What is climate-smart agriculture?

Climate-smart agriculture (CIA) can be defined as an approach to transforming and reorienting agricultural development in the context of the new realities of climate change.

The most commonly used definition is that of the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), ) according to which CIA is “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity and resilience (adaptation), reduces/eliminates GHGs (mitigation) to the extent possible and enhances the achievement of national food security and development goals”. This definition identifies food security and development as the main objective of the IYC; while productivity, adaptation and mitigation are identified as the three interdependent pillars necessary to achieve this objective.

The three pillars of the IYC

Productivity: AIC aims to increase agricultural productivity and income from crops, livestock and fish in a sustainable manner without harming the environment. This, in turn, will improve food and nutritional security. A key concept related to increasing productivity is sustainable intensification.

Adaptation: AIC aims to reduce farmers’ exposure to short-term risks, while strengthening their resilience by enhancing their ability to adapt and thrive in the face of long-term shocks and stresses. Particular attention is given to protecting the ecological services that ecosystems provide to farmers and others. These services are essential both for maintaining productivity and for our ability to adapt to climate change.

Mitigation: to the extent possible, IYC should contribute to reducing and/or eliminating greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This implies that we reduce emissions for every calorie or kilogram of food, fibre and fuel we produce; avoid deforestation due to agriculture; and manage soils and trees to optimize their potential to act as carbon sinks and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Key features of AIC

AIC tackles climate change: in contrast to the conventional approach to agricultural development, AIC systematically integrates climate change into the planning and development of sustainable agricultural systems.
AIC integrates multiple objectives and manages trade-offs: in principle, AIC has a threefold benefit, namely increasing productivity, improving resilience and reducing emissions. However, it is often impossible to achieve all three outcomes. Often, when implementing AIC, trade-offs are necessary. This requires us to identify synergies and assess the costs and benefits of different options in the light of the stakeholder objectives identified through participatory approaches.

Main features of the AIC

IYC maintains ecosystem services: Ecosystems provide essential services to farmers, including air, water, food and materials. It is imperative to ensure that related interventions do not contribute to their degradation. For example, the IYC adopts a landscape approach based on the principles of sustainable agriculture, but goes beyond narrow sectoral approaches that lead to unbridled and competing uses of land, to ensure integrated planning and management.

AIC has multiple entry points at different levels: AIC should not be seen as a set of practices and techniques. It has several entry points, ranging from the development of techniques and practices to the development of climate change models and scenarios, information technology, insurance schemes, value chains and the strengthening of the enabling institutional and policy framework. As such, it goes beyond single techniques at the farm level to consider the integration of multiple interventions at the food system, landscape, value chain or policy level.
IYC is context-specific: what is climate-smart in one place may not be climate-smart in another, and no intervention is climate-smart everywhere or all the time. Interventions must take into account how different elements interact at the landscape level, within and between ecosystems, and within different institutional mechanisms and political realities. The fact that IYC often strives to achieve several objectives at the system level makes it particularly difficult to transfer experiences from one context to another.

AIC mobilises women and marginalised groups: to achieve food security objectives and improve resilience, AIC approaches must involve the poorest and most vulnerable groups. These groups often live on marginal lands which are most vulnerable to climatic phenomena such as drought and floods. They are, therefore, more likely to be affected by climate change. Gender is another key aspect of AIC. In general, women have less access and right to the land they cultivate, or to other productive and economic resources which could contribute to strengthening their adaptive capacity to cope with phenomena such as droughts and floods.

AIC strives to involve all local, regional and national actors in decision-making. Only in this way can the most appropriate interventions be identified and the necessary partnerships and alliances be forged to make sustainable development possible.

Development of smart farming practices