Climate-Smart Villages: The Future of Farming

As changing weather patterns pose serious threats to traditional agrarian systems, Climate-Smart Agriculture methods are coming to the rescue of farmers across the world. By Padmaparna Ghosh.

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Based on “The Climate-Smart Village Approach: Framework of an integrative strategy for scaling up adaptative options in agriculture” by P. K. Aggarwal, Ecology and Society, 2018

Based on “The Climate-Smart Village Approach: Framework of an integrative strategy for scaling up adaptative options in agriculture” by P. K. Aggarwal, Ecology and Society, 2018

With contributions from: P.K.Aggarwal (Regional Program Leader, CCAFS/BISA-CIMMYT South Asia), Andy Jarvis (Flagship Leader, CCAFS/CIAT), Bruce Campbell (Program Director, CCAFS), Arun Khatri-Chhetri (Science Officer, CCAFS South Asia), Shehnab Sahin (Communications Specialist, CCAFS South Asia) and others from the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security.

Dressed in a typical farmer’s white head wrap, Horil Singh of Rajapakar village in Bihar laments the unpredictability of weather today. “We have seen the weather change to a great extent. We are desperate for rains but are often let down.”

Agroforestry farmer woman

Photo by: Neil Palmer (CIAT)

Bihar is blessed with fertile, alluvial soil and abundant water resources, sealing its reputation as an agricultural haven. However, conditions are changing. Studies show that changes in rainfall and temperature are affecting rain-fed and irrigated cropping systems, posing major climate risks for crop production. Millions of farmers like Singh are facing uncertainty, which can wreak havoc in traditional farming systems, not just in terms of incomes and livelihoods but also food security.

However, there is hope in the shape of Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA), whose objectives are to provide solutions to transform and reorient agricultural systems to support food security on a changing planet. CSA, in short, aims to bolster agricultural productivity in a sustainable manner (which in turn increases farm incomes, food security and development) while assisting farmers in adapting and building resilience to climate change (from the farm to national levels) and reducing or removing green house gases (GHG) whereever possible.

Today Rajapakar is a Climate-Smart Village (CSV), a part of a project led by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). Built on the principles of CSA, this program provides technological, organizational and systemic support to farmers in association with institutions to help them cope with climate change, in 36 sites across 20 countries.

Uma Kant Singh, another farmer from Rajapakar, says, “Today we receive news through agro-advisory services. We farmed with the System of Rice Intensification (SRI) method for paddy and zero till for wheat, with much higher yields.”

Be it index-based insurance which safeguards farmers from losses due to floods and drought or crop damage owing to weather unpredictability, to agro-advisory and weather services, along with technological interventions at various levels, these villages are using diverse ways to adapt to climate change from every angle, and building microcosms that represent farming for the future.


The Global Context

Even though, at present, we are living in a time of maximum agricultural yield in human history, we, as a race are still grappling with severe food insecurity.

In South and Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, and Sub-Saharan Africa, almost 800 million people still have insufficient food. Global food production must double by 2050 to keep up with population growth and food demand. Things get worse when you throw climate change into this volatile mix.

“The magnitude and speed of climate change efforts in agriculture will be critical to the future of large segments of the world’s population, particularly in the developing countries in South Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa,” says Arun Khatri-Chhetri, Associate Scientist and Science Officer with the CCAFS program in South Asia.

Climate change is expected to impact food production through increased temperatures, erratic rainfall patterns, and more frequent and intense floods and droughts. This can lead to yield losses up to 60%. Recent studies have shown that almost one-third of yield variability is related to climatic variability.

“In Latin America, climate variability wreaks havoc on agriculture—from drought and fires, water issues, flooding, excess rain to increase in pests and diseases. It is like a perfect storm,” says Andy Jarvis, Flagship Leader for Climate-Smart Agriculture, with the CCAFS program.

And that is not all.

Agricultural food systems are also contributing to this problem themselves by contributing around a quarter of GHG emissions, creating a vicious cycle of agriculture both driving climate change and suffering from its consequences.

There is a vision of a sustainable, resilient and robust agricultural food system that reduces GHG emissions, which in turn has the potential to reduce the severity of the problem—but does such a panacea exist?

“It has to. Otherwise we are in deep trouble. If we are serious about our Sustainable Development Goals (SDG), we have to reach 500 million small holder farmers by 2030. We have to reduce 1 giga ton of CO2 from agriculture compared to business as usual. At the moment, we are only likely to get to 20-40% of that unless we look towards very transformative actions,” says Bruce Campbell, Program Director for CCAFS.

Several CSVs are showing that its possible. Early results from CSVs in Asia, Africa, and Latin America are illustrating various ways of coping with these issues in diverse agro-ecological settings. Results also show that this approach has high potential for scaling out promising climate-smart agricultural technologies, practices, and services.

“Through CSA and these villages, we are looking at how we can help farmers adapt to all this, so that they are thinking on their feet, capable of dealing with this right now and in so doing setting themselves up for the long term,” says Jarvis.


Climate-Smart Villages as Classrooms

Agroforestry Map

Worldwide CSV approach

Since 2012, CCAFS started piloting the CSV approach in Africa (Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Niger, Senegal, Tanzania and Uganda), and South Asia (Bangladesh, India and Nepal) and then extended in 2014 to Latin America (Colombia, Guatemala, Honduras and Nicaragua), and Southeast Asia (Cambodia, Laos, Philippines and Vietnam). CCAFS and its partners currently facilitate AR4D in about 36 CSV sites.

In a way, Rajapakar village is a classroom, it is a site of learning for agricultural research. The CCAFS program hopes that it will be a beacon of hope for a more resilient and sustainable future.

Around the world, there are several successful examples of CSA programs and studies, however, the problem is lack of adoption of innovative practices. For example, in Betul district in Madhya Pradesh, farmers were seen to continue using very old seeds that were handed down to them by their ancestors.

“Despite such seeds being low-yield, conviction in indigenous traditions, together with lack of access to credit and knowledge, compelled the farmers to continue its use,” says Pramod Aggarwal, Regional Program Leader for CCAFS in South Asia. As part of CGIAR’s interventions, the beneficiary farmers have now been provided with resilient and high yielding varieties of seeds.

“There is a big demand for such improved seeds now with other tribal farmers,” says Aggarwal.

Lack of practical evidence of their effectiveness in real world situations contributes to low adoption of new technologies. Climate change often complicates this situation because its impact varies across sites. Therefore, to effectively implement such innovations, there needs to be integration between science, technology and decision-making, that takes into account local socioeconomic conditions. It has to be a platform for a socially inclusive and multi-stakeholder collaborative work.

The concept of CSVs was founded on the principle of scaling up CSA, and most importantly, to provide the evidence that this works. Keeping future scaling in mind, these villages were selected as climate change hotspots across a wide range of agro-ecological zones with different types of farming, climate risks and vulnerabilities which would allow comparison, learning, and analysis.

One common feature that runs through the concept of CSVs is that there is no “magic bullet” of a solution. Issues, variabilities, vulnerabilities, capacities are widely divergent, and therefore, solutions also need to be diverse.


How can a village become climate-smart?

The Future of Farming 2

Key Components to be Considered.

The process of implementing the CSV approach is simple.

First is a “baseline assessment”, which is understanding the problem. This is done in a participatory manner, taking in the concerns and local knowledge of all the actors in the cycle. Historical climate data is analyzed to assess the risks and long-term suitability of the main cropping and livestock systems.

The next step is all about constructing the right basket of solutions—a portfolio of practices and technologies that will address food security, adaptation, and mitigation that need to be tested in the CSVs. “Typically this includes interventions which are water-smart, weather-smart, seed/breed-smart, carbon/nutrient-smart and/or market/institution-smart. All of these interventions are site-specific and are chosen after extensive discussion with women and men farmers, local governments and researchers,” says Aggarwal.

Once the plan is in place, the ground is set for creating evidence for other areas with similar conditions, problems and constraints. This is the real test of theory and on-the-field realities, and bringing all farmers on board is critical.

For instance, solar powered community irrigation systems in Gujarat, Bihar and Madhya Pradesh has led to multiple benefits: supplementary income through surplus power sale, clean and regular source of electricity for farm irrigation, changed land use management, and reduction of GHG emissions. Therefore the system is being scaled up by the government of India.

In the CSVs in Betul, Madhya Pradesh, hundreds of farmers have directly benefitted from a wide range of weather resilient agricultural technologies from crop insurance, weather and agro-advisory services, improved seeds, and solar pumps.

The problem of climate change is fine grained. Just like the Bihar example where climate variability is different from one location to another, globally too these can oscillate widely. This is why scientists working on CSA do not apply one solution to every site.

“Agriculture is highly context specific. For example, take alternate wetting and drying in rice paddies. This reduces water consumption by 50% and reduces GHG emissions by 30-50%. But it cannot be applied blindly everywhere. Priorities shift from one area to the next,” says Campbell. And this is why field testing in varied regions is so important.

And finally, we come to scaling up and out. Once intervention portfolios are successfully tried and tested, the evidence is used to contribute to scaling promising innovations.

This is done in two ways:

1. Farmer-to-farmer learning through self-help groups or associations. Messaging from a trusted source is the most effective way to spur farmers to adopt new technologies and practices.

2. Sharing CSV research and lessons to influence large-scale CSA investment plans, promote mainstreaming of institutional changes, and inform policy instruments.

Ultimately, CSA is about illustrating which solutions are best for certain sets of problems. Devender Singh from Rajapakar village explains, “These villages will serve as benchmarks and show farmers how to use new technologies in a changing climate, so that they can cope with the changes.”


No Time Better Than Now

Farmers across the globe are bearing the brunt of climate change. The Paris Climate Agreement aims to restrict global temperature rise this century well below 2 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels and it is critical to start acting now.

“Climatic risks associated with food and livelihood insecurities are also causing a lot of cross-country migration leading to global unrest and social tensions. Addressing these challenges in vulnerable regions of South Asia and Africa is very urgent,” says Aggarwal.

For CGIAR, this is a long game, just like climate change. These are long-term investment sites, for long-term learning. Jarvis terms this as a kind of a “lighthouse approach”. “Like beacons that are visible from far away and attracts interest and curiosity and become demonstration sites. And we hope that they will take it to other regions.”


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