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Why does agriculture need to be Climate-Smart?

It is now clear, after the Fourth Assessment Report of Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC, 2007) that climate change poses a serious threat to growth and sustainable development in Africa and to the achievement of the Millennium Development Goals (UNDP, 2007). The effects of climate change – reduced agricultural production, worsening food security, increased incidence of floods and droughts – are already evident (FPA and NEPAD, 2007).

The agriculture sector represents the dominant part of the economy in most African countries and is the main source of the livelihoods of millions. Therefore, we must urgently define new strategies to deal with diminishing agricultural productivity.

What are the impacts of climate change on agriculture?

Climate change has already significantly impacted agriculture (Lobell et al, 2011) and is expected to further impact food production, both directly and indirectly. Increased temperatures, changes in rain patterns, water availability, the frequency and intensity of extreme events, and sea level rise and salinization will all have profound impacts on agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Gornall, 2010; IPCC, 2007a; Beddington, et al,.2012b; HLPE, 2012a; Thornton et al., 2012).

What are the impacts of agriculture on climate change?

The agricultural sector has to produce more food despite the  impacts of climate change. On the other hand, in 2005 agriculture (crops and livestock) directly accounted for 13.5 percent of global GHG emissions (IPCC, 2007b).

Agriculture’s role in climate change and, more importantly, its mitigation potential, should be considered from a wider perspective. Some of the aspects of on-farm emissions are not included in the 13.5% figure, but are grouped in other sectors, such as electricity used in farm buildings and fuel used in farm equipment and food transport. Also, agriculture is a major driver of deforestation, which roughly accounts for an additional 17% of global GHG emissions (IPCC, 2007b).

Why is climate-smart agriculture needed?

As agricultural production is projected to increase in developing countries, so are agricultural emissions. The IPCC estimates that nitrous oxide emissions will increase by 35 – 60% by 2030 and methane emissions by 60% (IPCC, 2007b), not to mention the additional land that is projected to be converted to agriculture.

To achieve food security and agricultural development goals, adaptation to climate change and lower emission intensities per output will be critical. Developing countries–and smallholder farmers and pastoralists in particular–are being especially hard hit by the negative impacts of climate change. Many of these small-scale producers are already coping with a degraded natural resource base. They lack knowledge about potential options for adapting their production systems and have limited assets and risk-taking capacity to access and use technologies or financial services.

Enhancing food security while seeking to mitigate climate change and preserve the natural resource base and accompanying ecosystem services requires the transition to agricultural production systems that are more productive, use inputs more efficiently, and have less variation in their outputs. These systems would, ideally, be more resilient to risks, shocks and long-term climate variability.

It is precisely to articulate these changes that the FAO has forged the concept of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) as a way forward for food security in a changing climate. CSA aims to improve food security, help communities adapt to climate change and contribute to climate change mitigation by adopting appropriate practices, developing enabling policies and institutions and mobilizing needed finances.

CSA is not a single specific agricultural technology or practice that can be universally applied. It is an approach that requires site-specific assessments to identify suitable agricultural production technologies and practices.

An example of Climate-Smart Agriculture in Benin

Benin is a developing country where agriculture constitutes the basis of the national economy; the sector employs 70% of the population, represents 88% of export earnings and contributes 36% to Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Simulation studies of future climate in Benin reveal that in a 2050 climate world, food security would be compromised by impoverished yields for most of the country’s principle crops.

Faced with this situation, the Actions for the Environment and Sustainable development (ACED) NGO is experimenting with CSA in 2 villages in Sô-ava, Benin, specifically, composting water hyacinth for organic agriculture. Water hyacinth blocks river transport and fisheries, inhibits aquatic resources, and produces greenhouse gases (CH4, NO, CO², etc.) through its unregulated decomposition. Diagnostic studies on composting water hyacinth have identified several options for integrating the invasive plant into the agricultural system for improved soil fertility and structure, thus reducing its negative impact on waterways and the climate.

The CGIAR Challenge Program on Water and Food side event at AASW6 (July 16th, 2013) will further discuss this issue, likely impacts, and options for the future.

Source: Original blogpost by Donald Houessou, Actions for the Environment and Sustainable Development, Benin on the FARA-AASW blogPhoto courtesy of: K. Trautmann (CCAFS).

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