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Climate-smart agriculture, not an oxymoron

“Is climate-smart agriculture [CSA] an oxymoron?”, Lisa Schipper, a researcher, questioned in regard to a new farming concept outlined in the 5th Asia-Pacific Climate Change Adaptation Forum in Sri Lanka recently.

The concept of CSA was coined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) in 2010 to sustainably increase productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduce/remove greenhouse gases (mitigation) and enhance national food security and development goals.

The concept has been introduced with a more sophisticated political approach, through a new initiative called the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture. In a new twist, the Global Alliance provides for new ways of green washing “climate-smart” industrial agriculture, with the active involvement of private corporations such as Syngenta, Yara, Kellogg’s and McDonald’s. The scheme may let agriculture remain a parking lot for poor farmers in Africa and South Asia, but it should not to be continued in the ASEAN region.

ASEAN is one of the most productive agricultural regions in Asia. In 2012, the region produced 129 million tons of rice, 40 million tons of corn, 171 million tons of sugarcane, 1.44 million tons of soybean, and 70.34 million tons of cassava.

Rice production was forecast to increase by 3 percent to 132.87 million tons in 2013. ASEAN also expected to increase exports to 18.28 million tons. While domestic utilization is projected to increase to 114.57 million from 113.04 million tons in 2012, self-sufficiency (production to domestic utilization) ratio is still assured at 116 percent.

However, the target could not be achieved due to climate change. In 2014, the region produced less than 120 million tons of rice. For the 2015-2016 growing season, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates total rice production at 118.2 million tons. Yet optimism is still high on the growth of the region’s agriculture sector. The ASEAN region is home to around 600 million people while its main food markets, East Asia and South Asia, have populations of 1.6 billion people and around 1 billion people, respectively. However, Southeast Asia is highly vulnerable to climate change as a large proportion of the population and economic activity is concentrated along coastlines; the region is heavily reliant on agriculture for livelihoods; there is a high dependence on natural resources and forestry; and the level of extreme poverty remains high.

A study carried out by Asian Development Bank (ADB) revealed that the mean temperature in the region increased by 0.1 to 0.3 degree Celsius per decade between 1951 and 2000; rainfall trended downward from 1960 to 2000; and sea levels have risen 1 to 3 millimeters per year. Heat waves, droughts, floods and tropical cyclones have also become more intense and frequent. The same study projects a 4.8 degrees Celsius rise in mean annual temperature and a 70-centimeter rise in the mean sea level by 2100 in Indonesia, the Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.

ASEAN farmers actually have been practicing organic farming and good agriculture practices. This effort should be combined with CSA to increase the region’s resilience. There are several ways to mix these sustainable agriculture practices. First is insurance, which protects farmers from crop losses as a result of bad weather and encourages them to innovate.

Weather index-based insurance schemes can help secure farmers’ livelihoods and enable them to invest in climate-smart technologies. It will improve millions of farmers’ adaptive capacity with the help of climate-smart insurance. Through close collaboration with farmers, civil society, governments and researchers, it will support the concept and practice of CSA in farmers’ fields and in global initiatives.

Another way is improving early-warning systems for agricultural resilience. Such systems can help avoid extreme climate events that undermine agriculture and rural development. Recommendations can be given to policy makers to strengthen existing and developing new early-warning systems that would provide an alert of a potential weather-related disruption in food production.

Climate information is also considered as an integral agricultural input just like seeds, fertilizers and other basic material production. Farmers should access climate information. Participatory climate information services for Agriculture can help farmers make informed decisions based on accurate, location specific, climate and weather information; locally relevant crops, livestock and livelihood options; and with the use of participatory tools to aid their decision making.

For problems of the increase in pests and disease outbreaks, affecting crops, livestock and fisheries, which creates a new threat for food security, one of the solutions is to build multi-country coordination for new and adapted pest and disease management systems that are based on sound science.

Research should be conducted to provide farmers, technical advisors and national policy-makers with science-based evidence and recommendations about low emissions agriculture practices such as improved feed for livestock, more efficient use of nitrogen fertilizers, agroforestry, and water management in paddy rice, and the practices’ suitability for different environments and types of farmers.

Then the practices have to be ensured to bring real benefit for farmers, otherwise it remains an oxymoron. The real solution is making climate-resilient practices based on ecologically agricultural systems, not the market/mitigation-oriented “triple-win” of “climate-smart” agriculture.

It can be done by effective multi-actor collaboration. The ASEAN Climate Regional Network mentioned in its guidelines to promoting CSA, that scaling-up CSA practices had to focus on context specific priorities and solutions, aligned with national policies and priorities. It should be determined based on the social, economic and environmental conditions on site, including the diversity in type and scale of agricultural activity, as well as by evaluating the potential synergies, trade-offs and net benefits.

The ADB is currently preparing programs on CSA to utilize its annual climate financing of US$6 billion. This fund should be used for adaptation measures in CSA practices, which typically are associated with sustainable agriculture as actions that may increase the capacity of the agricultural system to minimize the effects of climate change on productivity.

Biogas-coffee project by in Indonesia could be a good example which includes post harvesting process implemented with climate-smart treatment. Initiated by GreenWin Indonesia and local farmers, using biogas for coffee roasting is an interesting breakthrough with adequate demand from the market. Additionally, it also creates employment opportunities for women, as it ensures quick return on their labor, cash and material investment.

This blog was originally posted to the Jakata Post.

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