Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Enabling policy environment for Climate-Smart Agriculture

Enabling Frameworks

National policy coherence for climate-smart agriculture

Making a transition to climate-smart agriculture requires coherency in the range of policies formulated to support the sustainable increase of agricultural productivity and incomes, climate change adaptation and mitigation. Streamlining various policy processes to simultaneously tackle a wide set of objectives, however, is not an easy task. Creating ad hoc policies without a systematic policy assessment can be an inefficient way of targeting and achieving climate-smart agriculture objectives. This chapter describes a systematic policy assessment framework to help countries capitalize on synergies, understand the trade-offs between the different climate-smart agriculture objectives, and design appropriate policies that support climate-smart agriculture. 

C3 - 4.1 Mainstreaming climate-smart agriculture objectives into national policies

A variety of objectives drive national policy-making processes. Considered and formulated in isolation,  policies may result in disconnected actions on the ground. Achieving sustainable development, reducing poverty, developing a 'middle-class' or reducing the dependency on fossil fuels are all worthy examples of development objectives, but they are not always aligned with other national objectives. Policies are often formulated in sectorial 'silos', but even within a given sector there is a need to harmonize policy objectives. Objectives related to agricultural sustainability are increasingly recognized as a priority in many developed and developing countries. However, the majority of current policies in this area remain focused on achieving gains in productivity and profitability. 

This segmented policy approach is partly a result of the parallel policy debates at the national and international levels (see chapter C3-3). Socio-economic plans are often discussed under the umbrella of ministries of economic or social affairs, and environmental plans are discussed at the sectoral level or under the auspices of environmental or natural resources ministries. Finance ministers on the other hand influence fiscal policy and public investment allocations, and central bankers manage exchange rates and money supplies. Also, policy discussions related to climate change have traditionally dealt with climate change mitigation and adaptation as separate issues (Harvey et al., 2014). For instance, at the international and national levels, climate change adaptation and mitigation are often addressed through different processes (see chapter C3-3.2). National actions in these areas are often led by different ministries or institutions, and involve distinct constituencies and funding sources (Locatelli et al., 2011). 

The disconnect in policy actions also stems from the competition for scarce resources, both natural and financial. The different spatial and temporal scales of the problems that policy makers must address, including climate change, create different implementation incentives. It is Understandable that, given the often limited human resources and current socio-political systems, policy makers prioritize urgent, rather than long-term issues. For instance, to increase food security in places like Saudi Arabia or North India, governments stimulate the use of groundwater for agricultural use, using different incentives schemes. This increases agricultural production, but triggers serious trade-offs between current and future production possibilities. These underground reservoirs are practically non-renewable, and the rapid extraction of groundwater reduces the adaptive capacity of communities that are dependent on this resource. 

Policy-making processes are often complex and inflexible. Priority actions may change relatively quickly, but it is not always easy to adjust policies and institutions. The prioritization process is also not always reflected in national development and investment plans, and current legislation may not support the necessary changes the policy makers want to implement. 

However, governments are becoming increasingly aware of the need to achieve greater coherence among diverse objectives and national regulatory frameworks. Policy makers’ interests in pursuing a range of development pathways, including the 'Green Economy' (see module A1 and module C7), 'Blue Growth', sustainable development and climate-smart agriculture, reflect the importance of achieving synergies between different objectives. More and more, the three previously distinct development objectives –sustainable development, disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation and mitigation– are being discussed in unison (see chapter 3.4 and module C5 on disaster risk reduction). 

C3 - 4.2 Assessment of policy coherence to increase policy effectiveness

The need to increase policy coherence calls for a systematic assessment of current policies and their effects on the set of objectives prioritized by a country. New policies need to target an increasing number of objectives, and the regulatory frameworks must become more holistic and more complex.

Existing agricultural and non-agricultural policies can have intended and unintended effects on objectives related to sustainable increases in productivity, climate change adaptation and mitigation. It is important to assess whether existing policies provide consistent signals to farmers and whether feedback loops exist that can connect farmers' experiences on the ground with policy makers to improve policy formulation. Only by assessing the impacts of policies on multiple objectives, can decisions be made that harness synergies and lead to acceptable trade-offs. A key principle is to create a policy-making process that is participatory and inclusive of all key stakeholders, where possible. This approach contributes to more country-owned and sustainable interventions and delivers results that are in line with system-wide capacity development (see module C1). 

To achieve these ends, a step-by-step approach can be followed. This approach is based on the work undertaken by the FAO Economic and Policy Innovations for Climate-Smart Agriculture (EPIC) programme (see module C10) and the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD, 2016). Figure C3-1 describes the building blocks of the proposed policy assessment framework.

Figure C3.1. Policy assessment framework 

  1. A necessary prerequisite for assessing synergies and trade-offs is to understand the key trends related to the impacts of climate change and greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sectors, as well as the vulnerability of agricultural systems and farmers in a given country (see module A2 on climate change adaptation and mitigation). It is also advisable to review the key national socio-economic and demographic trends to understand the dynamics that are shaping development. Identifying these key trends can help determine the goals that should be prioritized, and areas where policy action is most needed. Key issues to consider include: climate-related hazards; the levels of exposure, vulnerability, and adaptive capacity of agricultural systems and farmers; the potential risks and impacts on agricultural systems and farmers; and the potential impacts of agricultural and food production systems on climate.
  2. An important part of the assessment is to outline the set of objectives and indicators against which the policies are to be evaluated. A sound knowledge of the government’s priorities helps create a better understanding of how objectives related to increases in agricultural productivity and income, climate change adaptation and mitigation are prioritized. Countries increasingly stress the importance of adaptive actions against locally-specific climate change related risks and vulnerabilities. However, the respective weight policy makers attribute to the different objectives of climate-smart agriculture vary by country. Policy makers should assess not only if, and to what extent, they have integrated the three objectives of climate-smart agriculture, but also if the prioritization of these objectives corresponds to their international commitments, national development priorities and climate-related risks and impacts. The process of putting the three climate-smart agriculture objectives on the agenda of national policy-making processes is challenging. In general, economic growth and food security objectives have driven policy actions. Recently, many countries have gradually introduced climate change adaptation in policy design and implementation. The extent and levels of this integration differ among countries. This Integration can be reflected in the policy, legal and institutional frameworks; the design and implementation of programmes or projects; or both. For instance, through NAPs or sectoral plans, climate change adaptation has become institutionalized in many countries. On the other hand, some countries have not yet designed national adaptation plans, but are testing adaptive practices on the ground. Integrating these objectives should take place at different levels (national, subnational and local) and within sectoral plans and programmes.
  3. Without coordinated institutions, it is difficult to mainstream the prioritized objectives and ensure that they are translated into actions. The lack of institutional coordination and co-operation, and a segmented institutional approach can lead to trade-offs being made in the outcomes of activities intended to achieve multiple objectives or even a single objective. At the international, regional, national and local levels, countries should assess the challenges involved in strengthening the coherence and coordination among different institutions and within each institutional setting. Based on this assessment, policy makers should determine whether the institutions are working together in an effective and coordinated manner, and through which intra- and inter-institutional mechanisms the coherence and coordination issues could be identified, monitored and addressed. Identifying the key institutions and stakeholders responsible for addressing the three objectives of climate-smart agriculture is the first step in an analysis of institutional effectiveness and coordination. It is essential to analyse how the objectives and the associated strategies and funding mechanisms are integrated and distributed between and within various institutions. Identifying the challenges to institutional coherence, can ultimately contribute to creating synergies between different objectives. Two examples of how a country can ensure that the objectives of climate-smart agriculture are mainstreamed within the institutional setting are provided in Box C3.2.

Box C3.2  Mainstreaming climate-smart agriculture objectives within institutional settings

Example 1 - An institutional shift toward inter- and intra-ministerial collaboration in France

France has prioritized efforts to promote synergies between the three objectives of climate-smart agriculture. It does so by ensuring intra-ministerial collaboration and creating high-level coordination mechanisms between various ministries. It has also restructured intra-ministerial departments to better reflect the prioritization of both economic and climate objectives within various departments. 

The French Ministry of Agriculture, Agri-food, and Forests (MAAF) and the Ministry of Environment, Energy, and the Sea (MEEM) are the main ministries responsible for ensuring progress is made toward reaching objectives related to agricultural productivity and climate change mitigation and adaptation. Shared objectives, agreement on indicators, and participation of each Ministry’s leadership in the other Ministry’s policy-making process are the main tools for collaboration. This takes place under the arbitration of the Prime Minister’s Office (Ignaciuk, Coger and Dameron, 2017). 

Intra-ministry restructuring and direct collaboration with research, for example with the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA), also reflect the growing attention that has been paid to reducing the climate footprint of the agriculture sectors and increasing their adaptive capacity. In 2008, MAAF merged its previously separate directorates that had been focusing on economic and environmental issues. The newly unified directorate was restructured again in 2015 in an effort to better integrate objectives related to competitiveness, and climate and environmental concerns (Ignaciuk, Coger and Dameron, 2017). The government of France promotes collaboration among ministries and active cooperation with other institutions, including the Economic and Environmental Interest Groups (GIEE) that bring together stakeholders from the fields of research, industry and education to enhance cooperation.

Example 2 - Sustainable institutional support to climate-smart agriculture through inter-ministerial core teams in Malawi and Zambia

Recognizing the importance of institutions to support climate-smart agriculture and address the common coordination problems across different ministries and research organizations, the EPIC programme has placed special emphasis on supporting partner countries to establish sustainable inter-ministerial coordination platforms, and creating an evidence base for climate-smart agriculture and using it to underpin national policies. 

Based on a thorough institutional mapping exercise, a climate-smart agriculture core team was established in each country. The core team included representatives from the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Environment, national agricultural research organizations, national farmers' unions and most importantly, universities. These core teams have followed the international and regional policy discourse on climate change, agriculture and food security and have continued their work after the project ended. FAO has also supported the attendance of Ministry of Agriculture staff at UNFCCC negotiations along with the Ministry of Environment staff (who regularly attend) to build institutional capacities and create a greater impetus for continued cooperation between ministries. The climate-smart agriculture core team in Zambia is now in charge of maintaining an overview of all national activities related to climate-smart agriculture, including activities connected with the Global and African Alliances for climate-smart agriculture, GCF, GEF and UNFCCC (Arslan et al., 2014). 

Building on these institutional innovations, the EPIC programme also organized inter-ministerial dialogues in both countries. The dialogue in Zambia brought together staff from the Zambian Ministry of Agriculture and Livestock (MAL) and the Ministry of Land, Natural Resources and Environmental Protection (MLNREP). This dialogue, which was purposely held during the preparation phases of the draft NAP and the draft National Policy on Climate Change (NPCC), contributed to the refinement and improvement of both the NAP and the NPCC. It served to minimize the contradictions and capitalize on the complementarities between the objectives articulated in these two important policy documents.

Monitoring and assessment framework

  1. A wide range of international and national regulations, economy-wide policies and sector-specific policies create a diverse set of incentives and disincentives to achieve progress in all three objectives of climate-smart agriculture. Policy makers should map the policies that can have positive and negative incentives for the adoption of climate-smart agriculture practices. Sometimes these incentives and disincentives, which can play a large role in changing the behavior of farmers and other stakeholders in the value chain and determine the adoption rate of climate-smart agriculture activities, may not initially appear to be related to policies. Examples of policy mapping can be found in Ignaciuk, Coger and Dameron (2017), Ignaciuk and Boonstra (2017) and OECD (2017).
  2. A systematic assessment of the effects of policies on the three objectives of climate-smart agriculture is often lacking. It is, however, crucial to assess the effects of various policies on all three objectives. Both quantitative and qualitative tools are necessary to shed more light on where the synergies and trade-offs occur. Ideally, governments should rely on evidence that quantifies the extent of these effects. Given the site-specific, evidence-based nature of climate-smart agriculture interventions, the capacity to create this type of evidence needs to be built into national institutions (e.g. universities, national research institutions) to ensure the continuity of an evidence-based policy culture (see also module C10 on step-by step implementation of climate-smart agriculture). Poorly designed policies may not only be ineffective in achieving their explicit objectives, they may also generate unintended negative effects on efforts to reach other objectives (see Box C3.3).

Box C3.3  Perceived versus actual effects of trade policy on food security and climate change adaptation in the Philippines

Trade restriction measures can exacerbate the impacts of climate change by reducing the ability of producers and consumers to adapt. For example, restrictions on rice imports, such as those that have been put in place in the Philippines, are likely to limit farmers’ capacity to respond to changes in market signals. These restrictions stimulate the production of rice, even in areas where it is not well suited, rather than motivate farmers to switch to more resilient and competitive crops. The current setting of trade policy in the Philippines induces higher domestic rice prices, which contributes to higher rates of undernourishment and increases the impact of extreme weather events on the prevalence of food insecurity. The inability to reduce production deficits caused by climate events further increases the price of rice. This is especially detrimental for net rice consumers, of which subsistence farmers form a large group.

The trade measures currently in place are working against food security objectives. Based on the quantitative assessment done by the OECD and International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) trade liberalization of rice would decrease the rate of undernourishment by 3.2 percentage points by improving access to rice of poor households (OECD, 2017). While this policy supports the incomes of net rice producers, it taxes the majority of households, who are net rice consumers. In 2012, about 72 percent of all Philippine households and 34 percent of rice producing households were net rice consumers. Thus, despite the policy objective to improve food security by increasing rice self-sufficiency, the current rice trade regime is in fact contributing to a more prevailing state of food insecurity in the Philippines.With more persistent, negative effects of climate change, it is very likely that food insecurity will increase in the future.

Without trade restrictions, trade responses could reduce the trends in undernourishment. The restrictive trade regime driven by the objective of self-sufficiency in rice production also increases the risk of food insecurity in case of domestic crop failures.

Source: OECD, 2017

In some cases, the unintended effects of policies may actually contribute significantly to achieving climate change objectives, and regulations targeting other objectives can also have positive effects on emission reductions. For instance, in the Netherlands, the liberalization of the energy market contributed significantly to meeting the country's greenhouse gases reduction target. Similarly, animal welfare policies, particularly a regulation that obliged pig producers to use anesthesia while castrating piglets, resulted in lower nitrogen emissions in the country (Box C3.4). These examples highlight the importance of taking a more holistic approach to policy analysis when considering climate-smart agriculture. Given the difficulty in assessing every policy in a large number of sectors, it is necessary to prioritize policies based on a consideration of the sectors that are most likely to have an impact on emissions and incentives. This may involve, for example, focusing on policies related to energy, water, livestock, forestry and agricultural inputs. 

Box C3.4  Unintended effects of energy and animal welfare policies on emissions reduction in the Netherlands

In the Netherlands, the liberalization of the energy market and the high prices of fossil fuels are behind the notable success the greenhouse horticulture industry has had in reducing its emissions. In 2011, the Dutch hothouse sector consumed 52 percent less energy per unit of production compared with 1990. Improvements in efficiency were made mainly by changes in cultivation practices, energy conservation, and the use of gas engines in combined heat and power plants. In 2017, approximately 70 percent of the 9 200 hectares of greenhouses in the country produce 10 percent of the electric energy consumed nationally. The impetus to rethink greenhouse horticulture production, specifically its energy use, evolved from the liberalization of the energy market and changes in fuel prices, which at the time the liberalization policy came into affect were high. The higher fuel prices allowed 'green' electricity producers to charge a substantive amount for electricity. Other market considerations, such as a government stimulus that was provided for the 'first movers' into the green energy market also contributed to the changes in greenhouse horticulture production. In addition, agricultural producers in the Netherlands are highly entrepreneurial. With high fuel prices, investments in combined heat and power plants for energy production, and investments in geothermal energy as a source of energy became viable (Ignaciuk and Boonstra, 2017). 

Animal welfare policies affect the regulatory environment in the agricultural sector and can have an impact on greenhouse gas emissions. For example, the recent obligations to use anesthesia while castrating pigs resulted in a significant reduction of greenhouse gas emissions. In this case, the industry was faced with a dilemma. The meat from non-castrated pigs can have a particular smell, which is not always appreciated by consumers, but the costs of anesthesia are significant in a very competitive market. Consumers also strongly opposed castration without anesthesia, and this topic was even discussed at the Dutch parliament. Weighing all the pros and cons, the pig industry decided not to castrate pigs for the domestic market. They did however introduce a 'smell' control to the production chain. Non-castrated pigs can more easily absorb minerals, and the industry could reduce mineral-rich feed in the piglets’ diets. This, in turn, resulted in much lower levels of phosphorus and nitrogen in their manure. This explains to a large extent why the emissions from pig manure did not increase, despite a significant increase in the pig population (Ignaciuk and Boonstra, 2017). 

Policymakers are increasingly facing decisions regarding which trade-offs are acceptable, which ones need to be revised, and what additional policies can be used to correct some of the trade-offs that are caused by the current policy framework. A difficult, but necessary, action is to determine if and when some trade-offs between the three objectives are acceptable. It is ideal, but not always possible to obtain double or triple wins between sustainable increases in productivity and incomes, climate change adaptation and mitigation objectives. Trade-offs between policy objectives can be present, for example, in situations where productivity is prioritized over adaptation or mitigation. A good example of such trade-offs occur when support measures are provided for electricity to pump irrigation water in dry areas. Typically, these measures increase short-term productivity, but over the long term, farmers' resilience may decrease if they are no longer able to withdraw sufficient amounts of water from overdrained reservoirs (FAO, 2011). 

Understanding and addressing the many barriers that can prevent the uptake of climate-smart agriculture can help policy makers design effective supportive policies. Some of these barriers are of particular interest to policy makers since overcoming them is vital to achieving policy objectives. Table C3-1 provides a classification of these barriers, with particular attention given to those barriers that can be overcome by different policy initiatives. Chapter C3-4 and module C10 consider these barriers in more detail. Table C3-1. Barriers to the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and differentiated policy responses – based on the experiences of OECD countries.

Table C3.1.  Barriers to the adoption of climate-smart agriculture and differentiated policy responses – based on the experiences of OECD countries

Type of barrier



Suggested role for policy

Farm level


Inexistent or unclear land tenure


Limited policy priority

Insufficient infrastructure and complementary markets


Possible investment in infrastructure

Farm succession, age and structure


Not a policy priority


Perceived or real negative effects on production


Communication and education; Improved access to funding; Payments for environmental services

High cost of adoption


Possible investment support for certain measures but evidence is mixed

Hidden and transaction costs


Simplification of regulation

Limited access to credit


Depending on underlying reason, strengthen capacity for public or private finance 

Social and cultural

Appropriateness of practices from a cultural and social standpoint


Communication and participation

Behavioural and cognitive

'Beliefs' about climate change


Communication and engagement

Perceived long time horizons, uncertainty and risk management


Communication and engagement; Provide certainty where possible (e.g. regulatory certainty)

Competing pressures on farmer due to increased regulatory requirements


Not a policy priority

National and Policy level

National level

Perceived negative effect on country’s competitive position on international markets


Research and communication

General level of information and education awareness


Targeted engagement policies and demonstration

Limited extent of climate policy


Policy should provide regulatory certainty 

Possibility of leakage


Global governance

Pre-decided farm management due to industry cooperation


Inclusion of environmental and climate issues in national regulation 

Sectoral reporting on greenhouse gas and administrative costs


International level reform of inventories

Policy related

Non-climate related agricultural policies (e.g. input subsidies, production support, subsidized insurance)


Remove policy distortions

Note: CCA (climate change adaptation); CCM (climate change mitigation)

Source: adapted from Wreford, Ignaciuk and Gruere, 2017.