Climate change poses a serious threat to agricultural production. As a result of that, climate variability threatens the livelihoods and food security of the poorest and the most vulnerable. Agriculture is also a major contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, due to the dominant conventional and industrial models that are practiced today. Agriculture and land use changes are indeed responsible for about one third of the total GHG emissions, i.e. around 15 Gt CO2-eq/year.
Such intensive systems are, however, highly vulnerable to climate change. The industrial model and the crop varieties designed to work well within the model depend on energy- and water-intensive irrigation as well as other fossil fuel-intensive inputs such as mechanized harvesting, fertilizers and pesticides. The model has a low potential of survival, as the system is highly vulnerable to reductions in the availability of fuel and water, and in the long-term economically unsound because of high production costs. (Vandermeer et al., 2009). Therefore, a system change is required in the face of the climate change threat.
Despite the clear logic and economic rationale for moving towards a greener agriculture, it is not an easy task and is unlikely to occur automatically. It will require a supportive policy environment and a set of enabling conditions, e.g. Payment for Environmental Services. Agricultural incentives and subsidies therefore need to be redirected away from climate-destructive monocultures and inputs, towards climate-resilient agricultural practices.
The Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) concept was launched by FAO in 2010 (CSA, FAO, 2010). Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) defines an agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs (mitigation), and enhances the achievement of national food security and development goals. The switch to climate smart agriculture is only the last step of the process towards multi- functional planning in agriculture. Effective climate-smart practices already exist and could be implemented in developing and developed countries, in various agricultural systems. Adopting an ecosystem approach, working at landscape level and ensuring inter-sectoral coordination and cooperation is crucial for effective climate change responses.
In line with this, one immediate action is to generate capacity to better appraise environmental externalities, such as adaptation and mitigation impact on projects and policies, allowing to better design and target climate smart actions. It requires ad-hoc training and appropriate carbon accounting tools. Currently public and private partner initiatives are promoting the progressive integration of carbon balance appraisal and monitoring at project and policy level, e.g. ex ante appraisal at value chain and farm level. The Ex-ante Carbon balance Tool (EX-ACT), developed by FAO, is an example of such decision making tool. It provides ex-ante estimates of the impact of land uses and land use changes on GHG emissions and carbon sequestration. EX-ACT then illustrates the impact of suggested activities, where the carbon balance is selected ad a climate change mitigation indicator. The tool is applicable on investment projects, value chains and/or policy scenarios.
Vandermeer, J., G. Smith, I. Perfecto and E. Quintero, E (2009). Effects of industrial agriculture on global warming and the potential of small-scale agroecological techniques to reverse those effects. The New World Agriculture and Ecology Group, Ann Arbor, 2009
CSA, FAO 2010: “Climate-Smart” Agriculture, Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation and Mitigation, FAO, 2010