Using low-hanging fruit to increase CSA adoption

Article by Adriana Ignaciuk, Senior Economist, Economic and Social Development Department, FAO


Many international institutions call for additional funds to finance Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) adoption for smallholders. Although finance is crucial in achieving significant benefits resulting from CSA adoption, there are other ways to increase CSA uptake, not least by integrating its principles in other initiatives and programs.

Benefits of CSA are not always apparent to farmers. Some technologies show only marginal benefits (e.g. adjusting crop or animal varieties), and many CSA technologies need time to build healthy productive systems (e.g. using crop residues, or building soil-water conservation structures) and the benefits of many CSA measures are only apparent when a weather shock appears (e.g. the use of drought resilient seeds). The common denominator is that all CSA measures need adjustments by farmers that may negatively affect them in the short run in exchange for a promise of higher pay-offs in the future i.e. smallholder farmers need to find new markets, they need to learn new things, and they need to make short-term sacrifices while they are food insecure. By adding information on CSA and possibilities for support for CSA in agricultural development, substantial improvements can be made without the need for significant increases in international finance.

The lack of immediate benefits and the perception of risks associated with new methods or new technologies stops farmers from diverging from what they perceive as “normal”. Therefore, it is important to reduce farmers’ risks to food insecurity, as this is one of the important barrier to CSA adoption. For that it is critical to develop a holistic view on policy support and programme design, which integrates support for CSA with other mechanisms designed to address food security faced by farmers.

Social protection programs may be a potential channel to promote CSA adoption, as they reduce consumption risks and easier access to additional financial resources. Most social protection programmes, including cash transfers, food aid, and public works programmes, show some positive effects on adoption of CSA, despite being designed to primarily increase food security of the poorest. For example, households in Ethiopia and Malawi that receive food aid are 6 to 7 percent more likely to invest in soil conservation structures than similar non-beneficiary households (Ignaciuk et al., 2020). In Tanzania, those receiving food transfers are more likely to adopt legume intercropping, and in Malawi receiving such transfers increases the probability of adopting organic fertilizer. Also programmes focused on providing cash for public works have a positive effect on adoption of CSA. For instance, in Malawi the beneficiaries of the Malawi Social Action Fund (MASAF) adopt soil-water conservation structures, legume intercropping, and organic fertilizer (Scognamillo and Sitko, forthcoming).

Despite the fact that those programs were not designed to increase sustainable production, they reduce farmers’ risks of food insecurity and at the same time provide them with important resources to invest in new ways of farming. The higher the food or cash transfers are, the higher the probability that farmers will use the additional resources to invest in CSA. These positive outcomes without a clear CSA focus suggest that a more targeted approach that puts CSA central can provide substantially higher rewards.

To yield the highest co-benefits of social protection systems, these need to be conditioned on the application of CSA. Information provision and technical assistance accompanying the programs may potentially contribute to much higher and sustainable benefits if CSA objectives are fully incorporated. Therefore, given scarce public resources, governments and donors may integrate existing social protection programmes with CSA-centered agricultural extension advice.

Beyond the clear benefits in terms of productivity and adaptation, CSA technology often contributes to GHG emissions reduction. As those may be substantial, conditioning agricultural development mechanisms on improving sustainable farming may provide low-hanging fruit to address the important policy challenges of climate change mitigation and climate smart agriculture without significantly increasing the need for international finance.

Shrimp on your plate, is it worth it?

The global population of mangroves has been degrading every year by 2%, and in many countries disappearing three times faster than rainforests. Uniquely salt-tolerant evergreen ecosystems, mangroves grow along coastlines (covering an estimated 150 000 km2 globally) supporting livelihoods and protecting soils and reefs. A concern for foresters and fisherfolk alike, these ecosystems are the homes of many fish breeding grounds. Yet, the most serious threat to mangroves point to an increasing human population such as increased wood harvesting, oversfishing, and tourism and coastal development.  Shrimp is the most popular type of seafood and represent an important contribution to total seafood economy, yet its farming has devastating effects on mangroves. This makes overfishing and shrimp farming are of particular concern and due to the effects on emissions, lost income and environmental degradation leading to less adaptive capacity of coastal zones. Therefore, shrimp farming is an excellent candidate for a climate-smart agriculture approach.

Shrimp, along with 75 percent of tropical fish, spend the early stages of their lives in mangroves. Shallow, coastal carbon-sinking habitats can sequester carbon 50 to 100 times faster than trees in forests, suggesting that restoring and protecting intact coastal habitats is a key action for climate mitigation and adaptation. As these habitats are converted or pushed further from the coast, fisherfolk must invest in larger vessels to catch the fish. Not only does shrimp farming disrupt mangroves but also the GHG emissions resulting from the conversion is incredibly high since mangroves store more carbon than rainforests – estimated at 1 028 MgCO2e per hectare (equivalent to the emissions of 220 cars driven for a year). Avoiding the clearing of mangrove forests for any purpose is preferable to expensive rehabilitation later. Therefore, better management of shrimp extraction and mangroves has a three-fold affect: lower GHG emissions and restored carbon capture, increased income due to restored and increased production from coastline fish; and more equal social outcomes for those that cannot invest in larger vessels. 

Implementing CSA initiatives is now ongoing and greater coordination between agriculture, food security and climate change policy making will ensure the sustainable production of shrimp farming in mangroves. Awareness raising to protect and restore the ecosystems and the communities that depend on them has led the department of Agricultural Development Economics at The Food and Agricultural Organization on the UN (FAO) to engage with the governments of Sri Lanka and Grenada. The two countries have been recognized as advocates of mangrove habitats, with 22 mangrove sites in Grenada; and 6000-7000 ha of mangroves interspersed along the coastline of Sri Lanka. Grenada has committed to conserve at least 20 percent of their nearshore marine resources and rebuild natural capital, which would include 22 mangrove sites. FAO Mangrove Projects will draw from lessons learned and unpack the proximate drivers of degraded mangroves, trying to strike a balance between sustainable economic growth and coastal ocean health. Countries that effectively manage their coastal carbon stocks can also apply for international funding for their efforts through initiatives like REDD+ (Reducing Emissions from Deforestation in Developing countries), actions that not only reduce the amount of atmospheric carbon emitted but can also sink carbon back into trees, mangroves, seagrasses, salt marshes and algae on reefs. The increased collaboration hopes build capacity and the policy needed to support the restoration and protection the habitats require. 

Adriana Ignaciuk (FAO) and Angela Bernard (FAO)