Achieving agricultural transformation under climate change

Photo: N. Palmer (CIAT)

At COP23, we concluded the Agriculture Advantage event outlining an action agenda on agriculture under climate change.


Agricultural production needs to increase by 60% in order to feed 9 billion people in 2050. With the challenges of climate change, this can only be achieved by transforming the agriculture sector. Despite the sector’s significance, climate finance in agriculture is miniscule; it's in stark contrast with the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) that overwhelmingly prioritize agriculture in adaptation and mitigation plans.

At COP23, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and partners discussed the different dimensions on climate action in agriculture over a week-long series of events, and envisioned a transformation of agriculture, pointing out the opportunities and calling for major investments in innovations and agricultural development.

We need innovations in #agriculture. We're not starting from scratch, there are already many in place but we need to scale up to transform agriculture under #climate change @mhailu @CTAflash #agadvantage #COP23

— CCAFS cgiarclimate (@cgiarclimate) November 14, 2017


Watch HE Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

Michael Hailu from the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) said and highlighted the importance of unlocking all kinds of innovations in the areas of, for example, public-private partnerships, making insurance, climate-informed advisories and digital technology accessible to millions of farmers.

"There's no one size fits all solution," the Minister of Agriculture, Costa Rica, HE Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini, said. In order to move from theory to practice, we need research and we need to demonstrate what works and where. It's imperative to generate information and develop pilot programmes, and disseminate and replicate the successful ones as much as possible, so that the solutions can be reflected in investments and policies.

Watch Stefan Schmitz's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

Reflecting on the role of research, Stefan Schmitz from the Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) said that "importance of research goes far beyond creating more and better knowledge," and added that research has transformative power. Now more than ever we need new solutions to the challenges that smallholders face; we need ground-breaking and freely available public goods produced by agricultural research.

Transformative change towards climate-smart agriculture is called for. Germany aims to mainstream adaptation and mitigation measures within development corporations and strengthen the discourse on agriculture in climate change. In addition, partnerships are needed to achieve transformation and “only this way we can ensure that research products continue to make their way to large number of farmers in developing countries.”

We must think beyond the farm-level and integrate the whole #ag value chain in #research. Research should support policy making ~ Dr. Stefan Schmitz, @BMZ_Bund. #COP23 #AgAdvantage

— World Agroforestry (@ICRAF) November 14, 2017

Watch Margarita Astralaga's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

The role of partnerships is essential but not enough; without climate finance in agriculture, transformation in agriculture can't be achieved. Margarita Astralaga from the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFADreminded the participants that only 2.5% of climate finance goes into agriculture. She added:

It's not only climate finance we need but also political will to achieve agricultural transformation."

Watch Ishmael Sunga's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

Reflecting on these themes, Ishmael Sunga from the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) said that there is a lot of research, finance and information going into the sector but these often miss the point. First of all, understanding the needs of farmers is essential for the farmer-based approach. We need to know what drives them, their aspirations, issues, what it is they can do by themselves, what they need help with; these all come from the basic point of understanding. We need to make farmers an integral part of the transformation.

It's wrong to think farmers are all the same. If projects are designed for farmers as homogeneous group and they fail, don't blame the farmer, blame yourself.@IshmaelSunga @SACAU_media #AgAdvantage #COP23

— CCAFS cgiarclimate (@cgiarclimate) November 14, 2017

Summing up the different dimensions of climate action in agriculture, Bruce Campbell, director of CCAFS, presented some of the priorities for realizing the agriculture advantage.

Priorities for an action agenda to transform #agriculture under #climate change #AgAdvantage #COP23 @bcampbell_CGIAR

— CCAFS cgiarclimate (@cgiarclimate) November 14, 2017

Watch Bruce Campbell's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

It's promising that negotiations on agriculture took one step forward during the Bonn climate talks. At the same time, he stressed that work must continue outside the negotiations and that organizations like CCAFS and partners can inform decision-making with sound research, concrete innovations and examples of successful projects.

Roberto Ridolfi from EuropeAid also talked about what the agricultural research community can do to help achieve agricultural transformation. We need to change the perception of farming and the appreciation of agrobiodiversity in the big food industry. For example, it can be a very convincing argument on Wall Street to introduce an agrobiodiversity index.

Farming is not a noble word; many times it's associated with poverty. We need to change the perception of being a farmer, we need to see the nobility in farming, otherwise we won't see change. @robridolfi @EC_Commission#AgAdvantage #COP23

— CCAFS cgiarclimate (@cgiarclimate) November 14, 2017

Watch Roberto Ridolfi's presentation on the CCAFS youtube channel.

He stressed that there are many useful guidelines and practical tools that should become operational guides for investors. "We need a framework of due diligence; FAO, IFAD, CTA and others are well placed to set the due diligence for investments in agriculture."

After a short break, the Agriculture Advantage event series concluded with remarks from experts representing different stakeholders and focus areas.

Paul Desanker from the UNFCCC gave advice on how to develop programmes that can help advance this transformation. He shared his idea on the six entry points that, if all combined, can help achieve progress on agriculture. The six corners of the so called 'hexagon' are: climate hazards, sectoral ministries, place itself (country, region), development themes (such as SDGs), development themes on the national level and actors. He emphasized that all six aspects need to be addressed so the programmes can make real impact.

For example, synthesizing best available science is useful for policymakers. He urged the participating organizations to examine the research, the innovations, the programmes, and conclude what the best bets are, just like CCAFS has done recently in the 10 best bet innovations for climate action in agriculture publication.

Next, Olga Spechhardt from Syngenta Foundation for Sustainable Agriculture explained about index insurance.

"If we shift the word 'insurance', for the word 'safety-net' or 'safe-farming', it would become more popular." Olga Speckhardt, @syngentafdn #COP23 #AgAdvantage

— CCAFS cgiarclimate (@cgiarclimate) November 14, 2017

Watch the discussion on the CCAFS youtube channel.

Regulation to support insurance solutions are crucial. "We need to see regulator as facilitator and enabler instead of restricter. (...) We have to ensure to raise the voice and bring government on board to create space for private sector to be more active."

In addition, we need to come up with farmer-centric approaches; involve farmers in product design and try to offer the best solutions to them at the cheapest possible price.

Moving on to the focus on gender, Sophia Huyer from CCAFS said that women and men have different levels of vulnerability and resilience. If we don't take steps to improve women's situation, they may fall further and further behind. In order to achieve real transformation in agriculture, we need to close the gender gap.

"We still have significant gender gap in #agriculture. I hope it wont take 100 years. We need to make sure it doesn't take that long. We don't have that long." Sophia Huyer @CCAFS_GSI #AgAdvantage #COP23

— CCAFS cgiarclimate (@cgiarclimate) November 14, 2017

Policy targeting gender is needed; even though we are making progress on the national level, on the local policy level the gap is still huge. She highlighted that it is key to focus on women's decision-making power at all levels; household, community and national levels.

And finally, Jonathan Mockshell from DIE talked about the challenges of addressing people, planet and profit at the same time in the context of achieving transformation in agriculture. He said that to make the right trade-offs between these dimensions and agriculture to a low carbon path, we need integrated approaches. This means to look at the whole value chain from production to post-consumption, and combining insights from and sustainable agricultural and agroecological intensification.

Experts and participating organizations are dedicated to making the agricultural transformation happen. Effective action requires strong partnerships with multiple stakeholders: investors, scientists, farmers, development practitioners and the private sector. Mechanisms and platforms to foster partnerships at global, regional and national levels should be prioritised. But, as Tony Simons, director of the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), said in his closing remarks, it starts with the individuals:

We had INDCs in Paris. We now have NDCs. We’ve lost the “I”. But actually we need to bring the "I" back; because it should be the “individually” determined contributions. Each of you in the room is responsible for about 10 tons of CO2. What are you going to do? It's easy to point the fingers at policymakers, the UN, foundations, researchers, institutions. What are you going to do to make sure that climate actions will make a difference?”



Lili Szilagyi is the Communications consultant at the CCAFS Program Management Unit and CCAFS East Africa.