Article written

  • on 31.10.2014
  • at 10:00 AM
  • by Kevin Hind

Climate-smart agriculture: A practical or idealistic approach? 0

Agriculture must be tailored to current and future climate change patterns to ensure tomorrow’s food production. To meet this challenge, FAO and other organisations launched the climate-smart agriculture concept at the first Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change at The Hague in 2010. What does it involve?

“In recent decades, changes in climate have caused impacts on natural and human systems on all continents and across the oceans,” reports the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. The future depends on the capacity of the agricultural sector to address this momentous challenge.

Climate change is already a reality for many smallholders. The AfricaAdapt network aims to share knowledge on climate change adaptation in Africa. It has collected testimonies from local communities throughout Africa – from Burkina Faso to Cameroon and from Malawi to Zimbabwe – on the impacts on family farming. Longer dry periods, shrinking water supplies, increased flooding, desertification, and unpredictable and changing seasonal weather patterns, causing lower crop yields and thus farm production, are a few of the impacts pointed out by these communities.

These communities have been coping with the situation by adopting techniques such as drip irrigation and water recovery, planting improved early-maturing varieties and using soil conservation methods. However, as a way of adapting or sometimes even surviving, some have also been forced to migrate and move away from farming activities. Some are, to a certain extent, practising climate-smart agriculture (CSA). The three main pillars of this concept are: sustainably increased agricultural productivity and income (food security); adaptation and enhanced resilience to climate change (adaptation); and reduction and/or absorption of greenhouse gas emissions (mitigation). FAO plans to apply this concept to develop the technical, policy and investment conditions necessary to achieve sustainable agriculture to meet food security challenges in the face of climate change.

Response to an emergency situation

This ambitious broad-scope CSA concept is still in its infancy. It is geared towards responding to the crisis situation facing many farmers, including the most vulnerable, especially in Africa where rainfed agriculture is practiced on 95% of farms.

But not everything is new in CSA. Quite the opposite: many practices and/or technologies are based on sustainable agricultural development, enhanced natural resource management and sometimes ancestral knowledge revamped for today’s world. Practices inspired by conservation agriculture, agroforestry and agroecology enable farmers to adapt to climate change: introducing trees in farming systems to capture nitrogen; creating ponds, dams or basins to collect and retain water; adopting new seed varieties, e.g. a rice variety resistant to salt water or flooding, or a drought-tolerant maize variety; and setting up direct seeding mulch-based cropping systems.

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Photo credit: People, Food and Nature

Spore is the flagship magazine of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). From October 2012, the magazine is managed by a consortium led by Afronline’s publisher, VITA.

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