Climate Smart Agriculture


Climate experts have long predicted severe consequences for global food security if serious steps are not taken to mitigate climate change. Rising temperatures, droughts and more severe weather events are expected to cause agriculture in certain areas to suffer, all while the global population and its demand for food continues to skyrocket. As a result, an interest has risen in using models to predict the ways climate change will affect agriculture under various scenarios and what those effects might mean for future human societies.

Food security is a serious issue facing humanity; it is about how we feed a growing population at a time of climate change, which is unpredictable and not fully understood. Over thousands of years of agriculture, humans have selected plants for particular traits; typically, their yield. High yield is important for feeding a growing population, but it means that our food crops are very homogenous. If a particular pest or pathogen arises, or a particular vulnerability to changing climate, the entire crop becomes vulnerable because of the lack of genetic variability within it.

Climate change’s negative impacts are already being felt in the form of reduced yields and more frequent extreme weather events affecting crops and livestock alike. Substantial investments in adaptation will be required to maintain current yields and to achieve the required production increases. Agriculture is also a major part of the climate problem, currently generating 19–29% of total greenhouse gas emissions. Without action, that percentage could rise substantially as other sectors reduce their emissions.

Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA)

Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) is an integrated approach to managing landscapes—cropland, livestock, forests, and fisheries—that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change. CSA aims to simultaneously achieve three outcomes: increased productivity, enhanced resilience, and reduced emissions.

CSA builds on existing experience and knowledge of sustainable agricultural development. Sustainable intensification is a cornerstone; more efficient use of resources contributes to adaptation and mitigation via effects on farm productivity and incomes, as well as reduced emissions per unit of product. Sustainable intensification on existing agricultural land has considerable mitigation potential by reducing the conversion of forest and wetlands.

CSA emphasizes agricultural systems that utilize ecosystem services to support productivity, adaptation, and mitigation. Examples include integrated crop, livestock, aquaculture, and agroforestry systems; improved pest, water, and nutrient management; landscape approaches; improved grassland and forestry management; practices such as reduced tillage and use of diverse varieties and breeds; integrating trees into agricultural systems; restoring degraded lands; improving the efficiency of water and nitrogen fertilizer use; and manure management, including the use of anaerobic bio-digesters.

Enhancing soil quality can generate production, adaptation, and mitigation benefits by regulating carbon, oxygen, and plant nutrient cycles, leading to enhanced resilience to drought and flooding, and to carbon sequestration. These supply-side changes need to be complemented by efforts to change consumption patterns, reduce waste, and create positive incentives along the production chain.

The world is currently teetering on the brink of a dangerous cliff; if we do not collectively commit to taking serious actions, the future of humanity is quite bleak. Among the fundamental human rights that need to be secured and sustained, food-security is one of, if not the most pressing. Farming must thus become climate resilient; climate-smart agriculture can take shape, and should thus serve as inspiration for future policies and investments.


Top image: Pre-Tornado Clouds. Credits: Cirroenergy

This article was first published in print in SCIplanet, Summer 2019 issue.

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