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

People terracing sloping land to control soil erosion. Photo courtesy of CCAFS.

People terracing sloping land to control soil erosion. Photo courtesy of CCAFS.

African smallholder farmers have a new ally in their effort to adopt farming practices that raise food production, build resilience to climate change, and create healthier and more sustainable landscapes—that is, practices that are climate smart.

The aim of a new initiative, the Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance (ACSAA), is to see 6 million smallholder in Africa practicing climate smart agriculture within the coming 7 years. This effort contributes to NEPAD’s Vision 25 x 25, which aims to reach 25 million African farm households by 2025.

“This goal is very practical and very feasible,” said Martin Bwalya, Head of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, NEPAD at the African Union (AU).

Moreover, “the Alliance addresses things that matter for the development and economic growth of the continent, as expressed at the recent AU Heads of State summit in Malabo,” he added.

Bwalya was speaking at an event hosted by the Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance in Lima, Peru. The discussion Forum was part of the Global Landscape Forum held alongside Lima COP 20, the 2014 UN climate change conference.

The ACSAA is an implementation partnership that will address a multi-sectoral issues surrounding African smallholder farmers’ vulnerability in the face of climate change. The issues have agricultural, environmental, social and economic angles. The Alliance will leverage diverse partners, and work to build the capacity of national institutions and community-based organizations (CBOs) to transfer climate smart farming skills to millions of rural farming households.

World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), through the CGIAR, is a partner of the Alliance, and ICRAF Agroecologist Todd Rosenstock was a panelist at the GLF event. He said the flexibility of the package of practices under the umbrella of climate smart agriculture is a major, and essential, strength.

Doug Brown, World Vision International and Todd Rosenstock, ICRAF

Doug Brown, World Vision International and Todd Rosenstock, ICRAF

Flexible framework

“Climate smart agriculture provides a flexible framework to address food security needs under the realities of climate change,” said Rosenstock.

“The flexibility of CSA is not a weakness, it’s a prerequisite. And what that flexibility allows us to do is to evaluate the relative importance of food security, adaptation and mitigation in the local context.” Rosenstock clarified that the relative importance of these depends on location.

In Africa, food security, adaptation and mitigation are unequally weighted in different local contexts. In many areas, mitigation is seen as a co-benefit of the other two, not as a primary goal.

To illustrate, Rosenstock gave the example of Kolero in Tanzania, where a CARE, ICRAF and FAO collaboration working with local organizations developed a menu of CSA options— including agroforestry, intercropping, conservation agriculture and improved cookstoves—in response to the needs of communities. Farmers could select a few or all of these depending on their circumstances.

Furthermore, climate smart agriculture goes beyond topics such as food production and environment, to seek efficiencies in systems and processes.

“Beyond the big words such as food security, climate, and livelihoods, CSA is also about planning and strategies and approaches. It is as much about process as about the individual topics,” he emphasized.

Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration

Doug Brown, Director Agriculture and Food Security at World Vision International talked about Farmer Managed Natural Regeneration (FMNR), at type of climate smart agriculture.
“FMNR can be practiced in farming land, forest land, grazing land, and so-called wasteland. And it’s a lot easier and faster than planting trees,” said Brown.

With farmers as agents of change, FMNR involves the systematic management and protection of felled tree stumps, sprouting root systems or seeds. These are pruned and cared for, to produce new trees and shrubs within crops and grazing pastures.

Brown gave examples from Niger, Ethiopia and Ghana, where World Vision’s support for FMNR has had great success. Woody biomass introduced through FMNR has the ability to help restore soil structure and fertility, inhibit erosion and soil moisture evaporation, rehabilitate springs and the water table, and increase biodiversity. Some tree species also impart nutrients such as nitrogen into the soil.

Resilience to replace vulnerability

At the event, Christopher Shore, Director for Natural Environment and Climate Issues at World Vision International, said climate smart agriculture resonates with World Vision’s ethos of farmer empowerment.

Panelists at the event

Panelists at the event

“The vulnerability of African smallholder farmers is rapidly increasing. Smallholder farmers are not only facing climate change; they remain unacceptably economically poor and they are dealing with radically degraded landscapes.”

“If you want to reduce risk, you had better increase resilience,” Shore stated. “And replace dependency with empowerment.”

Shore said it was important to think “end to end” about the whole system, and not to expect “magic bullets” that will solve the multiple challenges facing smallholder agriculture in Africa.

For instance, “It’s not enough to bring microfinance to farmers; we have to be looking at the entire economic chain.”

Shore said 5-10 times increases in small farmers’ incomes have been seen in some World Vision projects in Africa, following holistic approaches to achieve radically improved and resilient livelihoods, for individuals and also for countries.

He said World Vision’s work has a focus on raising parents’ and care-givers’ ability to take care of children, and added that the ACSAA approach of building the resilience of smallholder farmers was “a seamless fit” with this work.

Martin Bwalya, Head of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, NEPAD at the African Union.

Martin Bwalya, Head of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme, NEPAD at the African Union.

In the discussion after the panelists’ presentations, Bwalya emphasized that the Alliance’s approach was to accompany and support African farmers as partners, without imposing an external agenda. Working with national agricultural programs, the Alliance will focus on communications, programme implementation support, policy and political economic issues, and technical support.

“The African continent still has a lot of myths and perceptions, and we need to replace these with an evidence base,” said Bwalya.

Doug Brown said food security was a primary goal of CSA that distinguishes it from other practices.

“If it does not have positive effect on food security, it is not climate smart!” he stated.

Related links

See Todd Rosenstock’s presentations from GLF sessions:
What is climate-smart agriculture in Africa?
Climate smart agriculture: panacea or propaganda?

See GLF session brief: The Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance – a unique partnership and systemic approach to food insecurity and climate change in Africa 

Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance website: http://africacsa.org/

Photos from Lima COP 20 and Global Landscape Forum

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 (bels.org) 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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