Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is a phrase that has been gaining increasing prominence in both the sphere of international development and in mainstream media. But despite some powerful backers, CSA has not been without criticism. There are growing calls for clear guidelines in order to distinguish between what is ‘climate-smart’ and what is just business as usual under a different name.
“Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes
Adapting and building resilience to climate change
Reducing and/or removing greenhouse gases emissions, where possible”
These are what the FAO considers the three main pillars of CSA. If you were to ask most development practitioners what they thought of such goals, you would probably get a variation of same answer: “wonderful, but how do we achieve this?”. This is the question asked by Practical Action’s second Technology Justice briefing paper: “Climate Smart Agriculture and smallholder farmers: the critical role of Technology Justice in effective adaptation”.
More specifically, how do we ensure that CSA is actually achieving its aims?
This question is an important one because it is underpins many objections to CSA. In October 2014, the Guardian published an article that criticised the involvement of certain large multinationals in the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. It warned against “false solutions under vague “climate-smart” rhetoric”, and noted that the “looseness of the term” opened up the CSA label to exploitation. This article echoed the September 2014 paper by the same author from Actionaid International: Clever name, Losing game?, which was also highly critical of the ambiguity of CSA.
These criticisms are legitimate and expose serious flaws in a large-scale international initiative. As such, it is imperative that these flaws are addressed as soon as possible. Without clear definitions, CSA is vulnerable to being reduced to a buzzword, to be used to boost green credentials without making vitally important changes to food production systems.
The risks are twofold: firstly, if CSA initiatives are seen as risky, participation and commitment will wane. Secondly, if the claims of Actionaid International, La Via Campesina and other critics become reality, then massive damage could be done to both the environment and the reputation of future projects.
Practical Action’s policy brief sets out how the three pillars of Technology Justice – access, innovation, and sustainable use – can be used as a lens for analysing whether CSA initiatives are really ‘climate-smart’. It explores whether these initiatives support smallholders, or simply ‘greenwash’ business as usual.
For CSA initiatives to achieve equitable and sustainable agricultural development, initiatives must, at a minimum:
- Improve and support access to agricultural production for marginalized smallholder farmers in a way that minimizes risk
- Promote user-centred innovation that improves the adaptive capacity of smallholder agricultural systems
- Facilitate sustainable use of the natural resource base to ensure the viability of continued production and adaptation
The paper shows how practices that could currently be labelled CSA would be excluded if Technology Justice criteria were applied. For example, the use of inorganic fertilizer for quick returns on investment is cited as something which can be both harmful to the environment and fall under the banner of CSA. However, if Technology Justice criteria are applied, inorganic fertilizer can no longer be classed as climate-smart, as it supports neither accessibility nor sustainability. These principles can be used to assess all agricultural and CSA practices to ensure their long term impact is sustainable and positive for smallholder farmers.
The criticisms of CSA in its current form have been effective in highlighting the risk of its exploitation and misuse. However, it is possible to distinguish between the concept’s flaws and its potential. CSA is here to stay; as such, it is vitally important that it is as effective and equitable as possible. Working towards Technology Justice in agricultural adaptation is truly climate-smart.
Practical Action’s Technology Justice Policy Briefing Series can be found here.No Comments » | Add your comment
Climate Change is a recognised threat to global agriculture and places in jeopardy the wellbeing of the poorest people whose fragile livelihoods are primarily dependent on agricultural production. Millions of farmers own less than one hectare of land, live on less than $1 a day and struggle to produce enough to feed their families, these are the people on the frontline when famine strikes. The fragility of their livelihoods will increase if serious climate action isn’t taken.
At the Bonn climate change talks the UNFCCC secretariat must be congratulated for dedicating time to discuss the climate change threat to global agriculture. The secretariat organised a series of workshops at which parties were asked to present on a number of critical agricultural issues, this blog reports on the first of these workshops, which explored forecasting and early warning systems highlighting progress and outstanding challenges.
Overall the workshop reflected the current state of play, with developed countries presenting fairly coherent approaches that linked meteorological services, with extension advisors, policymakers and most importantly farmers and others whose livelihoods are dependent on primary production. Unfortunately the developing countries struggled to report on more than a few isolated pilot projects.
The workshop clearly recognised the immense benefits that forecasting and early warning systems can deliver, unfortunately very few farmers in the developing world are receiving these benefits and their productivity is therefore compromised. These countries recognised a number of almost universally barriers to these systems, which included issues of compatibility of existing software and hardware designed for a developed country context and the need for technology transfer and supportive financing. They recognised their huge limitations in technical capacity, especially human capacities to install, maintain and manage these systems. They also highlighted the need for systems that deliver useful and meaningful information for local farmers. This will require an interface that can support local languages and indigenous knowledge, linking science to local systems and making forecast and early warning information usable for local people.
Interestingly at the same time on the other side of the world the ICT for Agriculture community (#ICTforAg and #ICT4Ag) were discussing the role of technology. It was reported that agricultural yields can be boosted by access to up to date information, about markets price, short term weather information and longer term seasonal forecasts, with a 11% increase reported for text messaging, however when this information was provided as recorded messages the productivity benefits jumped to 26%. This clearly demonstrates the need not only for information but for information in a form that can be acted upon.
So let’s hope the Paris Climate agreement to be signed at COP21 recognises the potential of forecasting and early warning systems and puts in place effective mechanisms for technology transfer, not just handing out bespoke systems, but also how to work with developing country partners to develop appropriate systems that meet local needs. Technology transfer will also require financing, it’s not fair to only hand out technology, it is vital to support countries to develop and adapt systems which meet their particular needs. In the spirit of technology justice, sharing knowledge and finance will empower developing countries to design systems that build on their existing skills and knowledge to produce sustainable and practical solutions that reduce the fragility of the poorest and most vulnerable, those on the frontline when natural hazards strike.
The text of the agreement on how the world will tackle climate change and set targets that will keep global temperatures from rising more than 2°C above pre-industrial levels is being negotiated in Bonn this week.1 Comment » | Add your comment
I’m writing this blog while sitting in the very impressive surrounds of the UN General Assembly Hall in New York on the 3rd day of this year’s UN Sustainable Energy for All (UNSE4ALL) annual forum. It’s great to see so many people gathered in one place to discuss the goals of universal access to energy, a doubling of the amount of renewable energy in the global energy mix and a doubling of the rate of improvement in energy efficiency. Although there is a long way to go, the UNSE4ALL initiative has genuinely accelerated interest in these issues in the last couple of years and has galvanised investment and developed really innovative ways of transparently tracking progress against these goals through what’s known as the Global Tracking Framework.
Practical Action has lent its full support to UNSE4ALL and continues to believe ensuring its success will be a critical contribution to both fighting poverty and achieving a sustainable future for everyone on the planet. But sitting here today, listening to a debate on how we find the necessary finance to achieve the goals, something worries me about the assumptions behind some of the calculations for funding needs for universal energy access. In 2011 the International Energy Agency (IEA) annual World Energy Outlook produced a detailed analysis of the funding needs to achieve universal access by 2030. Critical to that analysis were the assumptions about how far extensions to central electricity grids would be the answer to providing energy for those who do not have it at the moment and how much off grid solutions (such as solar powered lights, solar home systems, independent mini grids powered by renewable energy or diesel generators etc) would play a part. The IEA analysis concluded that total investment in energy access would need to range between around $30 billion a year over the period 2010 to 2015 to around $55 billion a year over the period 2026 to 2030. During that period the proportion of that investment that would need to be made in off grid technologies would need to rise from around 25% at the start to over 50% by the end. That is a really important conclusion as it says that we need a transformation of the energy sector with a huge emphasis on building capacity for an investment in off grid solutions such as solar power, micro hydro electricity, biogas etc. That is very different from where we are today, with the vast amount of investment just going into the grid.
So why am I worried? Because, the UNSE4ALL’s Finance Committee has just published a report that contradicts this analysis (without providing any information on why different assumptions were used to the IEA). According to this new report off grid technology will only need to account for 15% of total annual investment (as opposed to the IES’s estimate of between 25% and 50%). Why does this matter? Because it takes the pressure off governments and the development banks to redirect finance to where it’s needed – to deliver off grid solutions for those who have no access to electricity now. It’s effectively a green light for business as usual – more money is needed yes, but just for the traditional energy sector. It’s a huge disappointment to see UNSE4ALL publishing a report that so dramatically contradicts the IEA’s earlier analysis without either recognising that contradiction or explaining the rationale behind it.
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Following the earthquake on 25th April, Practical Action’s Nepal team has been working hard to help some of the devastated communities in Gorkha and Dhading.
- Water treatment (to reduce deaths by disease, especially in infants)
- Emergency shelters (for homes, and public facilities e.g. toilets)
- Energy generation (lighting and heating, including for medical centres)
- Solar communication technology (for mobile phone charging)
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Together with the Rapid Assessment Team of Practical Action, I recently visited Salyantar VDC of Dhading District, which is one among the most affected districts from the recent earthquake. As I transected into the villages, I recalled my memories back from 2008, during which I was directly involved in supporting biogas plants, constructing a high-school building and development of drinking water system through a project funded by the German Government. There were many known faces that had lost their loved ones and their property. I wanted to go closer to them, talk and ask the kind of support they expect from organisations like us in this difficult situation. Somehow, I felt that many of them wanted to smile back and thank as we were with our team to distribute relief items for them.
A gentleman in his early 50s, named Babu Krishna Shrestha, came closer to me and said “What really hurts of all are the schools and health facilities that have been destroyed. It will take years to construct our schools, and unless this happens, our children will not forget the earthquake and this devastation”. Further discussing with him, I found that he lost his wife in this disaster who was also the Principal of Salyantar Higher Secondary School. I was greatly shocked – he was the husband of the woman I worked with eight years back to construct this school. I still remember her hard work and dedication during the entire period of construction. She greatly believed that the drop-out rates could be reduced provided an attractive school environment including infrastructures. She was strong with her arguments that poor infrastructures lead to poor student behaviour and conduct in the classroom, affects teaching learning environment, and weakens the health of children. She is no more, but I strongly feel that her arguments are highly valid. Our assessment team observed this together with many other schools in Salyantar VDC that have either been completely destroyed or require immediate renovation.
Assessing further, we found that the only Primary Health Care Centre (PHC) of Salyantar VDC is also damaged. The buildings have bigger cracks making the patients vulnerable. Emergency patients are being treated in tents while other regular patients are attended through an emergency desk just outside the PHC. As mentioned by the Health Assistant Mr. Shambhu Poudel, there were 6 delivery cases in 15 days after the earthquake. The pregnant women were kept outside until the final labor, taken inside the building for delivery and shifted outside again after the delivery. Just imagine, how risky is it for both the mother and her baby inside such building? Equal is the risk of infection to both of them after delivery.
Having the situation of community infrastructures observed, I no longer felt it necessary to ask people about their expectations. It is clear that people have more sentiments towards the community structures like schools, health posts and drinking water services. Of course, they want their children to have quality education and health care when in need. Practical Action is committed towards promoting small, light and economically feasible infrastructures/technologies in post-disaster situation and help people rise from this disaster.
Please join us and be part of this support. Visit us at http://practicalaction.org/helpnepalNo Comments » | Add your comment
In the aftermath of Nepal’s mega earthquake and amidst incessant aftershocks, the Practical Action team here in Nepal are working hard to offer whatever in personal and professional capacities they can. All of us – as many as 82 professionals have all been affected in some way by the disaster’s destruction and have been doing all we can in such unprecedented nearly worst case scenario.
At this time everybody’s goal is same but we are doing different things in different settings. After all, in a situation where whole state is screaming for rescue and relief, we are as if indifferent by virtue of our ability to bounce back from sorrows and trauma. We are working hard to reach the needy victims, form alliances with other organisations, sympathise and empathise with people’s feelings and contribute physically, mentally and financially.
Our leadership so much engrossed in the emergency situation here, reaching out to people in the fullest capacity, and reminding me of my days in a human rights organisation when human rights violations and ethnic violence were rampant and urgent response was a high priority. To my surprise when everyone around me is so generous how can I seat just ideal? My seniors were coordinating resources and facilitating various channels to reach out to community. Our colleagues Buddhi Kumal is deployed in the forefront. My colleagues including Swarnima, Prabin G, Sachin and Milan were around ground zero zone for offering relief and rescue. Our DRR team is working at full throttle at ground level whilst all of us are being involved in various works that complement the undertakings of our experts.
It is said that giving is always satisfying but when you have limited things to offer, generosity counts highly. The organisation itself has been urging all its teammates, donors and partners to express solidarity and to contribute in whatever capacity, so that needy people get sigh of relief and respite. Further to this, there are various stories of contribution in personal and professional capacities by our colleagues, domestic and universal coordination and appeals from relevant desk is all time high. This first-hand experience of generosity not only inspires but is catalytic in making the team more motivated to offer support and help. To be honest I was not as generous as I am right now.
When leaders who better understand the organisation’s capacity and its strategic relevance are working 24/7, there is no need of other motivation and incentive. The sense of encouragement, the smell of generosity and cooperation is everywhere regardless of aims and themes. Standing tall as a rescue and relief providing entity needs much resource and expertise and our priority areas of reconstruction, rebuilding and resilience are waiting for more resources to pour in. However, we may be in short supply of resources but we are not in short supply of vision, value and vigour. The generosity with our sleeves rolled up for the relief work has made us a frontline organisation that focuses on immediate technological needs in regard to shelter, water supply and energy.
I urge you all to be a part of our relief work. Please show your generosity by supporting our work.No Comments » | Add your comment
The extent of the horrific devastation in Nepal caused by the 7.8 magnitude earthquake is being increasingly realised. At least 7,566 have died, and it is reported that over 8 million have been affected. Further, the long term impacts on communities’ livelihoods, children’s education, and health and psychological wellbeing are unimaginable. Earthquakes are an everyday risk in the region, as are floods, landslides and many other hazards. Scientists have warned of a ‘big one’ for decades and some have even predicted the exact epicentre location as that experienced this week. It was never a case of if, but when.
But what was even more certain was that when it came, buildings would fall, people would die, and livelihoods would be lost. The losses in Nepal were not only caused by the earthquake; they were caused by bad development. The lack of provision of safe construction for a burgeoning population, the failure to separate housing from risk location, lax enforcement of building codes, and the widespread poverty restricting household’s ability to protect themselves. These are all lessons we must learn and implement in the future to avoid a similar catastrophe when the next earthquake strikes. Development must not ignore disaster risk reduction (DRR) this requires a shift from responding to disasters to managing risk.
Many groups are contributing to this learning and rebuilding process. The National Society for Earthquake Technology (NSET) holds workshops in Nepal to build the capacities of members of the community, local governments, and NGOs to build more safely. Practical Action works with rural and urban communities across the country to create locally appropriate flood warning systems and in Pokhara has worked with local partners to explore a multi-hazard approach to risk reduction. Oxfam implements community based DRR approaches across the country, strengthening local capacities to prepare for crises. All these agencies are working with the government to strengthen risk reduction concepts in national laws.
Update 4 May: Practical Action teams are now in the remote villages in Ghorka. We have been able to source the vital supplies in Nepal, with only tents coming from India. Protecting local markets is a vital part of supporting local recovery #M4DRR.
We are beginning to see this resilience building in an ad hoc manner in some communities in Nepal, and this reflects the state of affairs globally. But it needs to happen everywhere; it needs to be systematic. This requires additional, predictable and sustained funding for disaster risk reduction. But will the terrible toll in Nepal finally prompt lasting change? Is it enough to hit home about the need to reduce vulnerability and improve preparedness? Do we now have the impetus to build back better – recovering in a way that builds resilience to future disasters? And is it enough to persuade donors and governments to fund this resilience building?
States are currently negotiating an international agreement on the future financing of development. Led by the United Nations, the agreement will lay out principles and targets to guide domestic and international public and private funding for sustainable development. The devastation in Nepal more than ever highlights the need for a specific funding target within this agreement on disaster risk reduction. After all, disasters are a development issue; disasters are exacerbated by bad development, and can reverse decades of progress in seconds. Sustained and predictable funding can help to mainstream risk assessments in local development planning and policies, builders could be trained in hazard construction, hospitals and medical staff could receive disaster preparedness capacity building, and disaster prevention could be integrated into school curriculums.
It is sad that it often takes catastrophes to catalyse these changes. Some of the most significant achievements in international, national and local disaster policies occurred in the wake of the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami. Let’s hope the international community can learn from the devastation in Nepal and raise international commitments to finance resilient development, so that these human tragedies and economic losses can be largely avoided in the future.
 Bollinger, L., S.N. Sapkota, P. Tapponnier, Y. Klinger, M. Rizza, J. Van der Woerd, D.R. Tiwari, R. Pandey, A. Bitri, S. Bes de Berc (2014) Estimating the return times of great Himalayan earthquakes in Eastern Nepal: evidence from the Patu and Bardibas strands of the Main Frontal Thrust, Jour. Geophys. Res., DOI: 10.1002/2014JB010970
NB: An earlier version of this blog by Lucy Pearson and the BOND DRR Working Group appeared on the BOND website1 Comment » | Add your comment
The 9th Community Based Adaptation Conference (CBA9) will take place in Kenya from the 24th to the 30th April. Practical Action is a co-sponsor of this event, and is sending speakers from Nepal, Bangladesh, Zimbabwe, the UK and Sudan. On Tuesday 28th April, Chris Henderson will be participating in a session on ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’.
Agriculture is fundamental to climate change adaptation in developing countries:
- 50% of the population is employed in the agricultural sector – in the Least Developed Countries, it is 72%
- Agriculture is dependent on biodiversity and other natural resources, and is particularly vulnerable to extreme weather events
- One billion people continue to suffer from food insecurity – this is expected to rise by 15-40% by 2050 as a result of climate change
- In developing countries, women are usually responsible for collecting fuel and water, and are often dependent on natural resources for their livelihoods – they will bear the greatest burdens of climate change, and have the potential to contribute to adaptation
Technology choice is key in agricultural systems, and is never neutral. Which technologies are utilized in particular contexts will have social, economic and ecological impacts.
‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ is a broad term with relevance to all actors in the agricultural sector, from large-scale commercial farmers in the US to market vendors in Bangladesh. As such, it is being used to define diverse agricultural technologies and approaches, some of which are unsustainable and do not contribute to long-term food security or adaptive capacity.
If Climate Smart Agriculture is to be useful for smallholder farmers in developing countries, it must embody the principles of Technology Justice:
- It must be inclusive
Existing production and market systems should be modified to be facilitate equitable access for smallholders to the technologies they need to reduce vulnerability and risk, capitalise on opportunities, and improve their livelihoods, resilience and well-being.
Agro-ecology is a powerful tool for the inclusion of resource poor or otherwise marginalized farmer groups. It is knowledge-intensive rather than capital-intensive, minimizing financial outlay and the risks associated with taking loans to cover costs. By making production less expensive, agroecological approaches increase access to market systems for smallholder farmers, and in particular, women.
- It must support pro-poor innovation
Agricultural innovation in response to climate change must move beyond vulnerability reduction; policies and interventions must be designed to increase the dynamic ability of communities to respond to unpredictable climate change.
Key to appropriate innovation is user-centred design; the most effective technologies are developed in conjunction with those who will use them. Both women and men must be fully involved in the design and management of technologies and the institutions that affect their use. Knowledge and capacity-building for adaptation to climate change should integrate both scientific knowledge and the experiential, context-specific knowledge of end users.
Investment in pro-poor innovation should focus on identifying alignment between private sector interests and development objectives for mutually beneficial relationships.
- It must be sustainable
High external input, fossil fuel-based monoculture production systems are unsustainable. Agro-ecological systems generate less greenhouse gas emissions, and the diversification of crops increases the resilience of smallholder farmers to extreme weather events and climate change.
In many cases, agro-ecological production systems produce greater yields than high external input systems, particularly in unfavourable environments (e.g. here, here and here). However, agroecology is fundamentally about optimizing production for the maximum sustainable yield. The natural resource base should nto be an after thought once the maximum yield has been attained; it is fundamental to continued food production.
For further information on Practical Action’s participation at CBA9, see here
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‘’If we can make people’s livelihoods stronger and more sustainable, disasters will affect them less” (Practical Action, 2011)
Zimbabwe is prone to a number of natural hazards including droughts, storms and floods. Climate change is increasing the severity and unpredictability of these events, and the impacts are worsened by unsustainable human practices, including overgrazing, deforestation, veldt fires and poor land management. This is further compounded by pests, diseases, epidemics (especially HIV/AIDS) and economic pressures. These natural and man-made hazards affect people’s livelihood activities, and lead to hunger, extreme hardship, and loss of life.
Practical Action has been working with stakeholders at the national, provincial, district and ward levels, implementing a Livelihood-Centred Disaster Risk Reduction (LCDRR) approach, to strengthen and diversify livelihoods, enhance community preparedness, and build capacity to cope with hazards effectively. This has involved:
- The creation of trained and active disaster management committees (DMCs) at ward, district and provincial levels
- The development, implementation and annual-review of community-based risk reduction and preparedness plans, supported by local and central government
- The development of early warning systems, now in use
- Communities trained in disaster risk reduction
- Linkages created with other stakeholders
- Knowledge and awareness campaigns conducted on risks and risk reduction strategies
- Identification and implementation of diversified livelihoods
Major outcomes from the project
a) Uptake of the LCDRR approach by other stakeholders
- LCDRR approach incorporated in Zimbabwe’s draft national disaster policy
- Zimbabwe’s National Civil Protection Unit is working to establish and build the capacity of ward-level disaster management committees throughout the country
- Other NGOs – the International Organisation of Migration, World Vision, and Oxfam, among others – have adopted the LCDRR approach
b) Enhanced organisational change
- Community-level disaster risk monitoring and evaluation structures
- Ward and district level disaster management structures with clearly defined roles
- Integration of LCDRR into the broader development process
c) Increased local innovation for building resilience
- Pest management using local resources and ethno-veterinary practices
- Increased uptake of food security and diversification options
- Increased options for veldt fire control and management
- Increased community-based awareness and sensitization initiatives
d) Empowerment of women
- More women involved in local LCDRR initiatives – increased knowledge and skills for leadership in the community
- Women elected to take decision-making positions in local development structures as a result of proven competency with DRR work
Monitoring and Evaluation
Disaster Management Committees (DMCs) formed the cornerstone of project implementation, monitoring and evaluation. At the village level, DMCs were composed of community members; at district, provincial and national levels, they were composed of NGO staff, government and private sector representatives. A number of participatory tools were used for data collection and analysis at all levels.
Planning and implementation of LCDRR activities has been effectively decentralised, but funding is still very centralised. This means that communities are still limited in what they can achieve.
- The development of risk reduction plans at community level should be linked to district and provincial planning processes for better coordination, monitoring and evaluation
- Plans must be realistic and implementable to avoid frustration of communities
- Local leadership and development structures must be fully involved in planning and implementation
- Involving all relevant stakeholders – communities, NGOs, and government in monitoring and evaluation – gives more comprehensive evaluation of project impacts, and better enable further development
Weather extremes caused by climate change are a major threat to food production in Southern Africa. The ‘Mainstreaming Climate Change Adaptation in Zimbabwe’s Extension Systems’ project provided over 8,000 smallholder farmers with innovative climate information services that allowed them to anticipate and adapt to rapidly changing climatic conditions.
The project mobilized the Meteorological Services Department (MSD) and the Department of Agriculture, Technical and Extension Services (AGRITEX) to develop and distribute tailor-made forecasts that helped farmers prepare a cushion against the effects of climate change on food production. The project achieved positive impact through collaboration with different stakeholders, including DMS, AGRITEX, and the farmers themselves. The approach is potentially sustainable given it is embedded in current extension activities, and is relatively low cost.
Improving access to climate and weather information for enhanced adaptive capacity
Practical Action has supported farmers in the three Zimbabwean provinces of Masvingo, Midlands, and Matebeleland South understand the relevance of climate information and weather forecasts. This understanding has proven a useful entry point for the introduction of conservation agriculture practices. It has helped farmers prepare for and protect against extreme weather events that erode their livelihoods, and assists them to make informed decisions about farming practices to take better advantage of productivity-enhancing technologies.
Key messages for CBA9
- National governments should support free access to analysed historical data and current weather information for small holder farmers, for better decision making. This should include investment in the establishment of local meteorological stations to enhance the availability of localised weather information
- Greater collaboration between private sector actors, government and smallholder farmers will be necessary for effective dissemination of climate and market information
- Through public and private extension services, smallholder farmers should be made aware of the effects of climate change, and should be engaged in finding solutions to this challenge. Where appropriate, this would include the adoption of technologies which contribute to their climate change resilience