Climate smart agriculture must be farmer-smart, gender-smart and equity-smart too


A farmer who is part of a tree planting scheme in the Mount Kenya region. Photo by Neil Palmer (CIAT) via Flikr

High hopes are pinned on the agriculture sector to play its part in reducing greenhouse gas emissions, through undergoing a deep transformation to become climate smart. Agriculture is considered to be “climate-smart” when it contributes to increasing food security, and raises climate adaptation and mitigation in a sustainable way.

According to the recently released UNEP Emissions Gap Report 2013, agriculture has the potential to contribute to reducing global emissions to the tune of between 1.1 and 4.3 gigatonnes annually. Merlyn Van Voore, Adaptation Fund Coordinator at UNEP, said reductions in emissions from all sectors are urgently needed if we are to avert a rise in temperature this century that will have catastrophic effects on people and the environment. Van Voore was speaking on 12 November 2013, at an  event held on the sidelines of the ongoing UNFCC climate change conference in Warsaw.

The event, titled ‘Scaling up climate-smart agriculture: policies, development and adaptation potentials,’ was organized by the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). A panel of six experts at the event, with nearly 170 participants, emphasized that to be truly smart and socially acceptable, the conversion to climate smart agriculture will need careful planning.

“We have huge technical potentials, but what is economically feasible or implementable is much lower,” said Henry Neufeldt, Head of the climate change unit at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), and lead author of the Emissions Gap Report chapter that deals with Agriculture.


Mann, Heru and Neufeldt at the COP19 side event on climate smart agriculture

“Enabling policies and support for farmers are essential to overcome barriers to adoption of climate smart practices,” he added, and gave several examples of both. Sheila Sisulu, special envoy of the minister in the Minstry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, South Africa, said the discussions on climate smart agriculture must take care to include women, who produce 80% of the food consumed in Africa, and youth.

“When we go climate-smart, let us not go gender-foolish,” said Sisulu.

Heru Prasetyo, Deputy Head of Planning and International Relations in the President’s Delivery Unit for Development in Indonesia, discussed how population imbalances can inadvertently lead to a rise in greenhouse gas emissions. He referred to the Indonesian president’s vision of “Sustainable Growth with Equity.”

Heru paraphrased this as “If it’s not smart for the equity of people, it is not smart at all.”

As part of his talk, Arild Angelsen of the Norwegian University of Life, gave examples of win-win outcomes and win-lose outcomes of particular climate smart practices. Taking the example of production systems that require little labour and/or displace labour without offering alternative work options, Angelsen said  climate smart agriculture also has to be ‘farmer smart’. “It must be a good deal for the farmer and also for the climate,” said Angelsen.

Krystyna Gurbiel, Poland’s Undersecretary of State in the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Development said the EU Common Agricultural Policy has undergone a fundamental transformation in the last decade, to become more climate-focused.


Heru, Sisulu, Van Voore and Gurbiel at the COP 19 side event on climate smart agriculture

Panelists offered examples of policies that have led to a conversion to climate smart practices. “When the government of Niger stopped enforcing that trees belonged to the state, farmers access to the trees was restored. Since that time, five million hectares of parklands have been re-greened through an agroforestry practice known as farmer-managed natural regeneration,” said Neufeldt.

This success story shows the power of land tenure policy to induce a transformation in farmers’ practices. As a positive side effect of the re-greening millions of tons of carbon have been sequestered. Neufeldt emphasized that carbon sequestration comes as a co-benefit, and is not a primary motivation of farmers’ adopting certain practices; food security, livelihood resilience and income diversification are some of the benefits of climate smart practices like agroforestry that makes them attractive to farmers.

The panelists strongly recommended proof-of-application studies in countries, which will help discover socially acceptable ways to go from small scale to large scale application of climate smart technologies. “We need to do more research on adoption, and dialogue more to understand the non-obvious things that influence farmers’ decisions.” said Wendy Mann, Senior Policy Advisor, Economics and Policy Innovations for Climate-Smart Agriculture with FAO.

Climate smart farming thus has to be approached in a smart, first-things-first fashion, with household food security being the first box to check off.

“If we want farmers, particularly the poorest ones, to invest in more secure livelihoods in the future, we need to invest, first, in securing their food security,” said Neufeldt.

Watch IISD video from the event, which was moderated by  CCAFS East Africa Regional Program Leader, James Kinyangi.

Presentations from the side event:

Henry Neufeldt: Climate Smart Agriculture: Policies, Development,  Adaptation, and Mitigation:

Arild Angelsen: Will agricultural intensification save tropical forests?

Schedule of ICRAF events with ICRAF participation at COP 19

Related articles

Which way forward for climate-smart agriculture?

Role of agroforestry highlighted in climate talks

UN highlights agroforestry’s role in reducing emissions Niger’s re-greening revolution

Global Landscapes Forum

Climate smart agriculture will be one of the main topics at the Global Landscapes Forum on 16-17 November 2013.

Visit Landscapes  and Blog for,news/

Participate in the Forum via Livestream

Related links

UN Emissions Gap Report 2013:

UNEP Climate Change portal:

South Africa will be hosting the 3rd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change, 3-5 December 2013:'

Daisy Ouya

Daisy Ouya is a science writer and communications specialist with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Over the past 15 years she has been packaging and disseminating scientific knowledge in the fields of entomology, agriculture, health, HIV/AIDS research, and marine science. Daisy is a Board-certified Editor in the Life Sciences ( and has a Masters’ degree in chemistry from the University of Connecticut, USA. Her BSc is from the University of Nairobi in her native Kenya. She has worked as a journal editor, science writer, publisher, and communications strategist with various organizations. She joined ICRAF in July 2012. Twitter: @daisyouya

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