Climate-Smart Agriculture Empowering Rural Smallholders

By Chiara Ambrosino, iDE Senior Advisor, Climate and Sustainability

Climate-Smart Agriculture Empowering Rural Smallholders

Since it was presented by FAO at the Hague Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change in 2010 as an approach to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security under climate change ‘climate-smart agriculture’ (CSA) has gathered both praise and criticism. While it has been defined as consisting of three pillars (increased food production, climate adaptation and climate mitigation), the lack of clarity around what the term entails means confusion has been growing on whether the approach will translate into benefits for agriculture and the environment, and particularly food security for the rural poor.

Critics of the concept argue that CSA does not contemplate enforceable guidelines or a certification process, unlike the ‘organic’ label for example, instead providing a dangerous platform for corporations to engage in green-washing practices. Particularly, the concept does not include environmental or social criteria meaning that businesses can rebrand un-environmentally friendly and gender-blind practices and products under CSA.

Far from conceptual debates, climate risk is real and is transforming iDE’s development approaches.

Climate extremes and disasters affect most of the communities where iDE works, particularly through gradual changes in temperature and rainfall patterns, shorter growing seasons, and increasing frequency and/or intensity of floods and droughts.

According to Un Huey (Udor Meanchey, Cambodia) ‘the weather is not predictable like before, sometimes there is too much rain and it is very hot. This leads to poor yields and less profits’. Similarly, Sek Son, from Banteay Meanchey, Cambodia, noticed that ‘the temperature these days has increased and so the paddy rice dies. Crop performance isn’t good, the leaves become yellow and curly and it’s not a good crop’. Manbir Khadka (see Figure 1), from Kwanga Village in Rolpa District, Nepal remembers ‘when I was younger the water in fish pond outside my house came up to my waist – now it is dried up. The main problem [in the village] is water scarcity’.

Similar worries are found across all the communities we work with in Asia, Sub-Saharan African and Central America. Households that depend on small-scale, rain-fed agriculture as their primary livelihood are mostly affected, and are expected to face worsening developmental challenges under a changing climate. In particular, rural women are reported to be at high risk of negative impacts from climate change because of their household responsibilities, less access to resources such as land, extension services, climate and market information, credit and inputs, and because gendered social norms and roles can inhibit women’s adaptive capacity.

The approaches we refer to as climate-smart are implemented and contextualised based on the present and future vulnerabilities, capacities and needs of the population in a particular location, and may therefore vary across programmes. However, fundamental principles iDE promotes include:

  • A sustainable approach through the use of agro-ecological strategies and renewable technologies to conserve natural resources as a replacement of harmful practices
  • Building on farmers’ skills and knowledge to understand the dynamics of the local environment maximising the sustainable use of available resources
  • Supporting gender equality and social inclusion in developing and using climate-responsive practices

By combining multiple approaches we aim to enhance the adaptation and mitigation result of our initiatives.

Some of the technologies and practices we promote are solar pumps, micro-irrigation technologies, conservation agriculture, multiple use water systems (MUS) and integrated pest management (IPM).

According to Euphemia Hamalambo (see Figure 2) of Singoya Village, Southern Province (Zambia) ‘the solar pump and drip kit combination works well on onion as it expels water with less force and has more water control than when using a motorized pump. It also prevents soil erosion which can compromise the effective use of fertilizer […] The pump distributes water more efficiently than a motorized pump that sucks up [all] the water in the stream within an hour of switching it on thereby irrigating in haste’. Euphemia applied the solar pump with drip irrigation on a 500m2 plot of onion. Her source of water is a small stream and she says using buckets to water would take close to three hours and now it takes only one hour without her having to be physically present.

Figure 1 Figure 2

Figure 2: Euphemia looking over a solar panel as the iDE Zambia technician inspects it. Credits: Festus Hanankuni, iDE Zambia.

Manbir Khadka is ‘excited about the new MUS, it is important for safe drinking water, but most importantly as an income source which will have an impact on families and the environment’.

Figure 1: Manbir Khadka and family from the Kwanga village, Kotgaun VDC, Rolpa district.

One area we are planning to expand and strengthen is related to the use of reliable weather and climate information to inform our interventions, products and services delivered to help farmers become more adaptable.

If you want to learn more about iDE’s climate work please check out our brand new website.

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