Climate smart agriculture, a concept developed by the Food Agricultural Organization (FAO), is an approach to developing the technical policy and investment conditions to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security under climate change.
At the farm level, CSA aims to strengthen livelihoods and food security, especially of smallholders, by improving the management and use of natural resources and adopting appropriate approaches and technologies for the production, processing and marketing of agricultural commodities.
At the national level, CSA seeks to support countries in putting in place the necessary policy, technical and financial mechanisms to mainstream climate change adaptation and mitigation into agricultural sectors and provide a basis for operationalizing sustainable agricultural development and changing conditions.
Not all of climate smart agriculture is new. The intriguing approach blends modern research and information – such as climate data, with traditional agricultural methods, and local knowledge with international best cases. Climate smart agriculture brings to together practices and technologies that provide promising solutions for effective adaptation to climate change.
Climate smart agriculture integrates all three dimensions of sustainable development and is aimed at sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience to climate change from the farm to national levels; and developing opportunities to reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture compared with past trends. It is an approach to identify the most suitable strategies according to national and local priorities that meet the objectives.
According to a 2012 background paper on Climate Smart Agriculture in the African Context, “there is no such thing as an agricultural practice that is climate smart per se. Whether or not a particular practice or production system is climate smart depends upon the particular local climatic, biophysical, socio-economic and development context, which determines how far a particular practice or system can deliver on productivity increase, resilience and mitigation benefits”.
Although investment needs for agriculture and climate finance is limited, an estimate of cumulative needs for agriculture investment in sub-Sahara Africa, North Africa, and the Near East over the period 2005/7 to 2050 amounting to approximately US$2.1 trillion or $48.5 billion per year would be needed.
For African countries, climate change adaptation is considered to be more important than mitigation, but agricultural mitigation practices can provide adaptation synergies, justifying investment in mitigation. In particular in the livestock sector, improved management practices can result in both increased productivity and substantial reductions in emissions.
The paper further reckons that agriculture in Africa must undergo a major transformation in the coming decades in order to meet the intertwined challenges of achieving food security, reducing poverty and responding to climate change without depletion of the natural resources base.
In 2015, the World Bank also recognized that about 48% of Africa’s population or approximately 450 million people lived in extreme poverty, or less than $1.25 per day, with 63% of the continent’s poor living in rural areas depending on agriculture for the livelihoods.
The paper also observed that the ecosystems that provide healthy surface water and groundwater as well food, fodder and fibre are deteriorating. With these challenges, agriculture on the African continent cannot proceed “in a business-as-usual manner”. There is evidence that growth in agriculture is the most effective and equitable strategy for reducing poverty and improving food security in developing countries. African agriculture therefore “needs to transform itself to improve food and nutrition security of the growing population and to provide a basis for economic growth and poverty reduction”.
It is also feared that given the sensitive prevailing farming systems to drought, crop yields are projected to decline by as much as 50% by 2020 across the African continent. Moreover, crop net revenues may fall by up to 90% by 2100. Furthermore, livestock producers in agro-pastoral and pastoral systems, and mixed crop-livestock systems are likely to be affected by a drop in the availability of animal feed and water, as well as the changing severity and distribution of pests and diseases affecting both livestock and fodder.
Although on the larger scheme of things climate change appear to be presenting more challenges than opportunities, it is reckoned that as Africa holds 65% of the world’s arable land and 10% of internal renewable fresh water sources and with a growing middle class currently estimated at 300 million people, the African food market alone is projected to grow to $150 billion by 2030.
“Properly harnessed, the entire agricultural and agribusiness sector is projected to grow to be worth an estimated one trillion dollars by 2030. When optimized, growth in agriculture is at least two to four times more effective in reducing poverty than in other sectors. Agricultural growth also stimulates productivity in other sectors e.g. processing, transport etc whose value chains link with the agro-chain, hence results in economy wide impacts. The World Bank reports that in Africa, a 10% increase in crop yields translates to approximately 7% reduction in poverty. This potential in natural and human resources is an opportunity that can be grasped through the provision of policy and fiscal incentives for the promotion of sustainable CSA approaches”, the paper argues.
According to the Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) 2017 policy brief on climate smart agriculture in Botswana, it is held that although the country has traditional agricultural practices as well as research-based programmes and techniques that have CSA qualities, CSA requires concerted action from multiple actors to allow for context-specific approaches.
The paper notes that the vulnerability of African countries, including Botswana, to climate change is compounded by strong dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources; high levels of poverty; low levels of human capital; low levels of preparedness for climate events and poor infrastructure in rural areas.
The World Bank has also cautioned that in the absence of interventions, agricultural yields in Botswana could fall by as much as 30% by 2050. In 2010 FAO also noted that the risk which climate change poses to the agricultural sector in Botswana has significant implications for poverty-reducing capacity as it is generally agreed that growth that originates from agriculture is approximately four times more effective in reducing poverty than GDP growth that originates from other sectors.
“In this context, CSA is critical for food security and development. It is an approach that can help reduce the negative impacts of climate change and can increase the adaptive capacity of farming communities to long-term climatic trends” FAO argues.
The policy brief outlines that developing a response to climate change in several policy documents, including the National Developments Plans by government and the development of a climate change policy and institutional framework is a step in the right direction.
“There is currently no specific CSA policy or strategy in place; however, the forthcoming National Adaptation Plan will include CSA as a priority area. Botswana has several agricultural policies all nested in the National policy on Agricultural Development, whose goal is to improve food security at both household and national levels, as well as to conserve scarce agricultural and land resources for the future”, states the policy brief.
The paper also observes that Botswana has examples of both traditional and research-based agricultural practices that can be deemed climate-smart, but they are not mainstreamed and still receive limited support. Such practices include both agro-ecological techniques (e.g. minimum tillage and conservation agriculture) and agricultural biotechnology, such as high-yield and/or drought-tolerant crop varieties.
It is acknowledged by the paper that current agricultural and related sectoral policy instrument objectives resonate with CSA framework to address food security in a sustainable manner that results in adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.
“However, there are currently some perverse incentives that undermine a CSA approach”, laments the policy brief adding that a crucial precursor for the uptake of CSA in the country is the sensitization and institutionalization of the concept within the Ministry of Agricultural Development through leadership awareness of the potential benefits of CSA, as well as training of extension staff and other stakeholders (farmer organizations, NGOs) on CA framework.