Climate smart agriculture, additionality and business as usual

by Dr. Bruce Campbell, Director, CGIAR Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

In one workshop session at the Bonn SBSTA one participant said “We are doing nothing new”. In the Second Global AgriKnowledge Share Fair, held late last month at IFAD headquarters in Rome, participants in one session felt that “perhaps 80% of climate smart agriculture (CSA) is made up of what we already know how to do and are trying to do”. I realise this refers to the proven technologies and practices that can be called upon in CSA, but we also have to consider “additionality”. “Additionality” is a keyword in climate change negotiations. Additionality can be defined as the extent to which a new input adds to the existing inputs (instead of replacing any of them) and results in a greater aggregate. The word is applied to climate finance – the call for developed countries to provide, “new and additional” climate change financing to developing countries. And it is also a key word applied to mitigation interventions – the interventions must reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to business as usual (or compared to the agreed baseline). Additionality is less frequently applied to adaptation, but even here it has been raised; and it is only time before metrics will be needed to show how climate finance has improved adaptive capacity (e.g., see the chapter on MRV in the Meridian Institute Report on Agriculture and Climate Change)

So why is “climate-smart agriculture” additional to business as usual? CSA includes the explicit recognition that there are three (or more) outcomes that are sought, two of which are climate-related. There are the business as usual outcomes associated with agricultural development – e.g. production increases, improved agricultural markets, enhanced food security, empowered farmer organisations etc. Then there are the climate change outcomes – enhanced adaptation to climate change, and enhanced contribution of agriculture to climate change mitigation.

And, invariably, when we seek to enhance more than one outcome there will be trade-offs that have to be dealt with. To illustrate some of these – rising temperatures in the Indo-Gangetic plains mean that wheat may need to be planted earlier, but the easy way to do that is to burn the rice residues of the previous crop, thus increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Movement of potato farmers up the Andes to escape the pests and diseases from a warming world will result in the destruction of carbon-rich grasslands. Crop insurance may help deal with crop failures due to extreme events in the short term, but may in the long term be maladaptive – the real solution being more transformative adaptation (changing crop species, out-migration etc). So, CSA is different from business as usual in that the trade-offs amongst production increases, adaptation and mitigation are explicitly recognised and dealt with, both for short and long time scales.

CSA is also not business as usual in terms of the partnerships needed to foster outcomes.
The climate science community and meteorological departments need to be more closely involved with the agricultural community – for providing meaningful seasonal, near-term and decadal forecasts of climate which are essential if adaptation to increased variability and progressive climate change is to be successful. Given the predicted increase in frequency and severity of extremes, much more attention has to be given to climate risk management. This also needs better partnerships with the crisis response community and insurance sector. We also have to bring in a completely different group of scientists – those dealing with measuring greenhouse gas emissions.

There are many technologies and practices that are known that can be brought to bear on CSA. But CSA is not business as usual, as there are also many technologies and practices that are not climate-smart! Fertiliser subsidies may enhance food production outcomes but will often result in increased greenhouse gas emissions. Building large irrigation schemes in regions where rivers are likely to dry will do nothing for adaptation over the longer term. Promoting crops and livestock that are increasingly difficult to grow in specific agro-ecological zones is not climate-smart.

Markets in a climate-smart world are likely to be different. Many western diets are poor for human health and the environment. There is increasing recognition that eating habits will need to change. Fat taxes are being introduced. There are campaigns about “carbon footprints”. This trend is likely to intensify. In a climate-smart world, developing countries will need to improve the efficiency of production methods for export products if they are to compete; or may need to shift to alternative products that have less of an environmental impact.

Climate-smart agriculture is likely to be very different in different places. In some regions of the world we have to expect greenhouse gas emissions to increase, given the significant yield gaps that exist. But even here it is not business as usual, as the emissions per unit food produced will likely be lower than under business as usual. In other regions of the world, especially in developed countries, CSA will involve de-intensifying agriculture to reduce the environmental footprint. In some parts of the world, we can expect incremental adaptation as varieties change and as cropping systems are altered. In other parts we can expect transformative adaptation as industries move and transform; as new crops are brought in; as major shifts occur between livestock and crops.

CSA will bring in new policies. This is already the case in some countries. For example, we see “carbon farming initiatives”. NAMAs and NAPAs are widespread and are increasingly giving more attention to agriculture. REDD+ plans are recognising agriculture as a driver of deforestation and we can expect greater attention to the details of how to solve this – involving policies and actions in the forestry and agriculture sectors.

CSA is also about visioning an uncertain future world, and about acting on those visions. While we may know many of the solutions to today's problem’s, we now have to plan for the next decade – with rising temperatures and more extreme events. Seasonal forecasting and long term climate projections are, unfortunately, riddled with uncertainty (though we can expect this situation to improve with further research). Tools are now being put in place that will help development practitioners and service providers to farmers envision a future world. With a click on a site on a map you should be able to get a series of predictions about future climates. With a click on a site you should be able to see places which can be visited to get a glimpse of the likely future climate for your site. Farmer-to-farmer visits can be organised to such analogue places to exchange views on how farming may have to shift.

CSA is also about a new research agenda. There are many new research issues that need urgent attention. We need downscaled climate projections that work for those involved in agriculture. We need much better seasonal forecasting for climate risk management. We need enhanced index-based insurance products. Farmers, extension workers and development planners need the decision support tools to help navigate the trade-offs amongst production goals, adaptation goals and mitigation goals. We need basic information on the costs of different options (to take a case in point, the costs of soil carbon sequestration in Australia range from $10-50/ton CO2. Such lack of precision is having major implications for policy development). And CSA means a new wave of attention to breeding – breeders need to think about what is needed in 10-20 years time, with crop-specific strategies. The implications of climate change on pests and diseases is a major area for research.

CSA is not business as usual. It has many dimensions of additionality. But there are plenty of proven technologies and practices that can be promoted today for a climate-smart world.