Well-functioning 'rules of the game' crucial for agricultural development

A recently released Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook brings forward the need to create, and strengthen institutions in order for farmers to successfully improve their livelihoods and yields. Photo: N. Palmer

by Cecilia Schubert

What have institutions got to do with improving maize crops? Far-fetched as it might seem, institutions, such as organisations, formal and informal contracts and rules, really matter when trying to get the highest yields possible from our fields. Imperative to help farms create resilience toward haphazard weather events, institutions are also the backbones for serving farmers investment credits.

This is only to mention a few areas where institutions matter for agriculture development, and the implementation of climate smart agriculture practices.

The strong linkages between agriculture and institutions are explained in a recently published Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook, prepared by the Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) with a multitude of partners, including the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

The chapter ‘Local Institutions’, led by Patti Kristjanson, Theme Leader for CCAFS, with contributions from Sonja Vermeulen, CCAFS Head of Research, lays out how strong institutional support can help smallholders move towards climate smart agriculture.

Well-functioning local institutions designed to stay in touch with the true needs of smallholder farmers can, for instance, improve the dissemination of climate information. In addition, institutions can help provide financial support and access to markets, and coordinate the work of a large number of farmers over a wide area.Get the recently released Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook here.

What are ‘institutions’?

The term ‘institutions’ has been a confusing one for many, as people tend to think that the term means ‘organizations’. In reality, institutions signify something broader than that. They essentially define the ‘rules of the game’, i.e. the way things are and can be done, as defined by accepted norms, roles and values.

Institutions include formal organizations and contracts as well as informal social and cultural norms and conventions that operate within and between organizations.

The ambition to help farmers adapt to climate change while building resilience could remain an elusive ambition, without the right support structure in place to ensure local institutions serve farmers. Institutions should be developed to help carry the workload for farmers, the Sourcebook institution-chapter concludes.

A move towards climate-smart agriculture will require changes in how farmers act, farm and go about their daily business as well as changes in strategies. The requirements to implement climate-smart agriculture might seem overwhelming to smallholder farmers without support and available knowledge  in their communities.

If farmers have nowhere to turn - to help manage risks and get new ideas - how will they manage to create a climate smart future for their farms? Most likely, smallholder farmers will not change anything if they are risking their livelihoods and food sources, or don’t receive the support they need.

The Sourcebook brings forward three ways in which institutions can support farmers’ implementation of climate smart practices:

Producing and sharing technical knowledge:

Institutions that produce and share information and help people translate this information into knowledge and action are essential. These institutions include: farmer field schools, farm radio shows that provide easily accessible, useful and useable agricultural and weather-related information that are driven by farmers’ needs; local agricultural demonstration plots and events; and farmer-to-farmer exchanges.

Providing financial services, credit and access to markets:

Farmers who lack access to credit and markets are unable to adopt climate smart techniques. This is why strengthening institutions to support agricultural markets, financing mechanisms and insurance schemes are critical, if climate-smart agriculture is to be a any form of success. This includes institutions, or organisations and private companies, providing credit, insurance, social safety nets, and payments or rewards for environmental services.

Supporting the coordination of collaborative action:

Many climate smart agriculture activities are only possible, due to high workload and start-up costs if people work together. Institutional arrangements that help groups and people come together, for one mutual goal, are therefore essential. On a larger scale, institutional arrangements are also needed to facilitate coordination across organizations and sectors through networks and knowledge-sharing platforms  

Climate smart agriculture projects also need to take into account the cultural institutions that shape the lives and practices of the communities they seek to support.

In summary, climate smart initiatives rely on networks to support information exchange and partnership-building, including private companies, research institutions and development organisations and others. These networks, or platforms, help create an environment for knowledge and information sharing, and help institutions come together to work towards one goal.

Platform examples:

The Adaptation, Mitigation and Knowledge Network 

In West Africa, CCAFS Regional Office is working on gathering key stakeholders to create a knowledge platform to share information and best practices:

West Africa national knowledge sharing platform is coming to life

Learn more - get the 'Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook' here.

Written by Cecilia Schubert, Communications Assistant at CCAFS Coordinating Unit. Follow us on Twitter for the latest on climate-smart agriculture: @Cgiarclimate