Opinion

Is climate-smart agriculture a smoke screen or is it a real opportunity?

Peter Cooper

Looking at agricultural development through the lens of climate-smart agriculture

When I first started hearing people talking about ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’, I found myself becoming rather aggravated.  At the time, it seemed to me to be just one more rather facile attempt to put a ‘catchy’ label on the serious business of agricultural development.  ‘Who’ I wondered ‘thought that one up?’  I suspect that many others had, and perhaps still have, similar thoughts.

However, not long after that I became involved with the thoughtful scientists who are part of, or work with, the CGIAR research programme ‘Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).  With their insights, I began to see that the concept of Climate Smart Agriculture provides a very useful lens through which we can focus our development thinking.  Whilst I still feel that there is a danger of using ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ as far too generic a ‘banner’ under which agricultural research and development can be put, I now believe that the concept has a lot more to offer.

It helps to assess how we can best contribute to the current and very urgent food security development priorities whilst at the same time doing so in the context of both current climate-induced risks and constraints as well as in the context of how those risks and constraints are projected to change in the future as the world continues warming.   In addition, it recognizes that agriculture is not only affected by climate change, but that it also contributes to global warming through greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  That stimulates thought as to how development innovations might also help mitigate climate change, either through greater carbon sequestration or through reduced GHG emission, and hopefully encourages us to undertake field measurements to quantify such potential mitigation effects.

Should all agricultural research and development fall within the climate smart agricultural concept? 

I don’t think so.   

The world has to deal now with the very real concern of current and future food security, especially in developing nations and many of the essential actions that are required to address this, such as continued land clearance for agriculture and increased use of inorganic nitrogenous fertilizers in many developing countries, will inevitably involve trade-offs between addressing concerns about agriculture and climate change and the imperative of increased global food production and food security. But perhaps the more we view development through the CSA lens, the more we will get to understand such trade-offs and find ways to successfully navigate them. 

The Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA) is a joint international institution of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States and the European Union (EU). CTA operates under the framework of the Cotonou Agreement and is funded by the EU.