What is Climate-smart agriculture and how can it help developing countries cope with climate change? 

By Sergiu Ipatii

What is Climate-smart agriculture and how can it help developing countries cope with climate change? 

The world population is growing – there is no doubt about that. The need for food grows proportionally and this is considered to be one of the main challenges that will need to be tackled by the international community over the next decades. By 2050, according to UN and World Bank estimations, the quantity of available food needs to increase by 60%-70% in order to meet the nutritional requirements of the future population of the planet. How should developing countries – where a significant growth in population growth is expected – adapt their agricultural practices to these new conditions? In this article, prepared by DevelopmentAid, we take a look at the Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) concept and the recent activities surrounding it. 

Agriculture is severely affected by climate changes. This is particularly relevant in developing countries where the productivity level of agricultural activity is low due to, amongst other things, to the worsening climatic conditions. However, ironically, agriculture is partially ‘responsible’ for the alarming consequences of climate change. As a term, Climate-smart agriculture (CSA), was introduced by the Food and Agriculture organization under the United Nations (FAO) in 2010. CSA is agriculture “that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation), and enhances the achievement of national food security and development goals”.

The CSA concept is based on three simultaneously targeted outcomes.

Increased productivity: To produce more food in a sustainable way in order to improve nutrition security and to increase the income of over 70% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas and rely on agriculture for their livelihood;

Enhanced resilience: To adapt and scale up resilience to climate change by increasing disaster risk reduction (DRR) management and to reduce vulnerability to drought, pests and disease. In addition, to improve the capacity to adapt and grow in the face of more frequent and unexpected challenges such as shortened seasons and chaotic weather patterns;

Reduced emissions: To consciously target lower emissions per kilo of food produced, to limit deforestation from agriculture and to look for ways to absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

In other words, CSA is an approach consisting of a set of instruments and techniques that should be applied by farmers in developing countries in order to obtain higher income (as a result of higher productivity) while using more organic practices (such as water retaining, organic fertilizers, mulching and inter-cropping etc.) and thus tackle the effects of climate change. Weather analysis tools, soil management plans, conservative agriculture, drip irrigation systems and improved drainage are just a few of the instruments that we have found to be available which have been incorporated into the CSA matrix.

The authors of the concept claim that CSA is an adequate response to the fact that agricultural activity generates between 19 to 29% of total Green House Gas (GHG) emissions according to the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security program. The highest sources of the emissions are non-CO2 emissions (fertilizer use, crop residues etc.) and the CO2 produced by livestock.

How can CSA help to bring a change to developing countries?

Developing countries rely heavily on agriculture which is one of the most important sectors of their economies. According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), seven out of ten of the world’s poor still live in rural areas. They work directly in agriculture, as smallholders, farm workers or herders. Improving the agricultural practices in developing countries will bring additional income and thus contribute to the overall amelioration of poverty. But how could this target be achieved in a smart way with climate variables entering into the equation?

The authors of the initiative insist that CSA has an explicit focus on addressing climate change. It systematically considers the synergies and trade-offs that exist between productivity, adaptation and mitigation. Finally, CSA aims to capture new funding opportunities to close the deficit in investment.

The World Bank, being one of the major global development aid providers, supports the CSA initiative and constantly reports about certain results of its activities.

In Uruguay, for instance, the establishment of an Agricultural Information and Decision Support System (SNIA) and the preparation of soil management plans have contributed to the adoption of climate-smart agriculture on over 2 million hectares of lands. Across the Atlantic Ocean, in Niger, Africa, a CSA project has focused on enhancing the distribution and delivery network of improved draught-tolerant seeds, more efficient irrigation systems with expanded use of agroforestry.

Another World Bank supported project, launched in 2015, has helped pastoralists to adopt CSA practices in Burkina Faso, Chad, Mali, Mauritania, Niger and Senegal. Those interventions have been designed to improve animal health and rearing, to promote more sustainable rangeland management, to boost productivity and resilience and help to reduce emissions. One of the intervention methods has been to plant trees at cattle ranches which is defined as a CSA practice because planting trees improves both the soil and water retention ability, provides shade for cattle, contributes to carbon sequestrating and, last but not least, animal welfare as the cows are less stressed because they have shade.

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