Increased collaboration among farmers, researchers, and governments is the key to climate resilience and food security

If we want to help smallholder farmers protect themselves from climate change while increase their yields,  then all agricultural stakeholders – from farmers to international climate change negotiators - must work together to implement climate-smart agriculture practices. This message resonated loudly during an official side event at the United Nations Framework on Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) Conference of Parties COP 20 in Lima, Peru which was organized by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) together with Kenya's Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural Resources.

Agriculture employs 65 percent of Africa’s labor force and accounts for 32 percent of gross domestic product. The only way to realistically increase rural incomes is by ensuring farmers achieve maximum benefits from agriculture. The side event brought together researchers, agriculture stakeholders and a high ranking delegation from the Kenyan Government that involved Senators, members of parliament, and government officials in the Ministry of Environment, Water and Natural resources.  

There was a strong call for collaboration between the different players in the agricultural sector. In addition to the Kenyan government speakers, the diverse panelists that included Julian Goncalves, International Institute of Rural Reconstruction (IIRR) in the Philippines; Sergio Alonzo, Association of Organizations of The Cuchumatanes (ASOCUCH) in Guatemala; Myriam Patricia Guzman, National Rice Growers Federation (FEDEARROZ) in Colombia; and Manyewu Mutamba of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU). They all gave examples of successful projects that have used collaborative approaches to transform the lives of smallholder farmers and improved their livelihoods in a changing climate in their countries.

Put policy frameworks in place

Over the last 100-50 years Kenya's temperature has increased and in turn reduced the amount of arable land, there has been an increase in the size of arid and semi-arid lands from 80% to 84% exposing fragile communities to harsh weather conditions. The government has taken note of this changing climate

Dr. Alice Kaudia, Secretary to Kenya’s Ministry of Environment, pointed out that the government has already put in place the necessary policy framework for the agricultural sector to flourish. She emphasized that agriculture can do very well in Kenya if key stakeholders in the agriculture sector would seize the opportunity the Kenyan government has provided.

“Kenya’s new constitution is a green constitution which combats climate change and at the same time puts a major emphasis on the agriculture sector,” she said. “We have given all the necessary support from the Government’s end, farmers and other actors now have to play their part.”

Access all the presentations below:

Participatory research is essential

Researchers need to work hand in hand with farmers in the research process, for the ownership of projects and adoption of better seed varieties and animal breeds that are better adapted to the changing climate. But often, research is not done this way, and researchers do not understand farmers’ needs, resulting in mismatched problems and solutions.

“In against climate change adaptation, smallholders provide an amazing opportunity of having a multiple benefit approach that cannot be done with large scale farmers,” said Julien Goncalves

Farmers should not be seen as end users only but as major partners whose livelihoods depend on agriculture and are major contributors to food security and climate change mitigation.
"We allow farmers to try out all available varieties and they are free to say which varieties are good with regards to yields, taste, and market value and growth patterns," explained Sergio Alonzo

Work with farmer organizations

Bringing together farmers through farmer organizations is the only way to ensure there is a united voice from farmers and presents an amazing entry point to interact with them. In Southern Africa, SACAU has been able to transform the lives of smallholders through mobilization of farmer organizations. This has given the smallholders opportunities to access financial services, agro-technical support services and better market bargaining opportunities. As a result, there has been a drastic upward change in their income margins.
 During his presentation Manyewu Mutamba insisted that youth need to be roped into farming which is an equal and even better employer than some of the white-collar jobs available in the city. He insisted that farming in Africa still holds promise.

"Farmers are the biggest dream catchers in the world,” he explained. “If you paint a good dream to a farmer and show him how to get there, in the next five years he will have done what you told him and surpassed it. The only problem we have is not sharing these dreams with our farmers," he said.

Next steps for action

The side event ended with some recommended actions that could cushion smallholders from climate change effects and improve smallholder livelihoods.

First, government, researchers, farmer organizations and other stakeholders must collaborate more effectively. All stakeholders must have a common approach to working with farmers. The use of different strategies that are working towards one goal at the end has not worked well in the past.

Secondly, farmer organizations present a link between farmers and all other agricultural stakeholders, so it is important to ensure that all farmers are in such organizations.

Finally, a participatory approach towards agricultural research, that involves farmers from the beginning and takes into consideration their views and wants
Knowledge sharing from implementer of successful projects, which will help guide other projects into success.

The event also saw the launch of the new “Climate and Agriculture Network for Africa” (CANA) which has been set up to facilitate and enhance science-policy dialogue. The platform will play a key role in helping stakeholders compile and share critical information on Climate-Smart Agriculture, in order to achieve impact at scale.

Can Africa’s agriculture be climate-smart? Find out more:

Read full Op Ed piece by James Kinyangi: Climate change: Re-adapting agriculture, 8 December 2014 The Africa Report 

Download the new Booklet: Evidence of Impact: Climate-smart agriculture in Africa

Solomon Kilungu is a Communication Assistant from CCAFS East Africa and Vanessa Meadu is a Communicator from the Coordinating Unit

CCAFS and partners were at the UN Climate Talks in Lima in December 2014 to share experiences and insights on agriculture and food security. Find out more and join the conversation online by following our COP20 blog@cgiarclimate on twitter, on Facebook and Google+.