Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Enhancing capacities for a country-owned transition towards CSA

Enabling Frameworks

Catalytic factors to enhance capacities for adapting climate-smart agriculture approaches

C1 - 3.1 Agricultural innovations systems 

CSA approaches seek to find “smart” solutions to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Innovation, as a process whereby a new idea or way doing something is brought into use, is key to making agriculture more resilient, sustainable, competitive and thus smarter. Innovations – used in plural form – refer to the concrete technological, social or institutional novelties that bring about change. CSA approaches need to be supported by a mix of innovative technological, social and institutional solutions. Such solutions are also key ingredients for “total factor productivity growth”, suggesting that the knowledge intensity within production systems such as research, extension and agricultural innovation systems, policy and institutional reforms represent a key source of future productivity growth, complementing more traditional resource-led growth (Fuglie and Wang, 2012). For example, improved farming practices, collaboration, targeted policies and standards are all important factors in innovations that can address climate change adaptation and mitigation. These innovations require specific technical skills and equipment along with the appropriate mechanisms for knowledge exchange and mutual learning, as well as an environment that enables change. 

Innovation in agriculture emerges within agricultural innovation systems – networks of research, extension, producers, agribusinesses and other actors. The interactions of these systems are shaped by policies, mind-sets, attitudes and behaviours (FAO, 2014a; FAO, 2015c; Schut et al. 2015; TAP, 2016a). Functioning systems act as catalysts for innovation. They play a critical role in making agriculture more climate-smart by generating, documenting, blending, sharing and applying indigenous, traditional, lay and scientific knowledge and by facilitating learning processes. Knowledge networks can be organized around platforms that provide a venue for the various actors to connect and collaborate (Pali and Swaans, 2013). Global and regional platforms for coordination, knowledge exchange or advocacy are needed alongside local innovation and platforms to strengthen capacities for change in the field (Prolinnova, 2011). Collective action, through farmer organizations, cooperatives or value chains, is a key strategy to minimize transaction costs and scale up agricultural innovations that are climate-smart. Case Study C1.6 illustrates emerging responses to climate change in pastoral systems in Ethiopia and Niger.

Changing over to a new system and ways of doing business carries a perceived and sometimes real risk of failure, particularly for farmers. As a consequence of their risk aversion, farmers are reluctant to change the management practices they are familiar with, unless they can see a clear benefit for their household and business and livelihood priorities. As extensively discussed in module C2, extension services facilitate changes in practice for climate-smart production by providing access to good practices and technologies and enhancing capacity to implement them. However, in many developing countries, the public extension services have deteriorated and been partly replaced by cell phone-, internet-, radio- and TV-based messages from various entities (directly from research institutions, input suppliers, media, ministries, farmer organizations, etc.) and private service providers (e.g. through out-grower schemes). As a result, many farmers, and in particular women farmers, do not have access to any kind of extension. The role of women needs particular consideration in view of their often significant role as food producers in many countries (see module C6 on the role of gender in climate-smart agriculture). 

Global attention to agriculture as one of the most climate-vulnerable sectors provides an opportunity to accelerate a much-needed reform of extension and advisory services. Extension has long played an intermediary role between farmers and technology suppliers. However, the challenge of climate change requires collaboration with more actors and more complex interventions than ever before. This calls for a shift in the organization and use of extension systems (FAO, 2013a) from: 

  1. a focus on introducing new technologies to a focus on institutional change;
  2. rural engagement only to include urban areas across the national level, from public service delivery to multiple agency advisory provision;
  3. practice development to strategic policy and practice development;
  4. communication for information dissemination to communication for network-based development and innovation, and from core service delivery by experts to facilitation.

Figure C1.4.  Theoretical perspectives on agricultural innovation

Transfer of Technology (ToT)

Farming System Research

Agriculture Knowledge & Information Systems (AKIS)

Agricultural Innovation Systems (AIS)


Central since 1960's

Starting in 1970s and 1960s

From 1990s

Since 2000s


Supply technologies through linear processes

Learn Farmers'constraints through surveys

Collaborate in research (participatory research & extension)

Co-develop innovation involving multi-actor processes and partnerships


Productivity increase

Efficiency gains (input-output relationships)

Farm-based livelihoods

Value chains, institutional change



Scientists and extensionists 

Farmers, scientists and extensionists together

Multiple actors

Role of Framers

Adopters and laggards

Source of information


Partners, entrepreneurs, innovators, exerting demands

Role of Scientists




Partners, one of the actors responding to demands

Key changes sought

Farmers' behaviour change

Removing farmers'constraints

Empowering farmers

Institutional change, innovation capacity

Market integration





Capacity development 

Technology adoption and uptake through development of technical skills & infrastructure

Technology adoption and uptake through development of technical skills & infrastructure & integration of ecological and farm-economic conditions 

Enhancing communication between actors, co-evolved technologies better fit livelihoods systems

Capacity to interact, innovate & learn, creating enabling conditions

Source: Tropical Agricultural Platform, 2016. 

Effective adaptation to climate change involves the use of coherent technical and institutional solutions congruent with contemporary thinking on innovation practice. In fact, climate change adaptation and mitigation can be regarded as a process of innovation that requires the  successful combination of “hardware” (i.e. new technical devices and practices), “software” (i.e. new knowledge and modes of thinking) and “orgware” (i.e. new social institutions and forms of organization) (Smits, 2002; Leeuwis, 2004; FAO and INRA, 2016).

C1 - 3.2 Indigenous knowledge, knowledge sharing and knowledge networks

Farmers and pastoralists have been dealing with natural climate variability over millennia and have developed a wide range of coping strategies (see also climate-smart livestock production systems in module B2, integrated crop-livestock systems in modules B5 and A3 on Integrated Landscape Management). Such practices remain valid in the expanding climate change context (IFAD, 2016). They include coping strategies by tapping into endogenous innovation processes and applying indigenous knowledge and practices (see Case Study C1.4). One challenge is that to reach scale and address increasingly complex issues to address impacts of climate change in the long term, such indigenous practices need to be complemented with additional knowledge. An additional change is that much of this indigenous knowledge is likely to be lost as the local farming population ages and youth tend to migrate to urban areas or engage in activities other than farming. Therefore, documenting, mobilizing and sharing indigenous knowledge can be vital for safeguarding and further developing local adaptation strategies. Knowledge networks can address both of these challenges while fostering the vital interaction between stakeholders to understand and scale up CSA experiences. Fostering a process and space through knowledge networks and contextualized knowledge management strategies where local, cultural indigenous, scientific, experimental and experiential knowledge are combined encourages collaboration, improves communication and common understanding, promotes innovation and supports equity in participation and decision making (Neufeldt et al., 2015 quoting Buck and Bailey, 2014; Freeman et al., 2015).

C1 - 3.3 Information and communication technologies and communication for development methods

Bridging the current information and knowledge gap for more inclusive and effective decision making for implementing CSA approaches is a key challenge. Smallholders are usually based in rural areas far from the traditional providers of agricultural information and rural advisory services. In addition, the resources of public extension service providers may be limited. Successful adaptation to climate change by small producers is not merely a question of developing new adaptation technologies, but also depends on ensuring access to them.

C1 - 3.3.1 Information and communication technologies for CSA

Associated with trends such as globalization and the shift towards a network society (Castells, 1996, 1997 and 2005), the term “information and communication technologies (ICTs)” refers to technologies designed to access, process and transmit information and facilitate communication encompassing a full range of technologies. These include traditional, widely used devices such as interactive radios, telephones or TV, to more sophisticated tools like satellites, computers and the Internet (Weigel and Waldburger, 2004). A recent phenomenon is the convergence between ICTs, which enhances interactivity. For instance, community radio become more participatory as people use mobile phones to call in through listener clubs and voice their opinions for a dialogue with decision-makers. 

Development practitioners started to explore a technology-centred approach to understand how these tools could be integrated to improve the effectiveness of development projects and programmes captured with the term “ICTs for Development (ICT4D)”. The focus was on the transformative potential of people, organizations and systems (Panos, 2007). However, real risks were also acknowledged, including unsustainable environmental consequences around e-waste (Kiddee, Naidu and Wong, 2013) as well as contributing to a new form of exclusion coined the “digital divide” (Norris, 2011). Regarding the digital divide, the rapid proliferation of ICTs, including the internet, connect many and leave many others out, particularly the most marginalized in rural areas out. To address this risk and move towards a digital “provide”, a people-centred, inclusive and demand-driven application of ICTs was proposed and spearheaded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). Three overlapping areas were specified around access, voice and networking to: (a) better access critical information, knowledge and communication for practice change; (b) strengthen voice and participation in decision-making processes for inclusive dialogue; and (c) facilitate networking and knowledge sharing (SDC, 2006). Moreover, to capture the full potential of ICTs as a catalyst for transformation, more nuanced assessments identified the need for strategic ICT integration into development programmes (Kalas and Spurk, 2011) as well as applying a “7 Cs approach” beyond a technology-centred, infrastructure- and connectivity ICT4D to include content, capacity, context, convergence, communication, communities and conservation issues (Kalas, 2010).

Thematically, the potential of strategic ICT integration to address various development cooperation areas is well documented. These include sustainable development (Sachs, 2015), agriculture (FAO, 2016b; World Bank, 2017), sustainable agriculture (Conway, 2012; Campanhola and Pandey, 2017) and climate change (Kalas and Finlay, 2009; Heeks and Ospina, 2010). More specifically for CSA, ICTs can play a pivotal role in facilitating the assessment of expected future impacts of climate change on agricultural production systems and landscapes. Moreover, ICTs are powerful tools for improving farmers’ access to climate and agricultural information, ranging from technical advice on specific CSA practices to price and market information, and can facilitate the exchange of experiences among peers and between farmers and various stakeholders (Kalas and Finlay, 2009). In addition, ICTs contribute to a change in practices (Farm Radio International, 2011) and empower local stakeholder groups and individuals by enhancing their voice and facilitating increased participation in decision-making processes (Kalas and Spurk, 2011). It is recommended that countries explore the potential of the people-centred, inclusive and demand-driven application of ICTs to catalyse, accelerate and scale up and -out the transition to CSA. 

Case Study C1.7 illustrates how the use of ICTs can improve access to research information for researchers, development practitioners and extension workers.

Case Study C1.8 illustrates how an information system helps to connect farmers, extension services, the private sector, research institutes and non-governmental organizations to promote exchanges with a view to improving the adoption of existing technologies, as well as to signal the demand for new ones to technology developers and knowledge providers.

C1 - 3.3.2 Communication for Development for improved participation, coordination and voice

A participatory communication for development approach (C4D) moves beyond information dissemination by the media to a participatory process using a wide variety of media and interpersonal communication techniques and tools that aim to facilitate dialogue among stakeholders and to achieve consensus and action (Bessette, 2004; FAO, 2007; SDC 2006). The C4D approach can therefore improve the effectiveness of local or national climate change and food security initiatives, as well as contribute to empowering stakeholders. It does so by facilitating knowledge exchange and learning among different stakeholders, improving participation and coordination, matching supply and demand for adaptation support services, and contributing to mediation in conflict situations by developing a communication strategy (see Case Study C1.9).