Making agriculture ‘climate smart’

By Le Thu Huong and Robert Finlayson

The Earth’s climate is changing and scientists have been calling on governments to prioritize ‘climate-smart’ agriculture. This is because agricultural productivity is expected to reduce by as much as 50% during the next 30 years in Southeast Asia, up to 28% in Africa and 16% worldwide, putting the lives of billions of people at risk and potentially destroying economies.

The Second Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, themed “Hunger for Action,” brought together 500 delegates from 150 countries and 20 international organizations in Hanoi, 3–7 September 2012, to discuss how agriculture can become “climate smart”.

Tony Simons, Director General of the World Agroforestry Centre, said in his opening address that what is needed is a whole-landscape approach that keeps the livelihoods of small-scale farmers at the heart of climate-smart agriculture.

“Countries must focus on increasing farming productivity through diversification, intensification, reducing emissions from agriculture, and shielding small-scale farmers—who grow most of the food in developing countries—against extreme weather events,” he said.

According to Elisabeth Simelton, a scientist working with the Centre’s Agroforestry for Livelihoods of Smallholder Farmers project in Northwest Vietnam, one way through which farmers could adapt to climate change and improve their livelihoods is to steer clear of monocropping; they should instead plant a diversity of trees and crops on their land.

“Vietnamese farmers would be wise to include high-value crops, such as nut and fruit trees, on their farms because trees are more resilient to shifts in weather patterns and produce consistent, high-demand products,” she said.

Nguyen Van Bo, head of the Vietnam Academy of Agricultural Science and a member of the International Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change, said that Vietnam had already set out to make its agriculture more adapted by improving crop varieties, efficiency of water use, changing cropping patterns and using technologies such as mulching and no-tillage farming.

All of these are good first steps, but more is needed, according to Tony Simons.

“If the Vietnamese government wants to more rapidly transform agriculture to reduce the impact of climate change, fast-track methods include encouraging many stakeholders with differing interests, but especially smallholder farmers themselves, to be involved in developing and implementing policies for climate-smart agriculture,” he said. “This includes creating conditions to boost private investment, and also helping farmers build strong cooperatives and associations.”

Clearly, adapting farming to a changing climate will take the combined efforts of many actors, and especially governments. Such action that cannot wait, if we are to ensure that the current generation and future ones have enough to eat.

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Video interviews with Tony Simons

Dr Tony Simons: Beyond REDD to a whole landscape approach.


Dr Tony Simons, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre, talks about the need to move beyond the narrow requirements of Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Degradation schemes to a ‘whole landscape’ approach if we are to effectively slow the rate of global warming and be able to adapt. Dr Simons was a keynote speaker at the Second Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, 3–7 September 2012, Hanoi, Viet Nam, where the interview was filmed.
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Dr Tony Simons: Making agriculture climate smart.


Dr Tony Simons, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre, talks about how to make agriculture secure in the face of a changing climate. Dr Simons was a keynote speaker at the Second Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, 3–7 September 2012, Hanoi, Viet Nam, where the interview was filmed.
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Dr Tony Simons: How the World Agroforestry Centre and the Center for International Forestry Research work together to protect the environment and improve agricultural economies.


Dr Tony Simons, director general of the World Agroforestry Centre, talks about the research-for-development collaboration between his organization and the Center for International Forestry Research. Dr Simons was a keynote speaker at the Second Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, 3–7 September 2012, Hanoi, Viet Nam, where the interview was filmed.
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Video interviews with Elisabeth Simelton
Dr Elisabeth Simelton: What is the World Agroforestry Centre doing in Viet Nam to help agriculture become climate smart?


Dr Elisabeth Simelton, senior climate-change scientist with the Centre in Viet Nam, explains the research being done in Viet Nam to safeguard agriculture against climate shocks.
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Dr Elisabeth Simelton: Improving income through climate-smart agriculture.


Dr Elisabeth Simelton, senior climate-change scientist with the Centre in Viet Nam, explains the research being done in Viet Nam to improve farmers’ livelihoods while also adapting to climate change.

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