Natural Disasters

Climate-smart agriculture: an answer to climate change

Sustainably increasing agricultural production, adapting to climate change and reducing emissions are the main points of climate-smart agriculture

By Deepanwita Gita Niyogi
Published: Friday 17 June 2016
Around 570 millions farms across the world are facing the threat of climate change at present Credit: FAO Flickr photostream

Farmers need to become more and more climate smart

Practices such as inter-cropping, multiple cropping and crop rotation are some of the practices farmers are using to fight climate change
Credit: CIAT/Flickr

The three-day event, Annual Forum of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA), showcased innovative ways in which farmers around the world are adapting their practices to become more and more climate smart.

The forum held in Rome witnessed participation from a number of stakeholders—governments, farmer organisations, private sector institutes, civil society and the academia, who discussed challenges facing the agriculture sector today and shared solutions on how to overcome them.

Maria Helena Semedo, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) deputy director general and coordinator for natural resources, said during the launch of GACSA, “Agriculture will play a crucial role in addressing the planet’s future challenge and is key to providing important adaptation, mitigation synergies to climate change as well as socio-economic and environmental co-benefits.”

Evil of climate change

Climate change—the increased frequency of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms— is the most challenging issue of our age.

A book detailing how climate change affects food systems says that severity of floods and storms over the past 30 years has put the agriculture sectors of many developing countries at the risk of growing food insecurity.

Around 570 millions farms across the world are facing the threat of climate change at present.

David Nabarro, the special adviser to the United Nations Secretary-General on the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and Climate Change, said world leaders want a change in “modes of production and consumption”… so that the “needs of future generations are fulfilled”.

Video: FAO

Stepping up and facing the many challenges in agriculture in not easy. However, the solution may lie in climate-smart agriculture (CSA) that broadly works on three parameters.

These are sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and farmers’ incomes, adapting to climate change and reducing greenhouse gas emissions (GHG), wherever possible.

Ugandan farmer Rose Akaki said, “When you begin to suffer you are seeing things going from bad to worse. You are bound to adapt.”

Adaptation is the key when it comes to CSA. “We need to transit to a more sustainable food system and mitigate climate change while at the same time adapt to climate change. Communities that are highly food-insecure or particularly vulnerable to climate change will necessarily prioritise adaptation, but many of the changes they might make to enhance resilience will also increase productivity and efficiency of inputs (fertilizer and water use), and even have co-benefits for mitigation,” Meryl Richaards, agroecologist at the CGIAR (Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research) Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, told Down To Earth.

Practices such as inter-cropping, multiple cropping and crop rotation are some of the practices farmers are using to fight climate change.

Reducing emissions

According to a report by FAO, to achieve food security and agricultural development goals by 2030, adapting to climate change and lowering emissions will be necessary.

Around 41 per cent of GHG come from agriculture, the CGIAR says.

Richaards said there are a number of practices that can reduce emissions from agriculture. One is alternate wetting and drying of paddy. “By reducing the frequency of irrigation (letting the fields drain periodically), methane emissions from flooded rice production can be cut in half,” the CGIAR expert added.

The practice was originally developed as a way to save water; so it has potential to be adaptive to climate change as well.

Another method that can work is increasing the productivity of milk and meat production. The livestock sector contributes to about 14.5 per cent of human-induced GHG, much of which is methane produced by ruminant digestion.

“Increasing animal and herd productivity means that fewer animals are required to produce the same amount of milk or meat, which also reduces the emissions generated in producing that food.”

According to food policy specialist Devinder Sharma when we look at climate change, the issue of GHG is important. “Globally rice is targeted for (the) wrong reasons. More emissions come from livestock production,” he said.

Sharma blamed the intensive farming system for being the culprit as it involves mechanisation and use of fertilisers. The expert advocated a change in economic policies to stop plundering of natural resources, prevent water contamination and land degradation.

Which is better?

When it comes to a comparison between climate-smart agriculture and organic farming, the former is defined by its desired outcomes—agricultural systems that are resilient, productive, and have low emissions.

Organic agriculture is defined by the method of production (no use of synthetic pesticides or fertilisers). However, many of the practices used in organic agriculture are climate smart.

Organic agriculture enhances natural nutrient cycling and builds soil organic matter, which can also support resilience to climate change and sequester carbon in soils.

The forum concluded that climate-smart agriculture can be more effective and successful. A question was asked on what linkages were being established with people working in the sustainable diets sector to which the answer was that sustainable diets and nutrition were important issues and these should be linked to agriculture.

Emphasis was also laid on introducing nutrition indicators, by going beyond calories and promoting “from field to fork approach”.

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