A couple of weeks ago I attended the annual forum of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, in Rome.
What is Climate Smart Agriculture?
This information is from the CSA website
“Climate smart agriculture (CSA) is a systematic approach to agricultural development intended to address the dual challenges of food security and climate change from multiple entry points, from field management to national policy. CSA aims to:
1. Improve food security and agricultural productivity, and
2. Increase the resilience of farming systems to climate change by adaptation, while
3. Capturing potential mitigation co-benefits."
What is GACSA?
GACSA, is the Global Alliance for climate smart agriculture, and at the Food and Agricultural Organisation headquarters of the UN in Rome. The alliance, which is voluntary, is made up of partners that are dedicated to addressing the challenges facing food security and agriculture under a changing climate. In particular, the alliance has the objective of up-scaling the climate smart agriculture approach. It was launched in 2014, and has members from across the globe.
In June this alliance held its annual forum, and was an opportunity to reflect on progress achieved in the first year of action and to see what was going to be prioritised for the upcoming year. The meeting, which was attended by over 150 delegates from around the world, represented different countries, farming systems and challenges from climate change. For me, this meeting was a really interesting opportunity to understand some of the issues that are occurring around the world, from dealing with prolonged droughts in sub Saharan Africa and the devastating impact that that can cause to smallholder farmers, to empowering women and investing in people development through advancing knowledge and skills it was a jam packed couple of days.
I attended not as a member of GACSA (it’s mainly governments, research organisations and a few NGOs) but to see what was being talked about and whether this diverse group of people had any common ground. To see whether we were all facing the same issues, and whether collectively we could work together to solve them and what projects and initiatives were going on around the world, that I could gain fresh ideas from or collaborate with. It was a long way away from a normal farmer meeting that I attend, but a good experience none the less to understand and share experiences.
As I alluded to earlier, the conference was very busy with sessions on partnerships, case studies (at a country level rather than at farm level), metrics, finance (which I can’t really begin to explain, as it was all a bit over my head and another language of acronyms), knowledge (which I was very interested in), regional alliances and opportunities ahead.
I am not going to write up all that happened over the two days, otherwise this would be an incredibly long blog, however the key points from both days are below.
Day1 - things that stuck with me.
Great quote – The most dangerous phrase that we use is “we’ve always done it this way”
The importance of metrics – metrics help us to document impact and the journey on which we have been. However there is a need for co-ordinated use of metrics, and to find metrics that are practical and usable and tell us meaningful results. Also the need for everyone to use the same metrics – so comparisons are possible.
Related to metrics was the idea of business – if we are wanting farmers to change their management and adopt these climate smart practices – then we have to look at where the economic benefits are, and show where there are opportunities to be more productive (and profitable) and more climate smart.
Finance – all I can say from this session is that there is a need for finance to enable action on the ground.
Knowledge transfer – this is the key to accelerating action on the ground, especially farmer to farmer and from the research community to the farmer (it was good to know that we were on the right track!). The other thing which was discussed here, is the importance of scale. In the day to day work that we do, we understand the individuality of our farms, and as such there is a massive need to have local communication that is based on local knowledge and conditions, however we also need to engage the network and our policy makers to ensure that there is also a global strategy that allows for consistent national and global communication to ensure that our messages are heard.
The importance of farmer participation and ownership of projects – considering that this was a meeting about climate smart agriculture – there were very few people who were actually involved in day to day agriculture there. This was a shame and would be something to think about for the next forum, how to get more farmers engaged in the discussions as this will inevitably help with the action on the group that was mentioned time and time again. Through involving farmers in the creation of projects, not only will they have practical merit and be actionable, the farmers will have a vested interest and as such will want to deliver it.
Another quote of the day came from a farmer who was taking part in the case study session and was from the Irish farmers association. He told the room full of policy makers:
“Stop talking about climate change and start talking about the enablers that I can use to solve the problem – let me be part of the solution and achieve the desired outcomes.”
Another big thing was that although this is a great alliance, and the meeting of different cultures, systems and nations should be celebrated, what was needed was action on the ground. Care was needed to make sure that action was the priority and there was an appetite to get things started!
The second day included a whole section on knowledge for climate smart agriculture. In the inception year of the alliance, a knowledge action group was formed to look at where the current gaps in knowledge were and see what could be done about them.
The goal of the knowledge action group is to (again quoted from their documents) “provide actionable information of those looking to operationalise CSA, enabling evidence based decision making and calling out unknowns and uncertainties when they obstruct transformation to a climate – smart system."
The major knowledge priorities that were identified from an online consultation were:
- Technical interventions and practices in climate smart agriculture
- Evidence base and support, services and extension for CSA
- Inclusive knowledge systems for CSA
- Integrated planning and monitoring for CSA
This group while spending a proportion of its first year doing all the ground work which accompanies global collaborations have found some key points which they want to address (and seem like pretty good sense to me!).
Peer to peer learning is key – if we want to achieve change on the ground then we need to work with our farmers to get there.
The importance of metrics – we need to generate evidence (that is comparable between systems) to show impact of the management on the ground (and that can be scaled up to demonstrate regions, nations and global action.
We need to demonstrate clear economic benefits – make the business case to change practices at the farm level
Research – where are the climate opportunities for agriculture? Also to enable the conversation between research and farmers to allow the farmers research questions to be answered
Extension – the importance of investing in people through enhanced skills development and increased knowledge
Indigenous and local knowledge – we can’t ignore the importance of local knowledge
So what did I come away with?
A sense of optimism that although the mechanism is a bit clunky and these things take time to gain momentum (especially when you are dealing with this number of countries) there is a desire to address climate change and agriculture at a global level and work together.
A big question though that I am still grappling with is the one of scale. There are multiple levels in this puzzle, and when we are looking at practices that we will be recommending farmers to adopt, we can’t be doing this on a global level. Each farm is unique and there is a need for focussed technical information for the farmer which shows the economic benefit, and then there is a requirement for reporting on how sectors of our industry are doing, as well as regions, and nations. At each of these scales there is a different knowledge need and for some of them a different audience.
This led me onto thinking about how this alliance could be best used – and where are the areas where global co-ordination is needed. A few things sprang to mind:
Metrics – if we are to demonstrate progress we need to be talking in the same language which means using the same metrics that are regarded as being scientifically rigorous to enable policy change and show the effect of changing management. This is something that will need global action to achieve as its not an easy task!
Knowledge – Although specific practices that we are advising may vary, this alliance could be a great vehicle to share ideas and information about what works and what doesn’t in engaging farmers in climate smart agriculture.
Communication to the public – co-ordination of messages to the public about the issues around agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions. Lets provide a united front which shows all the positive steps that farmers are taking in terms of environmental management, and show how we are working on the issues that need sorting.
Collaboration and strength in numbers – continuing this alliance means that we can all share research and innovation and ideas which might mean that we can make progress faster.
As was said in the meeting, I’d better go and get on with it!