The UN FAO and European Commission Promote “Climate-Smart” Agriculture

Because farmers comprise a high percentage of Malawi's population, experts predict the country's economy and land will be hit hard by climate change. (Credit: Maciej Dakowicz)

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the European Commission have announced a €5.3 million (approximately US$7 million) three-year project to promote “climate-smart” approaches to agriculture. FAO says that “climate-smart” agriculture “sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), [and] reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) while enhancing the achievement of national food security and development goals.”

FAO reports that crop agriculture is responsible for 14 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. Efforts, therefore, will need to be aimed at both improving livelihoods of farmers and improving food access, as well as reducing emissions of greenhouse gases.

The announcement of this project is timely. A recent report from the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change finds that climate change will likely lead to a reduction in crop yields. This issue is magnified by the fact that changes will vary by region, so some countries’ agricultural outputs may suffer disproportionately from climate change effects.

The project will focus on three countries: Malawi, Vietnam, and Zambia. The European Commission will contribute €3.3 million (US$4.4 million) and the FAO will provide the remaining €2 million (US$2.6 million) and will take the lead on the implementation of the project. All three countries are expected to be significantly affected by climate change. Although the unique conditions of each location must be taken into account in developing plans, all three countries can learn from the progress of one another in pursuing strategies that are more “climate-smart.”

In Malawi, George Matiya, the Dean of Environmental Sciences at the Bunda College of Agriculturesaid that the country will likely be more affected by negative implications of climate change because of its narrow economic base, where a large part of the population are farmers. Matiya pointed out that the southern region of Malawi will be especially vulnerable to more extreme weather such as floods, high temperatures, and drought. Innovations and investments to develop and make available different crops, such as ones that are more drought resistant or that can mature earlier, he states, will be crucial.

The Centre for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa (CEEPA) reported that droughts in Zambia have increased in both frequency and intensity over the past few decades. Droughts in 1991–1992, 1994–1995, and 1997–1998 were especially harmful for subsistence farmers. CEEPA measured that, as of 2006, agriculture provides a livelihood for over 60 percent of Zambia’s population. The increase in droughts is problematic, the report states, because Zambia’s major crops, such as maize, rice, and cotton, are “summer crops which depend almost entirely on the rains.”

The International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) reports that Vietnam will likely be one of the hardest hit by climate change. Because Vietnam is the second-largest rice exporter in the world and two-thirds of the rural labor force depends on growing it, rising sea levels and changes in temperature could negatively impact the country’s rice production and affect a large amount of the population. The report concluded that although Vietnam’s annual rice production could decrease by 2.7 million tons because of climate changes by 2050, such a reduction is not guaranteed because, “there is still great scope to increase crop yields by improving rural infrastructure and social services, including education and irrigation.” Through diversifying crops and bringing technological improvements to the local level, the negative effects of climate change on yields can be significantly reduced.

Vietnam has already implemented numerous "climate-smart" efforts  (Credit: Sustainable Sanitation)

The climate-smart agriculture project will also try to build upon existing initiatives. Both Malawi and Zambia’s “evergreen agriculture” initiatives have significantly increased crop yields since their implementation beginning in the 1990s. Evergreen agriculture combines trees with farming systems to promote conservation. Planting trees in the soil where crops are grown can prevent soil exhaustion and land degradation.

Prior to the start of the program, Vietnam has already begun various “climate-smart” efforts. A national biogas program was implemented in 2003, allowing farmers with livestock to produce the fuel that they need for lighting and cooking with biogas digesters. This minimizes the need for wood and coal, which can both be expensive and contribute to deforestation. Aquaculture systems, such as the production of seaweed, have also developed in Vietnam. These systems are beneficial because seaweed growth has a relatively small carbon footprint and it also can help to filter marine environments.

In building partnerships at both the local and international levels, the climate-smart agriculture project will work to identify specific opportunities in each country to both develop new climate-smart policies and strengthen existing ones. It will also look at the financial aspects of agricultural developments and in doing so identify areas of investment. The implementation of this program is regarded as an important step forward in recognizing the importance of agriculture for addressing concerns about climate change.

Marissa Dwyer | April 13, 2012

Read more at Nourishing the Planet

Homepage image: The FAO is working to mitigate the impact of climate change on agriculture. (Credit: FAO//Olivier Asselin)

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