Agriculture needs to become 'climate-smart'

But current options for financing and development assistance fall far short

28 October 2010, Rome - Agriculture in developing countries must become 'climate-smart' in order to cope with the combined challenge of feeding a warmer, more heavily populated world, says a new FAO report.

Climate change is expected to reduce agriculture productivity, stability and incomes in many areas that already experience high levels of food insecurity — yet world agriculture production will need to increase by 70 percent over the coming four decades in order to meet the food requirements of growing world population, according to 'Climate-Smart' Agriculture: Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation, and Mitigation.

"Increasing agricultural production, reducing post harvest losses, and improving food distribution channels in the developing world have always been major challenges. Climate change raises the bar significantly — a major transformation of agriculture is needed," said Alexander Mueller, FAO Assistant Director-General for Natural Resources.

"Still, we must not forget that many effective climate-smart practices already exist and could be widely implemented in developing countries, as this report points out," he added.

Transformation on multiple fronts

There are a number of areas where changes in the food production sector are required, according to FAO's report.

Agriculture needs to produce more food, waste less, and make it easier for farmers to get their produce to consumers.

Farming must become more resilient to disruptive events like floods and droughts — here improving agriculture's management and use of natural resources like water, land and forests, soil nutrients and genetic resources is key.

The vulnerability of farming communities to climate-related disasters must be reduced, and better warning and insurance systems to help them cope with climate-related problems need to be established.

Finally, agriculture has to find ways to reduce its environmental impacts — including lowering its own greenhouse gas emissions — without compromising food security and rural development.

FAO's report goes on to highlight examples from around the world of how farmers are already moving to tackle these issues and adopt new, climate-smart practices (click here to learn more).

Huge financing gap

Still, considerable investment in filling data and knowledge gaps, research and development of appropriate technologies, and incentives to ensure adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices is needed, FAO's report says.

Funding also should be targeted towards rebuilding neglected national agricultural extension services, which will have a key role to play in supporting farmers as they transition to climate-smart agriculture.

But FAO warns that currently insufficient resources are available for financing efforts to help agriculture and farmers prepare for climate change, especially in the developing world.

"Climate change will increase the overall investment requirements needed to achieve food security, but financing resources currently available are substantially insufficient" and "climate financing — both existing and that under discussion — does not take explicit account of the specific requirements of developing country agriculture," its report says. It is unlikely that public or private resources alone will suffice; innovative ways of blending these resources will challenge financing mechanisms.

The report cites World Bank estimates for the annual costs of climate change adaptation in developing world agriculture of $2.5-2.6 billion per year between 2010 and 2050, as well as the UNFCCC estimate for additional investment and financial flows needed in developing countries for mitigation in the agricultural sector of $14 billion annually by 2030.

Better policies, stronger institutions

FAO's report also argues that greater coherence among agriculture, food security and climate change policy-making is urgently needed.

"Policies in all three of these areas impact smallholder production systems and a lack of coherence can prevent them from capturing synergies," it says, stressing the need to establish mechanisms that allow dialogues between policymakers working in these areas.

Improving mechanisms for getting data, science and know-how to farmers so they can adapt is another area in need of attention.

Agricultural extension systems have in the past been a key conduit for disseminating information and knowledge to farmers, but in many developing countries these systems have long been in decline, the report warns. The Farmer Field School system pioneered by FAO offers an additional channel for promoting knowledge transfer and adoption of climate-smart farming techniques.

Additionally, the report notes that effective systems of use and access rights and property rights are essential to improving management of natural resources.

And new types of accessible and affordable insurance that can help farmers weather the impacts of climate change need to be explored.

FAO's paper was released in advance of the upcoming Global Conference on Agriculture, Food security and Climate Change, to be held in the Hague (31 October-5 November)

Photo: ©FAO
The vulnerability of farming communities to climate-related disasters needs to be reduced.