information training in Tanzania. Photo: Cecilia Schubert (CCAFS)
Nov 13, 2019

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Andreea C. Nowak and Todd Rosenstock (ICRAF)

Reviewing the successes and challenges of climate-smart agriculture reveals that more work is needed if the world’s smallholders are to adapt to all the forthcoming pressures not only climate change.

This year marks the 10th anniversary of the creation of ‘climate-smart agriculture’. Since the concept was launched by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations in 2009, CSA has grown into a central paradigm of agricultural development, perhaps rightfully so.

Climate change poses a significant threat to smallholders. Climate-smart agriculture seeks to address that threat by sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, building resilience to climate change and reducing emissions. Virtually everyone agrees that these three pillars of climate-smart agriculture are critical to building sustainable societies.

It’s also true, however, that ‘climate-smart’ has become a brand, with everything from seeds to soils being stamped with the climate-smart agriculture label. The ubiquity of climate-smart agriculture threatens to dilute its meaning and perhaps even undermine its goals. The 10-year anniversary of climate-smart agriculture is a good time to celebrate its successes and to reflect on persistent challenges that have stunted its growth. Here we draw on experiences from Africa, where people and livelihoods are particularly vulnerable to climate change, and where climate-smart agriculture seems to be sprouting up everywhere.

Gender and household decision-making in climate-smart agriculture. Nwoya District, Uganda. Photo IITA-CCAFS/M. Acosta. jpg

Gender and household decision-making in climate-smart agriculture. Nwoya District, Uganda. Photo: M.Acosta (IITA-CCAFS)

1) Political alignment

In 2014, the secretary-general of the United Nations launched a ‘moon shot’, announcing a plan to enable 500 million farmers to practise climate-smart agriculture by 2030. Since then, African governments have worked with NGOs, academics and others to develop roadmaps for climate-smart agriculture that align climate-change responses with established strategies for rural development.

In Kenya, for example, the 10-year National Climate-Smart Agriculture Implementation Framework, designed by a cross-ministerial task force, emphasizes agricultural actions that contribute to the country’s global climate-change commitments. Similar efforts have taken root in Tanzania, Zambia, Mali and other countries. This is an important start.

But cross-ministerial participation comes with a high price tag, with costs generally exceeding what is affordable under current agricultural-sector budgets. Building long-term financial, technical and managerial capacity will be critical in the effort to address cross-cutting development issues.

2) Finance

Climate-smart initiatives now have dedicated funding streams from international finance institutions. The USD 200 billion climate-action pledge launched by the World Bank Group seeks to build the resilience of 250 million farmers through investments in knowledge and information services. The International Fund for Agricultural Development’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme, worth over USD 300 million, has so far provided climate and environmental finance for over 8 million smallholders worldwide. An innovative public-private fund in West Africa targets smallholders’ organizations and agribusinesses in the region, tying finance to adoption of climate-smart agriculture. Taken together, these efforts provide significant resources that can help improve the adoption rates of technologies and management practices and delivery of services that support the pillars of climate-smart agriculture.

3) Collaborations

Climate-smart agriculture focuses on outcomes rather than on the means of getting there. This approach has allowed individuals and groups with different value systems to engage meaningfully with each other, thereby maximizing impact. Many voluntary, multi-stakeholder initiatives have been formed and have spread from national to regional and global levels.

These efforts provide critical knowledge, development of technical capacity and support for implementation, helping countries deliver on targets for climate-smart agriculture. Without doubt, such alliances represent a new way of doing business, with collaboration overriding competition.

However, participation of farmers’ groups in such platforms remains more symbolic than substantive, a situation that raises questions regarding inclusivity in decision-making. When designing and prioritizing future climate-smart agricultural investments, it will be critical to level the playing field in order to create just, equitable conditions for participation.

Continue reading the article here.


This story is based on reflections following editing The CSA Papers book project, a 26-chapter, open-source volume on key obstacles to climate-smart agricultural development. The CSA Papers were supported by the DFID-funded Vuna programme and implemented by World Agroforestry (ICRAF) under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security’s project Partnerships for Scaling Climate-Smart Agriculture.