Using science to support the development of climate-smart agriculture in East Africa
The connection between food security and climate change cannot be understated. Governments, development organizations and scientists are teaming up to search for solutions to address this challenge. In the process, the concept of climate-smart agriculture has emerged as a means to simultaneously increase productivity, strengthen resilience to climate change, mitigate the emission of greenhouse gases and contribute to food security.
Being a relatively new concept, it is still unknown what farming approaches are most suitable for reaching climate-smart agriculture’s multiple objectives. The limits of current knowledge and the demand for prioritizing and targeting climate-smart agriculture solutions make it important to generate useful data that support climate-smart agriculture.
The Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) pilot projects is one such initiative that aims to mainstream climate-smart agriculture in East Africa. The MICCA pilot projects were implemented in Kaptumo, Kenya and Kolero, Tanzania by FAO in partnership with the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the East Africa Dairy Development Program, and CARE (Hillside Conservation Agriculture Project – HICAP) between 2011 and 2014. The underlying premise of the MICCA pilot projects is that strong linkages between science and development are essential to the expansion of climate-smart agriculture in developing countries. The MICCA pilot projects were integrated into existing development programmes, bringing in a specific climate change component. This approach bridged boundaries between researchers and the development practitioners.
The project sites
Kaptumo is characterized by smallholder dairy and tea farming, while farmers in Kolero mainly grow maize, cassava, and rice. The primary objective of the research in both Kaptumo and Kolero was to identify, verify, and scale up appropriate management practices that can increase productivity and at the same time reduce the emission of greenhouse gases. The research focused on farm-level management integrated crop-livestock systems, while in Kolero concentration was on reducing slash-and-burn and related agricultural expansion at the landscape level.
Leguminous trees and mineral nitrogen fertilizer can sustainably increase production without significantly increasing greenhouse gas emissions in cereal-based cropping systems as seen in Kolero, Tanzania.
Smallholder dairy production can be relatively climate friendly when combined with agroforestry when pasture is managed appropriately as seen in integrated crop-livestock systems of Kaptumo, Kenya.
The probabilistic model applied at both sites indicated that yield improvements anticipated with conservation agriculture adoption were unlikely to be achieved given the social and ecological contexts of the sites. Using such probabilistic approaches may be a rapid way to target climate-smart agriculture interventions
Key messages and suggestions for future research on evaluating and scaling up climate-smart agriculture
The data precision and variability of a wide range of factors, including farming systems, inputs, farming configurations, the timing of farm activities, ecosystem characteristics, weather and socio-economic conditions, characterizing the emissions associated with different practices that are assumed to be climate-smart will continue to present challenges.
In estimating emissions for farming systems, it may be important to implement whole-farm measurements or estimates, as quantifying only one part of the farming systems may miss critical emission hotspots or mitigation leverage points, or overlook options that simultaneously address mitigation and adaptation.
Combining research and development can lead to a win-win situation for both. Development practitioners, working with local communities, can ensure that research is demand driven and grounded in reality. Research carried out with active participation of farmers can validate practices being promoted. However, challenges may arise for example robust research results requiring more time to be realized than the time available for the development programme’s implementation.
There is still much to be understood in terms of identifying best climate-smart agriculture options in different scenarios, and how to scale-up successful initiatives to achieve meaningful impact at multiple levels. Farmers, development workers and organizations, researchers and policy makers need to work together to determine research needs and frame development actions to meet the demands of smallholder farmers and the requirements of national governments.
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Science to support climate-smart agricultural development. Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture Series #10. FAO: Rome.
Rosenstock TS, Mpanda M, Kimaro A, Luedeling E, Kuyah S, Anyekulu E, Freeman OE, Thiong’o M, Abwanda S, Mutuo P, Mativo J, Shaba S, Kirui J, Franzel S, Neufeldt H, Shepherd K and Neely C. World Agroforestry Centre
Rioux J, Seeberg-Elverfeldt C, Tapio-Biström ML and Karttunen K. FAO