African agriculture is long overdue for a radical transformation to sustainably increase productivity. Although Climate Smart Agriculture calls for new approaches, increasing productivity remain the common objective with this new paradigm.
While climate change now brings a whole new set of challenges that make the task even more daunting, farmers still urgently need access to productivity enhancing technologies and practices such as improved soil, water and rangeland management, high yielding and adaptable crop varieties and livestock breeds, nutrient-enhancing inputs, and appropriate mechanization. Many of these imperatives are consistent with a more efficient agriculture which produces more food per unit of land and other key resources such as water. Higher efficiency in agriculture is also directly linked to less emissions per kilo of food produced. The risks associated with extensive, low-return, rain-fed agro-pastoral systems that are typical on the continent are at the heart of high levels of vulnerability of rural livelihoods to climate shocks. Paying attention to these threats to rural livelihoods will not only help farmers to cope with climate change but will also play a decisive role in a transformation that has eluded the continent for so long. Sustainable intensification of both crop and livestock systems is vital to achieving both long-term wealth creation and climate objectives. Enhancing productivity and stabilising yields is the sweet spot where the triple objectives of socio-economic advancement, building resilience and reducing emissions coincide.
The momentum towards decisive action in response to climate change is an opportunity for a holistic makeover of the agricultural sector in Africa. Climate-smart agriculture provides a framework for sustainably increasing productivity while building the adaptive capacity of key facets of livelihood systems of farming households. But without innovative solutions to fix persistent weaknesses in key farmer support systems and institutions, promising CSA technologies and practices will once again fail to drive the necessary transformation. Supporting the emergence of wealthier farming households — with access to more alternatives for coping with climatic shocks or any other threats — is the most far-reaching solution to both the socio-economic and environmental challenges facing us now and in the future.