Can climate-smart agriculture also be resilient?

Building resilience is particularly relevant to the 500 million smallholder farmers who produce about 80% of food in some countries. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

What is resilience? Why is it relevant for agriculture in a changing climate? Report back from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) 2020 Conference, ‘Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security’.

Resilience is the ability of individuals, communities, states and their institutions to predict, prevent, cope with, recover, and even prosper after shocks and crises. In the context of food and nutrition security, shocks such as droughts, floods, earthquakes, hurricanes, and conflicts can affect the food and nutrition security of individuals, communities, and states.

This is particularly relevant to the 500 million smallholder farmers who produce about 80% of food in some countries, said Kanayo Nwanze, President, International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in his keynote address to the to the IFPRI 2020 Conference, ‘Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security’. Smallholder farmers in developing countries are exposed to shocks, and often do not have the asset base, insurance, financial services and social safety nets to cope with them, and are unable to invest in measures to mitigate and adapt to the increased risks posed. In this context, building resilience of these smallholder farmers and supporting institutions, will determine their ability to deal with shocks and be food and nutrition secure.

The concept of ‘resilience’ has gained prominence in international discussions in the context of increasing shocks and disasters, which are undermining conventional development investments. Maria Helena Semedo, the Deputy Director General of the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimated that in the past decade, disasters alone have caused an estimated US$ 1.3 trillion in damages and affected almost 3 billion people..

By building resilience into development programs, investors and governments are more likely to be able to deal with shocks and stressors. The resilience framework enables the integration of development programming together with humanitarian efforts, thereby providing a holistic and long term view to interventions.

Resilience in the context of climate change

The concept of resilience becomes all the more relevant in the context of climate change, which is likely to increase the number and intensity of certain shocks, while also putting pressure on food production and productivity.

This was highlighted by several world leaders at the conference, including UN Secretary General, Ban Ki-moon who stated ‘Climate change is already having a devastating impact on all aspects of food security, from production and prices to food quality and safety’.

His thoughts were echoed by the Prime Minister of Ethiopia, Hailemariam Desalegn who said ‘Climate change and extreme weather events pose the greatest challenge to food production and productivity’, and Maria Helena Semedo, the Deputy Director General of FAO, who noted that, ‘Climate change and climate variability can compound other major threats, resulting in protracted crisis and widespread vulnerability’.

Is resilience programming a new phenomenon?

Resilience programming is not a new phenomenon, there have been several examples of interventions that build resilience in the context of food and nutrition security. For instance, Ethiopia through its Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) and Risk Financing Mechanism managed to mitigate the impacts of drought in the horn of Africa successfully in 2011.

In Bangladesh, improved canals which allow people to navigate at the time of floods, and submersible roads enable communities in flood prone areas to cope with and recover from flooding incidents. In India, weather-based insurance provides a financial safety net to farmers in the face of shocks and stressors.

While these recent examples are well-documented, there are more such examples which are not documented, particularly within the vast pool of indigenous knowledge which has enabled communities to survive shocks and stressors over the years.

According to Maria Helena Semedo, what is needed is a paradigm shift in programming, so that in addition to addressing short term needs, a foundation for long term development is also established. In doing so, Nwanze stressed that practitioners need to listen to and respect the opinions of local people, and focus on community led development, and ensure that efforts do not take the form of charitable handouts, as these are counterproductive to resilience building efforts.

The way forward

As David Nabarro, United Nations Secretary-General Special Representative on Food Security and Nutrition, stressed, in moving forward with the resilience agenda, the international community needs to recognize the fact that resilience should come from within. Development practitioners can only facilitate the resilience building process, but the actual actions must come from individuals, communities, and countries themselves.

Maria Helena Semedo noted that Climate-Smart Agriculture can be a vehicle for moving the resilience agenda forward, particularly in the face of climate related shocks and stressors. For this, the forthcoming Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture plays a crucial role. Ban Ki-moon highlighted the potential that the Alliance has, to bring together diverse stakeholders including, governments, farmers, fishers, forest user groups, civil society, the private sector, and research institutions to advance the implementation of Climate Smart Agriculture.

Other international efforts are also continuing to build resilience in the context of food and nutrition security. The Global Environment Facility has announced the Integrated Approach Pilot program Fostering Sustainability and Resilience for Food Security in Sub-Saharan Africa, a US$ 120 million initiative to foster long-term sustainability and resilience of food production systems in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

The World Food Programme (WFP) has launched a Food Security Climate Resilience Facility (FoodSECuRE), which aims to close gaps between needs and funding for food security and climate resilience. There is a pressing need to scale up such existing international initiatives, while at the same time endeavour to mainstream the indigenous knowledge built up over centuries.

Resilience building efforts should focus on multiple levels, including the country level, the community level, and the individual level, and be guided by Ban Ki-Moon’s vision that “we have to do everything we can to enable the 500 million smallholder farmers to produce enough food, and increase their resilience to the shocks caused by a warming world”.

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Dhanush Dinesh is CCAFS Global Policy Engagement Manager and was attending the conference ‘Building Resilience for Food and Nutrition Security’ for CCAFS.