Food on our plates, be it meat or pulses, rice or millets, and how and where it is produced can be a major driver of climate change adaptation. This is especially true in highly vulnerable farming systems in the rain-fed drylands. Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) aims at a ‘triple win’ from the transformation of agricultural and food systems: a more productive and profitable agriculture that ensures national and local food security, keeps adapting to a changing climate, and reduces its carbon footprint.
Designing climate smart agriculture at scale remains a challenge for both scientists and policy makers and there is often not enough convergence between CSA programs and large initiatives in natural resource management and food security. The 4th Global Science Conference on Climate Smart Agriculture, organized by the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), from the 28th to 30th November 2017 in Johannesburg, South Africa, looked at how interaction between scientists and policy makers can accelerate CSA uptake from local to national stage. As part of the international Agricultural Model Intercomparison and Improvement Project, the Crop Livestock Intensification Project (AgMIP CLIP) in Zimbabwe illustrated how researchers, decision-makers, and practitioners could use ‘scenarios’ to trigger changes towards more sustainable farming.
Lessons learned from the Crop Livestock Intensification Project
Tool to upscale climate smart policies: How can decision makers be certain that investing in a certain sustainability pathway, for example, expanding food and feed legumes, is more worthwhile in the long run, as compared to business-as-usual or fast economic growth pathways such as high input and carbon footprint farming systems? Discussion around research-based sustainable development scenarios involving CSA principles can provide policy-makers information and guidance to make informed choices on research priorities and investment options.
Investing in CSA can quickly improve the lives of the poorest while building a more food secure future: evaluated integrated interventions (technologies, institutions, policies) were able to double groundnut yields and triple net returns of the poorest farms in a few years (Figure 1), making them less vulnerable to climate variability and shocks.
In the long term, investments in sustainability pathways can reduce vulnerability and halve poverty by 2050 (Figure 2). Research showed that sustainability pathways support both poverty reduction and positive outcomes in gender, food security and nutrition. Greater impacts are observed for the extremely poor; adoption of forage legume crops helped small herders compensate for the negative effects of climate change on rangeland production but were often not enough for those with large herds who experienced higher feed gap risks, thus requiring supplementary feeding practices.
Science and policy dialogue for faster and effective development outcomes: using tools and approaches from a global climate science initiative (AgMIP), the co-design of future scenarios by researchers, local experts including farmers and practitioners and policy-makers, brings both credibility and local ownership. The project was able to simulate out-of-the-box but feasible transformative interventions across diverse farming systems, and look at various cross-cutting issues like gender or conflict prevention over common resources.
This participatory scenario development approach can help not only agricultural production but also present a broader perspective on food systems and social issues, and provide clues to greater carbon sequestration. It can illustrate trade-offs between biodiversity, farm revenues and off-farm employment, and set priorities for changes that favour diversity, community wellbeing and poverty reduction. Not only can scenario development help create important linkages between diverse insights, the approach also reinforces the dialogue between scientists, policy makers and stakeholders, providing valuable feedback also to understand why some CSA interventions, promising when modelled, do not take off. Thus, a new way of bridging science and policy should focus on joint and collaborative work to design, analyse and implement interventions and not only on relaying information.
Legumes innovations in Zimbabwe pave the way towards climate smart farming
The case from Zimbabwe showed how discussion around desirable trajectories and impact assessments of different scenarios helps encourage participation of all key stakeholders and initiate necessary policy changes to upscale chosen interventions.
Through innovation platforms and climate modelling work, ICRISAT researchers have convinced partners and decision-makers that investing in tropical legumes is climate smart. Groundnuts, being more climate resilient than cereals, have been identified as a key CSA crop. A profitable and ‘women’s crop’, groundnuts improve family nutrition and food security. ICRISAT has since launched a groundnut initiative in Zimbabwe, with new varieties being developed and released.
The incorporation of legume forages like mucuna not only reduce the feed gap under climate change, but also provides vulnerable farmers high-quality feed for livestock, thereby enhancing the profitability of livestock value chains. Furthermore, these forages enrich soil with organic matter and reduce crop pests, hence enabling more stable crop yields and higher carbon sequestration. Enhancing on-farm feed production also reduces conflicts over rangeland(s) as animals get used to graze closer home. While three years back, promoting mucuna was seen with skepticism, the technology has now been scaled out to more than 90,000 farmers, with private sector actors promoting seed multiplication.
The use of scenarios in building sustainability pathways goes beyond agriculture to answer bigger questions; what food systems do we want now and in 50 years, and what is the role of agriculture in our society? Working on sustainability pathways is not to turn farming more profitable by any means, but to create sustainable grounds that can nourish and provide wellbeing to our grandchildren.
Such debate could take place in a national conference to be organized in Zimbabwe, that will present a case for sustainability transitions, and how these may be embedded in national and local decision-making processes more effectively.
Markets, Institutions, Nutrition & Diversity
Innovation Systems for the Drylands Program
Dr Roberto O Valdivia
Regional Economics Team & Assistant Professor & Senior Researcher,
Department of Applied Economics, Oregon State University