Adaptation and mitigation: two lenses for sustainable agriculture

While food security, climate change adaptation and mitigation are arguably the greatest challenges faced by humanity today, that doesn’t mean they need to be tackled separately.

“We see tremendous potential for climate change to be a transformative issue in agriculture, to take us where we actually needed to be anyway,” said Edwyn Grainger-Jones, Director of the Environment and Climate Division of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) at a side event hosted by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) earlier this week.

According to Grainger-Jones, climate change gives the push needed to focus on the interconnections between natural ecosystems, on reducing inorganic inputs and waste, on weather risk-management and on long-term scenario planning. “This is stuff that we need to help smallholder farmers do anyway. Really what climate change means is that we need to do it faster,” he said.

The side event ‘Food Security and Climate Change – Ways forward for strengthening resilience and building synergies between adaptation and mitigation’ explored the technologies, practices, planning, policies and investment options available for transforming landscapes and food systems, focusing on synergies between adaptation and mitigation at the country level.

One of the most striking themes that emerged was the need to shift our thinking away from viewing adaptation and mitigation as separate challenges. Grainger-Jones described adaptation and mitigation as two lenses, rather than two separate approaches, arguing that many of the initiatives with enormous contributions to mitigation – from better crop management systems, new crop varieties and agroforestry to better water management and improved efficiency in the food value chain – aren’t done for mitigation reasons, but rather for adaptation, development or other goals.

According to Robert Jordan of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), food security, adaptation and mitigation goals can be addressed through simple, low-cost organic agricultural practices based on local natural agricultural biodiversity and available locally at little cost.

Jordan explained that low-cost organic soil management practices can boost resilience to droughts and floods, increase subsistence farmers’ yields by up to 100% in some parts of Africa and sequester an average of 2000 kilograms of carbon dioxide per hectare per year.

Realizing the potential of synergistic management practices, however, requires overcoming the barriers to adoption of new land management practices. In Malawi, where 90 percent of the population is employed in the agricultural sector, adoption of conservation agriculture and agroforestry practices is constrained by insecure land tenure, limited access to extension services, poverty and even favourable climatic conditions.

“We have to look at building capacity and trying to encourage long term investments by financing the gap that exists between getting the benefits of these long-term strategies and the investments that small scale farmers apply, “ said Austin Tibu, Land Resources Conservation Officer, Ministry of Agriculture and Food Security, Malawi. Furthermore, technical support from FAO through the Economics and Policy Innovations for Climate-Smart Agriculture (EPIC) programme and universities is crucial to overcoming another barrier: the lack of clear baselines for monitoring, reporting and verification of any carbon sequestered through sustainable practices.

One option to scale up adaptation measures, according to Jordan, is to leverage and strengthen existing channels. This means finding innovative ways to reach farmers: building partnerships with stakeholders who can reach rural farmer communities and linking with farmer organizations, NGOs, humanitarian organizations and local governments.

“We’re not talking about new practices, new policies or new institutions,” said Lucia Palombi, Natural Resources Officer with the FAO. “The idea is to really use all the options that are available…to bring them together and use them in the context of climate change. It’s really about addressing multiple challenges faced by agriculture and food systems simultaneously and holistically.” This approach is part of what FAO calls Climate-Smart Agriculture.  CSA is an approach to developing the technical, policy and investment conditions to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security under climate change.


The FAO side-event ‘Food Security and Climate Change – Ways forward for strengthening resilience and building synergies between adaptation and mitigation’ was held on Tuesday, 04 June, 2013 alongside the 38th session of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA 38) in Bonn, Germany.

Read/download the Climate-Smart Agriculture Sourcebook – a tool developed by the FAO and partners, including the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which aims to support planners, practitioners and policy-makers in implementing climate-smart agriculture locally or nationally.

Economics and Policy Innovations for Climate-Smart Agriculture (EPIC)

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