Today we are increasingly finding ourselves facing converging food and climate challenges at an alarming rate. Globally, the International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) predicts that food insecurity will rise by between 15-40 percent by the year 2050. Agriculture is a sector that is immensely vulnerable to the impacts of climate change; hence it is important that the smallholder farmers are enabled to build farming practices that can make them more resilient to such changes.
It is therefore imperative that our agriculture and the food system are reformed in such a way that they:
- Are more resilient to the impacts of climate change and other shocks and crises. Some of these shocks and crises include among others; escalating food prices, deforestation and depletion of other natural resources;
- Able to contribute less to the global climate change;
- Ensuring the right to food of people through appropriate levels of production including through distribution and equitable access.
This new unique role of agriculture brings up a new paradigm shift and unleashes an array of bottlenecks which rotate around key issues such as technical, environmental, social, and economic. Many of the relevant stakeholders i.e. researchers, civil society, private sector, government and policy makers are now grappling with ensuring food security in a climate-constrained environment! This a complete nexus of events.
The World Agroforestry Center (ICRAF) policy brief (2011) mentions three key constraints for our smallholder farmers who are usually more vulnerable to the climate shocks. The constraints include among others the following:
- The smallholder farmers finding it hard to innovate and invest in better management systems especially when they are preoccupied with finding other means of survive.
- Adapting the best practice climate-smart agricultural practices being a costly venture for the smallholder farmers. It also usually takes a lot of time to achieve the desired benefits.
- Since many smallholder farmers have limited access to markets and finance, their ability to come up with creative and innovative systems for climate-smart agriculture to be able to raise their income is hampered.
But all hope is not lost for the smallholder farmers. There are some small management and appropriate changes than can be adopted which could in turn have significant growth in income and livelihood benefits. The ICRAF policy brief (“Making climate-smart agriculture work for the poor, 2011) highlights some interesting recommendations that could help in overcoming the challenges to having the smallholder farmers adapt to climate-smart agriculture. The first is to hold the relevant stakeholders in the agricultural sector accountable, so that they can gear towards providing an enabling legal and political environment. Here, the relevant institutions should spearhead this.
There should be improved market accessibility for the smallholder farmer produce. This can be fostered through improving infrastructure such as roads, market outlets etc. Collective marketing initiatives through producer marketing groups can play a key role here. The argument here is that once a farmer’s income is enhanced, this reduces their vulnerability to climate change.
Another mitigation strategy would be helping improve access to knowledge and training opportunities. Agricultural Market information can play a key role here. Market information on prices can make the smallholder farmers make informed decisions of when to sell or store their produce. This reduces their vulnerability. The farming tips and weather information can guide the farmers on when to plant or harvest their produce. The trainings can also enhance good management practices which would in turn increase adoption rates.
Streamlining land ownership can also play a critical role in fostering smallholder farmers adapt climate-smart agriculture best practices. This tends to have a significant effect on the farmers’ willingness to invest in their land hence improving productivity. When the farmers have proper ownership of the land, there is a tendency to have increased investments in crop diversity, improved livestock, soil conservation and even have the confidence to engage in agroforestry. It is common knowledge that when you have outright ownership of an asset, you tend to make long-term investments!
Adapting to new improved management practices by the smallholder farmers will provide enormous benefits aimed at achieving climate-smart agriculture. These new improved systems can help in overcoming the barriers of high opportunity costs to land.
Another key strategy for overcoming the challenges to introducing climate-smart agriculture is that of helping to improve access to farm inputs and financial products. Agribusiness support agencies should design projects focusing on such interventions. The financial and insurance institutions should also designed tailor-made products for the farmers to enhance access to capital and agricultural insurance products. Such interventions would go a long way in helping to minimize associated risks hence overcoming the investment gaps that have previously hindered the adoption of climate-smart agricultural best practices.
In conclusion, all efforts by agricultural support agencies and other key players in the sector should aim at adaptation, mitigation and ultimately ensure the fundamental right to food of all people through appropriate levels of production, including proper and efficient distribution and equitable access of resources. Once this is achieved, than we can all confidently say that climate-smart agriculture is the real deal!