Climate-smart agriculture needs knowledge, cooperation and a healthy dose of trust

Smallholder farms in Kamonyi District, Southern Rwanda. Photo by A. Sigrun Dahlin

Smallholder farms in Kamonyi District, Southern Rwanda. Photo by A. Sigrun Dahlin

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has been at the forefront of climate-smart agriculture for the past decade, advocating for and supporting farmers to adopt this type of sustainable land use worldwide. This support is only set to grow with the relocation, starting in 2015, of FAO’s facilitation unit for climate-smart agriculture unit to the organization’s headquarters in Rome.

Eduardo Rojas Briales, Assistant Director-General, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), said climate smart agriculture offers “an integration of food and nutritional security, higher productivity and increased incomes, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“It is a more resilient agriculture that adapts better to climate change,” he stated.

Mr Rojas Briales was speaking at a high-level discussion panel at the Global Landscapes Forum 2015, in Lima, Peru.

Moderated by ICRAF’s director general Anthony Simons, the panel consisted of Rojas Briales; H.E. Minister Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini, Minister of Agriculture, Costa Rica; Martin Bwalya, Head of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme at NEPAD-African Union; Milo Stanojevich, Director of CARE-Peru; and Felipe Cantuarias, Vice-President of Planning & Corporate Affairs at SABMiller, the world’s second-largest brewer.


“Climate-smart agriculture is not a technique or a tool – it is a process. It needs stakeholder engagement, adaptation to suit local conditions, and a focus on synergies in areas like silvipasture, agroforestry, and forest-landscape restoration,” said Rojas Briales.

“Several conditions would help the spread of climate smart agriculture: enabling policy and financial environments; well functioning extension services; improved markets; and access to mitigation funding and similar resources for agriculture.”

The promotion of climate-smart agriculture, said Briales, must go hand in hand with promoting healthier diets with less fats and sugars, broadening the understanding that forests are critical for food and nutrition, and more responsive land-use policies that would protect agricultural land from encroachment, in a similar way that forest reserves are protected. This is because “an agricultural hectare is not comparable to other hectares.”

Rojas Briales foresaw the evolution of climate-smart agriculture in the coming years: “The health dimension is another element that will likely converge into CSA,” he stated.

High Level Panel: L-R: Martin Bwalya (NEPAD), Anthony Simons (ICRAF), H.E. Minister Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini (Costa Rica), Milo Stanojevich (CARE-Peru), Eduardo Rojas Briales (FAO),  and Felipe Cantuarias (SABMiller)

High Level Panel: L-R: Martin Bwalya (NEPAD), Anthony Simons (ICRAF), H.E. Minister Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini (Costa Rica), Milo Stanojevich (CARE-Peru), Eduardo Rojas Briales (FAO), and Felipe Cantuarias (SABMiller)

Carbon-neutral country

Costa Rica was one of the first countries in the world to adopt climate-smart agriculture. The country also produced the world’s first carbon-neutral certified product (a Costarican coffee). As H.E. Minister Luis Felipe Arauz Cavallini stated, the country has the ambition to become a carbon neutral country, and has set aside 25% of its land area for forests.

“Because it is a small country, Costa Rica’s carbon neutrality might not have a big global impact,” said Minister Cavallini, a professor in plant pathology. “But it should have a big moral impact, by showing it can be done.”

He emphasized that CSA is knowledge-intensive, combining principles of system diversification, biological control, and agroecology; it requires support for land users.

“Intensive information management lies behind CSA. You have to know your system, know what is going on, in order to embrace this new way of practicing agriculture that will both mitigate and help us adapt to climate change, besides fulfilling the major dimensions of food security: availability, access, safety, utilization and stability.

Minister Cavallini said the promotion of CSA needs financial tools like credit, insurance, and payments for ecosystem services. It needs information tools, so farmers have early warning systems, and better information on markets, including the promotion of indigenous food varieties.”

Also needed is “a cultural change in extension agents, to make them climate smart,” said Minister Cavallini.

The intersections

Like the other two speakers, Martin Bwalya of NEPAD said information and knowledge would be key to catalyzing climate smart agriculture, which often involves “skills-intensive practices.”

“CSA is a multidimensional issue —it involves food security systems, livelihoods, economics, and so forth. As such, the solutions are going to come from the spaces in between the sectors, and not from a single sector.

He touched on the work of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture and the African Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture, launched in New York in September 2014, which will support programs at the regional level. The Global Alliance has the mandate of helping governments, farmers, scientists, businesses, and civil society, as well as regional unions and international organizations, to adjust agricultural, forestry and fisheries practices, food systems and social policies so that they better take account of climate change and the efficient use of natural resources. The African Alliance will do the same on the continent.

15976343895_ba2941f326_mBuilding trust

For his part, the private-sector representative on the panel, Mr. Felipe Cantuarias of SABMiller, said the company was committed to working with communities:

“The communities’ challenges are our challenges,” he said.

“The private sector is interested in sustainable communities, because it is the only way to have sustainable business.”

He gave examples of an SABMiller initiative in Uganda, where sorghum beer production is helping to address the issue of illicit alcohol, and a maize project in Peru involving 350 farmers associations.

“When we work together we can really make a difference,” said Cantuarias.

This is not always easy, though, because of a lingering lack of social capital — or trust—from communities. The American economist Francis Fukuyama has termed this lack of trust as “the main obstacle of emerging economies,” noted Cantuarias.

“As the business community, we have a challenge: we need to gain trust of stakeholders. And the only way to gain that trust is to demonstrate our intentions by doing things willingly and by working together…And moving from commitment to action.

Gender equity

Milo Stanojevich of CARE Peru gave examples of partnership work in Peru, where small farm families are growing native potato species that need less water and have better market prices; switching from maize and rice to quinoa farming; and participating in payments for ecosystem services schemes for upland people who protect water sources. All these are examples of climate-smart practices.

“Women’s empowerment and gender equity is central to CARE’s work,” said Stanojevich, and CARE is working to advocate for more equitable decision making and political power for women.”

Vast areas

Comments and questions from the packed room came thick and fast, and touched on different topics, including how to handle diversity in farm produce—a cornerstone of climate-smart agriculture— in a market that prefers uniformity. Other issues discussed were soil health; capacity strengthening, and the rapid conversion of agricultural land into cities, tourist attractions, and infrastructure.

Tony Simons, in closing, said the scale of the challenge of sustainable landscapes is vast—4.1 billion hectares forest land, 1.5 billion of cropland, 2.8 billion ha of rangeland and pasture, and 1.3 billion of wetlands will need to become climate smart.

See event description: Resilience, Vulnerability and Climate-Smart Agriculture, a high level dialogue hosted by FAO.

The World Agroforestry Centre at the COP20 and the Global Landscapes Forum:

Photos from Lima COP 20 and Global Landscapes Forum


Related Articles

Why climate change researchers are so excited about landscapes

A new alliance to spread climate smart agriculture among millions of smallholder farmers in Africa

Approaching climate-smart agriculture from a perspective of systems

New book arms people with knowledge on landscapes in a changing climate

From farm to landscape: Approaches for multilevel landscape management for climate change mitigation

Mitigation and adaptation go hand in hand

Climate change blogs from ICRAF



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

You may also like...