November 28, 2012

Starting Out Climate-Smart

Day 3 of COP18 is well underway, and there are plenty of events related to agriculture on the horizon. Yesterday, a joint event held by FAO, IFAD, and WFP commenced the discussion, attempting to tease out answers to three questions related to climate-smart agriculture:

  1. How can climate-smart approaches be used to build resilience in food security and agriculture?
  2. What are the barriers to scaling-up climate-smart practices, and how can they be overcome?
  3. How can the poorest and most vulnerable benefit from climate-smart approaches?

Alexander Mueller, an Assistant Director General at FAO, framed the discussion by stating, there are “two pressing challenges of our time: food security and climate change.” The four panelists – Evans Davie Njewa (Government of Malawi), Damdin Dagvadorj (Government of Mongolia), Agnes Otzelberger (CARE International), and James Kinyangi (CCAFS East Africa, ILRI) – took it from there.

In response to the first question, Njewa noted that Malawi’s high levels of food insecurity, dense population, and dependency on agriculture place it in a vulnerable position. Switching over to better management practices, such as conservation agriculture, more than doubled maize production and improved results during periods of variability, such as droughts.

In terms of barriers, Otzelberger argued that we are placing too much emphasis on getting the technology for agriculture “right,” and too little on strengthening the institutions to actually make the technology work in practice. She highlighted how social learning and building flexibility into institutional decision making has helped in CARE’s work in Africa.

For the final question, Kinyangi stressed the need to target action to those most vulnerable. And who are the vulnerable? Women, children, youth, the landless. All local knowledge, skills, traditions, and context-specific processes must be part of addressing their needs. He also said that a lot is already happening in Africa around climate change adaptation and resilience, but that government and private sector need to place investment where it will build on what is already happening on the ground to most benefit those vulnerable populations. Catherine Zanev (WFP), who has appeared on the blog before, echoed these thoughts from the audience, agreeing that these are not new solutions, but rather their usefulness is in how we use them to benefit the most vulnerable.

Surprisingly, there was less talk about specific examples and more focus on strategies on the broader level. Still, several common threads surfaced throughout the discussion that align with a landscape approach.

  1. No distinction should exist between agricultural development and climate change adaptation, and mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand. This is particularly true in agriculture, where many adaptation and mitigation activities are often one and the same.
  2. Partnerships, partnerships, partnerships. Coordination at a landscape scale is all about multistakeholder processes. Also, bring district and provincial governance into the picture.
  3. And of course, one size does not fit all. While there are common principles of climate-smart landscapes, the specific institutional, social, and ecological context must be paramount.

While each of the panelists highlighted a piece of the climate-smart landscape puzzle, more concrete examples of how they come together are still needed. These are important points, and hopefully we will see more of how they play out in the coming days.

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