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Farmers face financial constraints when pursuing “climate-smart” agriculture

UNITED NATIONS, UNEARTH News—“Climate-smart” agriculture (CSA) practices are currently being studied and implemented at the local level in the Least Developed Countries (LDCs) of Malawi and Zambia, as well as Vietnam. The three-year project was launched in January 2012, and is led by the Economics and Policy Innovations for Climate-Smart Agriculture (EPIC) Programme.

The aim of CSA is to strike a balance between food security, sustainable development, and climate change adaptation and mitigation.

A farmer presents his blueprint for a climate-smart farm Photo credit: CIAT

Farmer Maurice Kwadha presents his blueprint for a climate-smart farm in Kochiel, Kenya. Currently, only 10 percent of smallholder farmers in Africa have access to sufficient funding. Photo credit: CIAT

By the end of the century global agriculture systems are expected to feed over 10 billion people, yet climate change, in the form of increasing mean temperature, unpredictable weather patterns, rising sea levels, and salinization is likely to negatively impact LDC food security.

So far, EPIC’s project results show that while stakeholders in Malawi, Vietnam, and Zambia have been able to trade CSA strategies, diverse regional and environmental inputs mean that CSA financing must be adaptable. One of the major challenges CSA practices face is economic—currently, only 10 percent of smallholder farmers in Africa have access to sufficient funding.

“One key finding of the project is that there are diverse socio-economic and climatic situations, but also differing capacities of institutions, policies, and human resources,” EPIC Programme Director Leslie Lipper tells UNEARTH News. “This highlights that there cannot be a blueprint for climate-smart agriculture and context-specific support activities are required.”

Using economic and policy analysis, EPIC works with governments, researchers, and private institutions to facilitate the transition to CSA.

The nearly $7 million project is supported by the FAO-EC, a United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization and the European Commission partnership, and includes four phases: providing evidence for CSA, creating national frameworks for CSA, writing investment proposals, and building capacity to finance and implement CSA activities.

So far, EPIC has worked to build collaborative relationships between the ministries of environment and agriculture in Zambia and Malawi, with education playing a fundamental role in sustainable development.

“On capacity building, the project recognizes that knowledge and awareness of climate-smart agriculture issues needs to be strengthened, especially at the national and local level,” Lipper tells UNEARTH News. “For this reason it has also provided a number of Masters and PhD scholarships to students to carry out research in each of the partner countries.”

The Consultative Group on International Agriculture Research (CGIAR) estimates that agriculture contributes 30 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. This figure helps explain why FAO and other informed parties are now calling for agricultural adaptation.

One approach EPIC is currently reviewing is conservation agriculture (CA), a method incorporating crop rotation, reducing tillage, and restoring organic soils.

This and other methods favored by EPIC stand in contrast to those of industrial agriculture, in which large amounts of the same crop are grown each year. These intensive techniques often lead to soil erosion, plant disease, and loss of biodiversity. Pesticides and chemical fertilizer can also cause serious damage to surrounding ecosystems.

A major benefit of CA is that it can reduce and mitigate the effects of greenhouse gases (GHGs), the main contributor to climate change. For example, low-tillage farming emits far less GHGs than tractor ploughing. There is also evidence that CA can help store carbon dioxide within soil, thereby reducing the amount of GHGs in the atmosphere. Organic fertilizer also helps protect soil from the elements, making it easier for farmers to adapt to climactic changes.

EPIC’s research in Malawi and Zambia shows that climactic conditions play a large role in deciding what CSA methods a farmer should adopt. For example, Malawian farmers that used maize-legume intercropping to conserve moisture when rain levels were low harvested about 80 percent more maize than those that did not. Regional and climactic differences also help dictate what CSA financing strategy is most applicable.

EPIC’s preliminary findings show that financial constraints have proved difficult for farmers in Malawi and Zambia to fully adopt CA without threatening food security. For example, many farmers that use crop remnants for animal feed cannot afford to use them for soil cover.

A case study in Kenya by the World Agroforestry Centre showed it was far harder for smallholder farms to adopt CSA than large-scale farms. Eighty-five percent of smallholders had to reduce meal quantity or quality when initially implementing CSA, compared to 38 percent of large-scale farmers. Smallholders stated that improving their standard of living would be the best way for them to adapt to climate change.

According to the FAO financing and implementing CSA projects in developing and LDCs will require combined and organized efforts from public and private stakeholders.  For example, Lipper tells UNEARTH News that the World Bank, Global Environment Facility, and the Green Climate Fund are moving toward greater support for CSA.

This month the African Green Revolution Forum also brought together over 200 delegates to address the fundamental financing gap for sustainable agriculture in Africa. At the conference, President of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa Jane Karuku told attendees, “2014 is a critical year for agriculture, when African governments will be setting investment targets and plans to develop agriculture over the coming decade.”

David Frank, an environmental studies professor at New York University, has suggested that in the future CSA can be financed through taxing systems.

“Revenues from various taxes on GHG emissions could be used to subsidize CSA projects, especially those that address critical food security issues for the world’s poorest,” Frank tells UNEARTH News.

Globally, there is a strong need for economic policies that protect and support sustainable farmers. While EPIC’s research looks promising, ultimately the success of CSA for sustainable development depends upon the extent at which financing and other resources can reach local farms and communities.

© 2012 UNEARTH News

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