Millions of farmers around the world practice climate-smart agriculture

11 new research outcomes highlight progress on climate-smart agriculture around the world. Photo: CCAFS

New outcome cases highlight how science is informing policies, investments and practices worldwide.


To tackle the ‘wicked’ challenges of climate change, food insecurity and reducing emissions, we need simple and clever solutions that build on farmers’ knowledge, and suit the local context. Solutions need to be adopted by millions of farmers if we want to make a lasting impact.

A recent set of case studies shows how partners working in the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) are helping millions of people improve their food security, resilience to climate change, and economic livelihoods. One of the keys to achieving these results is developing science in collaboration with change-makers who can use new knowledge, tools and approaches. A further strategy is targeting efforts at several levels, from working directly with farmers, to informing investors and the private sector, and supporting policy makers. That’s true research-for-development.

Informing policies

Many countries want to implement climate-smart agriculture but they are not sure where to start. Responding to this, CCAFS scientists have been developing a series of Practical Guides on climate-smart agriculture together with African governments and universities, regional bodies (NEPAD and COMESA) and civil society groups. 

The guides, which are being developed with expertise from the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT), are already making a difference.

The first guide has been used by the Kenyan government to inform their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). A second guide is currently being developed to inform the plans of at least five national governments. By working with policy makers and stakeholders to identify knowledge gaps, and then do the science needed to fill those gaps, researchers are more likely to produce outputs that will truly be put into use. The focus on national processes means that research will inform policies that have the potential to impact millions of farmers.

Countries face significant uncertainty when planning for the future. Many variables shape how vulnerable regions will tackle climate change, including the potential impacts of climate change, economic developments, and social, political and environmental changes. Future Scenarios is an approach that enables policy makers to cut through the uncertainty and more accurately vision the future, in order to develop long-term plans for a country’s agricultural sector and climate adaptation strategies. The scenarios work has made significant headway, currently informing climate, agriculture and socio-economic development policies across seven countries including Honduras, Cambodia, Bangladesh, Tanzania, Uganda, Burkina Faso, Colombia and Ghana. The initiative, which was developed by a CCAFS team at the University of Oxford's Environmental Change Institute, works with multiple local and regional partners, including ministries of agriculture, forestry, fisheries, livestock, water, and rural development; universities; planning commissions, farmers associations, and the private sector. The diverse collaboration ensures a range of voices are represented, and the resulting guidance is both credible and useful for national planning.

Informing investments

Many agencies and organisations have recognized the value of climate information services for farmers – better climate information can help farmers deal with risks and shocks and plan for the future. CCAFS researchers based at the International Research Institute for Climate and Society (IRI) worked closely with key agencies to help shape investments and programs to ensure that they get the best information out to farmers. Some of the inputs included recommendations on incorporating indigenous knowledge, advice on selecting the best medium for disseminating information to farmers, and guidance on developing training programs.

These investments, totaling approximately USD 16 million, include a USD 10 million investment by the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (Norad) in a multi-sector national implementation project in Tanzania and Malawi, under the UN Global Framework for Climate Services (GFCS); a World Bank investment in agrometeorological services in Myanmar; and a USAID investment in climate services through a small grants initiative designed by CCAFS.

Collaborative research with farmers means that the climate information includes the most relevant content for both women and men farmers, and comes in the most useful formats, such as forecasts in local languages by community radio.

By working with groups that fund and deliver large-scale initiatives, CCAFS science is informing programs that reach millions.

Informing technology

The last few decades has seen major innovations in improved seeds and crops – particularly the development of crops that can withstand drought. Climate change, however, brings additional challenges, especially rising temperatures. To ensure that maize – a hugely important staple crop in many parts of Africa – can remain viable under future climates, CCAFS researchers at the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center (CIMMYT) looked at commonly-used and new drought-tolerant maize varieties (developed under the Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa (DTMA) project) by phenotyping and modelling crops under expected future climates. The results highlighted that these varieties could not withstand temperature increases and related heat stress. The research also identified potential yield gains that could be made through adapting the existing breeding pipeline to address the potential effects of future climates, particularly heat stress. As a result, CIMMYT was able to inform changes to existing policies focused on breeding drought tolerant varieties, to also incorporate heat tolerance, thus building in more robust climate resilience.

Informing practices

In climate-smart villages around the world, farmers, scientists, extension workers and development partners are working together to test and apply a range of agricultural interventions that are already helping farmers grow more food with less water and fertilizer, and plan for unpredictable weather. In Haryana, India for example, laser land leveling, climate information services, and NutrientExpert, have seen widespread adoption. Haryana’s government has taken notice of early successes, and kickstarted a program to launch an additional 500 CSVs in the state.

Research to deliver development outcomes

Reaching millions of farmers means doing research differently, especially because climate change brings a new layer of complexity. Lessons learned over the last four years of CCAFS implementation have suggested ten principles to guide effective agricultural research for development, summarized in a new info note.

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What does it take for research to deliver meaningful and lasting development impact? Share your views, examples and questions below.

Learn more

Read all eleven outcome cases on the our website or download the outcome cases from our publications library.

Read a synthesis of all the outcomes

Implementing climate-smart agriculture for enhanced food security and resilience Progress report, 14 August 2015

Read the info note

Vermeulen S, Campbell B. 2015. Ten principles for effective AR4D programs. CCAFS Info Note. Copenhagen, Denmark: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)