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Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Developing Sustainable Food Systems and Value Chains for Climate-Smart Agriculture

Production and Resources

Value chain selection: assessing climate risks and impacts

When developing SFVCs for climate-smart agriculture, it is important to consider both the risks posed by climate change and its impacts. Sustainable food value chains for climate-smart agriculture interventions should be selected on the basis of their vulnerability to climate change; their potential contribution to climate change adaptation and mitigation; and their ability to improve the resilience of producers and other value chain actors (IFAD, 2015). The threats and risks to agriculture posed in climate change projections can be reduced by building the adaptive capacity of producers, increasing the resilience of agricultural production systems at the farm level and beyond, and improving resource use efficiency (Lipper et al., 2014). 

Some commodities may be more vulnerable than others to the adverse effects of climate change. For example, in Africa, climate change is projected to significantly reduce the area that is suitable for the cultivation of key crops, such as the common bean, maize, banana and finger millet (Ramirez-Villegas and Thornton, 2015). Perishable foods, such as raw fruits and vegetables, may also be more vulnerable to damage during transport and storage. This may lead to more food loss and waste compared to processed foods. However, food processing activities and thus processed foods may also be vulnerable to climate risks due to their greater reliance on potentially unreliable energy supplies (Reardon and Zilberman, 2017). Consideration should be given to interventions to reduce vulnerabilities in post-harvest and processing stages, such as through improved storage (e.g. metal silos) and packaging, which can preserve food and improve the resilience of producers and food value chain actors by reducing their vulnerability to market fluctuations and climate change impacts (e.g. pest infestations). 

In addition to variable climate risks, agricultural commodities have different carbon footprints. Livestock production systems for example generate around 14.5 percent of the total global agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. These production systems also have other significant negative environmental impacts on land, water, and biodiversity (FAO, 2012a). Although the amount of meat that is wasted is relatively low compared to other food products, the carbon footprint of meat waste is quite high. The emission intensity (i.e. the amount of emissions per unit of product) of animal-sourced food increases when it goes to waste as the final products encompass all the emissions associated with its production during production, processing, packaging and transport. This includes all the emissions associated with production, (e.g. the methane directly emitted by ruminants), the emissions from the production and provision of feed (e.g. fertilizer application on feed crops), emissions related to manure management, and emissions related to post-harvest activities (e.g. refrigeration, packaging, and transport) (FAO, 2015). Food loss and waste is not only detrimental to food and nutrition security in terms of calories and nutrients lost, it also means that the natural resources that were used and the greenhouse gases emitted during its production are wasted. The decay of food waste after disposal, though relatively small in comparison to the stages from production to consumption, also directly contributes to greenhouse gas emissions (FAO, 2013). 

Within food value chain stages and across different commodities there are also significant variations in greenhouse gas emissions. Although it is generally recognized that over half to two-thirds or more of the greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture occur during the production stages (FAO, 2012b), emissions vary depending on the commodity, scale and type of farming operations, transportation methods, and the season. For example, greenhouse gas emissions for milk production, processing and transport have been shown to vary significantly across regions (FAO, 2010). Emissions associated with the transport of most foods over great distances, particularly by air – often referred to as 'food miles' – has been shown to account for a small fraction of overall greenhouse gas emissions from the food system. In some cases, encouraging local consumption can be counterproductive due to the trade-offs that are involved at other stages of food value chains (Garnett, 2011). Nevertheless, transporting perishable foods across borders by plane can make a substantial contribution to greenhouse gas emissions and represents a potential mitigation opportunity (FAO, 2012b). 

Box B10.1 Ex-Ante Carbon Balance Tool for Value Chains

The EX-ACT Value Chain (EX-ACT VC) tool is a multi-agent-based tool that appraises all the stages of the value chain stages, including production, transport, and processing, as well as input supply, for all agricultural sectors: crop and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture. It uses numerous indicators suitable for developing countries. Designed to consider multiple impacts, it determines performance in terms of: (i) climate mitigation (e.g. greenhouse gas emissions, carbon footprint, the economic returns from climate mitigation actions); (ii) climate resilience; (iii) socio-economic performance (e.g. value added, income and employment generated); and (iv) other environmental indicators (e.g. water use, energy use) of a food value chain. This tool can be used to appraise the current conditions or for value chain development (upgrading) project scenarios. 

(Source: FAO, 2017b)

Depending on the situation and the specificity of the analysis required, several methods, including hot spot analysis, life cycle analysis, and carbon footprinting, can be used to identify high priority areas that are particularly vulnerable to climate risks and to assess the relative contribution of greenhouse gas emissions across the stages of food value chains to design effective climate-smart agriculture interventions. Hot spot analysis is a rapid identification tool that uses qualitative information to evaluate sustainability indicators and identify high priority areas (Liedtke et al., 2010). For more in-depth, quantitative analyses, a life cycle analysis must be conducted. For example, it may be necessary use a life cycle analysis to quantify the environmental impacts of a potential investment in cold chains, as they may reduce food loss and waste, reduce post-harvest losses and improve food safety (Garnett, 2011).

However, refrigeration is also energy-intensive component in food systems and contributes to greenhouse gas emissions during manufacturing and use, and from refrigerant leakage (Vermeulen et al., 2012). Life cycle analyses, which are a useful tool for determining potential climate impacts of interventions and identifying trade-offs and synergies for climate-smart agriculture, can help identify possible options for optimal low-carbon emission strategies. Life cycle analyses determine environmental impacts using a range of indicators, such as water pollution, toxicity, and waste production, across food value chains and food systems. It is also possible to measure the carbon footprint for one item, product or activity across the entire value chain, which is a more specific approach to measuring greenhouse gas emissions (Bockel and Schiettecatte, 2017). The FAO Ex-Ante Carbon Balance Tool for Value Chains (EX-ACT VC), which combines indicators for climate mitigation, resilience, socio-economic performance and other environmental indicators can be useful in measuring value chain performance to support a shift to climate-smart agriculture (see Box B10.1).