How is it different?
In the twentieth century, significant increases in agricultural productivity were achieved under the banner of the so-called 'Green Revolution'. Through monocropping and an increased use of pesticides and fertilizers, crop yields around the world steadily rose. This progress, however, was made at a significant cost. Soil qualities were degraded, biodiversity reduced and pest resistance diminished. At the same time, increased pesticide and fertilizer pollution in soils and groundwater put both the environment and human health at risk (IFAD 2012b). 1
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is not yet another reincarnation of the ‘Green Revolution’. To the contrary, CSA has much in common with sustainable agricultural approaches. This means that addressing climate change does not require us to discard or reinvent everything that has been learned about agriculture and sustainable development in recent decades (ibid). In fact, CSA is built upon a technical foundation that largely already exists and a range of sustainable agricultural approaches - such as sustainable agriculture, sustainable intensification and conservation agriculture - are the cornerstones of implementing CSA in practice.
So how does CSA differ from sustainable agriculture? This boils down to three essential features: (i) an explicit focus on climate change; (ii) the search for synergies and negotiation of trade-offs in the pursuit of productivity, adaptation and mitigation outcomes in a broader landscape or system perspective; and (iii) the availability of new funding opportunities for agricultural development.
The three big differences
i) A focus on climate change: Like other sustainable agricultural approaches, CSA is based on principles of increased productivity and sustainability. But it is distinguished by a focus on climate change, explicitly addressing adaptation and mitigation challenges while working towards food security for all. In essence, CSA is sustainable agriculture that incorporates resilience concerns while at the same time seeking to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
CSA = Sustainable Agriculture + Resilience – Emissions.
ii) Outcomes, synergies and trade-offs: To develop interventions that simultaneously meet the three challenges of productivity, adaptation and mitigation, CSA must not only focus on technologies and practices, but also on the outcomes of interventions beyond the farm level. In doing so, it must consider the synergies and trade-offs that exist between productivity, adaptation and mitigation, as well as the interactions that occur at different levels including wider socio-ecological implications. For instance, CSA interventions at the farm/community level may affect both the social and ecological systems in place, as well as the wider landscape. Likewise, a CSA intervention that aims to increase productivity should also consider how it affects adaptation and mitigation, and how it can best optimize all three outcomes at the most appropriate level. All of this requires farmers and decision-makers to understand the synergies and trade-offs that exist between the three pillars and between different levels. To help people make informed decisions - from the farm to parliament - CSA focuses on developing metrics and prioritization tools that bring these synergies and trade-offs to the fore.
iii) New funding opportunities: Currently, there is an enormous deficit in the investment that is required to meet food security. By explicitly focusing on climate change, CSA opens up new funding opportunities for agricultural development, by allowing the sector to tap into climate finance for adaptation and mitigation. This includes funding from, among others, the Adaptation Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund or the Special Climate Fund, as well as the Clean Development Mechanism and the Voluntary Carbon Market. Most promising of all is the earmarked allocation which has been made specifically for CSA by the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund (GEF) and the future Green Climate Fund.
IFAD. 2012b. Climate-smart smallholder agriculture: What’s different? IFAD Occasional Paper. Rome, Italy: International Fund for Agricultural Development.http://www.ifad.org/pub/op/3.pdf
There is a growing consensus that climate change is transforming the context for rural development, changing physical and socio-economic landscapes and making smallholder development more expensive. But there is less consensus on how smallholder agriculture practices should change as a result. The question is often asked: what really is different about ‘climate-smart’ smallholder agriculture that goes beyond regular best practice in development? This article suggests three major changes: • First, project and policy preparation need to reflect higher risks, where vulnerability assessments and greater use of climate scenario modelling are combined with a better understanding of interconnections between smallholder farming and wider landscapes. • Second, this deeper appreciation of interconnected risks should drive a major scaling up of successful ‘multiple-benefit’ approaches to sustainable agricultural intensification by smallholder farmers. These approaches can build climate resilience through managing competing land-use systems at the landscape level, while at the same time reducing poverty, enhancing biodiversity, increasing yields and lowering greenhouse gas emissions. • Third, climate change and fiscal austerity are reshaping the architecture of public (and potentially private) international development finance. This calls for: (i) new efforts to enable smallholder farmers to become significant beneficiaries of climate finance in order to reward multiple-benefit activities and help offset the transition costs and risks of changing agricultural practices; and (ii) better ways to achieve and then measure a wider range of multiple benefits beyond traditional poverty and yield impacts. IFAD is actively helping developing countries make these changes according to their differing needs and circumstances. These changes underpin IFAD’s various new policy and institutional frameworks, such as the Environment and Natural Resource Management Policy, the Climate Change Strategy, the initiative on climate finance for smallholder farmers (Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme) and the IFAD Strategic Framework 2011-2015.