Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Introducing Climate-Smart Agriculture



To feed an expanding population, the annual world food production will need to increase by 60 percent over the next three decades (Bruinsma, 2009). However, the impacts of climate change, which include increasing temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, more severe and frequent extreme weather events and the loss of ecosystem services and biodiversity, ¬will undermine agricultural production systems and food systems, especially in agricultural communities in developing countries where poverty, hunger and malnutrition are the most prevalent (Africa progress Panel, 2010; Zezza et al., 2008; Porter et al., 2014). The agricultural sectors, which include crop and livestock production, forestry, fisheries and aquaculture, are also a major contributor to global greenhouse gas emissions. According to FAO estimates, in 2010, emissions from the agriculture, forestry and other land use (AFOLU) sector directly accounted for 22 percent of total global emission (FAO, 2016a). 

The agriculture sectors need to overcome three intertwined challenges: sustainably increase agricultural productivity to meet global demand; adapt to the impacts of climate change; and contribute to reducing the accumulation of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. (FAO, 2010; Foresight, 2011; Beddington et al., 2012a; Beddington et al., 2012b; HLPE, 2012a). To meet these challenges, FAO has developed and promoted the concept of climate-smart agriculture. Climate-smart agriculture has three objectives: sustainably increase agricultural productivity and the incomes of agricultural producers; strengthen the capacities of agricultural communities to adapt to the impacts of climate change; and, where possible, reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas emissions. 

To reach these objectives, agriculture production systems and food systems will need to use natural resources and other inputs more efficiently and become more resilient to change. Transformations will need to be made in the field, at all stages of the food value chain and in policy-making processes at the local, national and international levels. Everyone has a stake in this process – agricultural producers; the businesses that are involved in processing, distributing and marketing agricultural goods; the consumers who depend on these goods; national, subnational and local governments, intergovernmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, civil society organizations and research institutions. It will take long-term coordinated effort by all stakeholders to make the transition to climate-smart agriculture.

Since FAO introduced the concept of climate-smart agriculture at the 2010 Hague Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, there has been growing support at international and national levels for this approach. More than 30 countries, most of them from in sub-Saharan Africa, specifically refer to climate-smart agriculture in the Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) they submitted to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). Many other countries have emphasized the importance of the agriculture sectors in their INDCs. The INDCs, which serve as the foundation of the Paris Agreement on climate change, outline the national roadmaps for addressing climate change. The 2015 Paris Agreement represents a major step in the global effort to combat climate change. 

The first section of this module gives an overview of climate-smart agriculture, as an approach to address in a comprehensive way the interlinked challenges of achieving sustainability, increasing food security and responding to climate change. The second section describes an overall framework for building resilience and increasing efficiency in various agricultural production systems. The third section briefly touches upon some of the issues to be addressed to implement climate-smart agriculture and make progress towards efficient and resilient agriculture production systems and food systems. The last section articulates how the concept of climate-smart agriculture is embedded in the broader development agenda, as outlined in the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and other international initiatives to promote sustainable food and agriculture. It also touches upon the links between climate-smart agriculture and other approaches to sustainable agricultural development.

Key messages

  • Agricultural production systems and food systems must undergo significant transformations to meet the interlinked challenges of achieving sustainability, increasing food security and responding to climate change.
  • Increasing efficiency in the use of natural resources and other agricultural inputs is a central element for making agriculture climate-smart.
  • Building resilience to the risks associated with climate change is essential for preparing agricultural communities to cope with the uncertainty created by changing climatic conditions.
  • Initiatives to increase efficiency and build resilience have to be considered together at a range of different scales and take into account the environmental, economic and social dimensions of sustainability.
  • Climate-smart agriculture is not a new agricultural system, nor a set of practices. It is an innovative approach for charting development pathways that can make the agriculture sectors more productive and sustainable and better able to contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation.
  • Scaling up climate-smart agriculture to achieve the needed transformations in agricultural production systems and food systems requires sound policies, robust institutions and secure financing at the local, national and international levels to create a supportive enabling environment for change.
  • Climate-smart agriculture contributes to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the SDGs, and follows the principles of sustainable food and agriculture.