By Leisa Perch*
As we gear up for the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit this week and for the High Level and general debate segments of the 69th Session of the United Nations General Assembly as well as the launch of the Global Climate-smart Alliance, it is timely to reflect on the implications of these for the broader climate and agriculture agenda. Last weekend, hundreds of thousands gathered in New York and around the world to continue the effort to put climate change front and center of local, national and global discussions about policies now and policies for the future. Food and nutrition must be at the center of such debates as well.
When we add agriculture to the climate mix, the issues for and of people and their livelihoods are brought home clearly and sometimes devastatingly. Food production for production sake is not enough. Farmers and families who cannot guarantee their next meal are in no position to worry about next year or climate change impacts 20 or 30 years from now. They know something is changing though and what they often express is simpler shifts and transitions in weather patterns and resource availability which make their food production process more challenging and agriculture-based livelihoods risky.
This is often not just as a result of weather and climate change alone but due to a mix of degraded or low-producing soils, low or no-irrigation capacity, crops no longer suited to the weather conditions which prevail, water shortages and water excess, competition over water and between water needs, lack of tenure security as well as a lack of access to credit, tools and technologies. Some of these are defined largely by gender and gender roles. The response to our recent survey on Gender and Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) confirm that farmers, researchers and policymakers agree that this is an issue for greater attention.
Finding ways and means to support their adaptation and mitigation of such risks and enabling them to be an active part of the solution-making process is key. Smallholder farmers know best their needs, when additional inputs are needed and the risks they are willing to bear and not bear. One lesson that continues to emerge from the RIO+ Centre’s work on climate-smart agriculture which it implements in collaboration with FANRPAN, is the need for policies as well as solutions to be people-smart as well as climate-smart.
This is why our focus is not on the productivity side of CSA per se or on its low-carbon potential, as important as these are. Our focus is on issues of resource equality – what do they have access to and don’t and why? How does policy potentially help or hinder? Mixed in with that, we also try to tackle inevitable issues of resilience, adaptation and the increase of incomes. If productivity increases but incomes do not in a way that expands livelihoods, assets and choices, CSA will not be sustainable. If we sequester more carbon but cannot also guarantee food security for farmers themselves and for others around them, CSA also will not be sustainable.
These inter-connections, are for us, one of the reasons why we chose climate-smart agriculture as one of our first issues to explore in-depth in the context of climate change and natural resource management. Its potential for the kinds of triple-wins we are interested in, is another reason. If CSA delivers on its three main objectives – increased productivity, food security and incomes and low-carbon impact, it can lead a new generation of approaches that really tackle the economic, social and environmental pillars of sustainability, at the same time.
The Global Alliance on Climate-Smart Alliance (led by FAO) has undeniably gained momentum over the last few years including strong links with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development and the agreement to launch an Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance which aims to help more than 20 million farmers become more resilient and food secure in the next ten years.
We hope that the Alliance will also be a hub for people-smart approaches. We look forward to the opportunity to learning more and collaborating to ensure complementarities between our work and theirs. The potential is there in CSA for massive social action and social change on agriculture, food production and nutrition and a lasting global compact on these issues for generations to come. Building this community of action starts at many levels and our soon-to-be-launched Community of Practice for CSA in Eastern and Southern Africa (with Food, Agricultural and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network – FANRPAN and others) can make a difference.
*RIO+ Centre´s Policy Specialist and RIO+/FANRPAN Partnership´s Project Manager