Climate-smart agriculture in LDCs

Michael Davidson, Claremont Graduate University

Growing populations, greater frequency of extreme weather events, increasing temperatures, changes in rainfall patterns and increasing water scarcity will increase uncertainty and risk in agricultural production. Between 2011 and 2100 the population of high-fertility countries is projected to triple, passing from 1.2 billion to 4.2 billion, and in that period, projections are that agricultural production needs to increase by 70 per cent overall, and by 100 per cent in Least Developed Countries (LDCs).

This challenge is sobering in view of the fact that agricultural production in LDCs over the past ten years has been stagnant, severely threatening food security. Food security is linked to water availability, accessibility and scarcity. Those most in need of poverty and undernourishment reductions live in the most water-scarce environments. Currently, about 700 million people in 43 countries suffer from water scarcity. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO), “by 2025, 1.8 billion people will be living in countries or regions with absolute water scarcity, and two-thirds of the world's population could be living under water-stressed conditions.” Agriculture accounts for more than one-third of all greenhouse gas emissions and consumes 36 per cent of all arable land. Management of agricultural irrigation water is critical because the agricultural sector consumes 70 per cent of the world's available freshwater.

Climate scientists posit that the planetary threshold for the percentage of global land cover converted to cropland is 11.7%, and that if traditional extensive farming techniques continue to expand, the percentage of global arable land under agriculture will grow to an unsustainable 60 per cent by 2050. Reducing the need for additional land conversion to agriculture represents nearly as much GHG emissions as those directly generated from agricultural activities.
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is a methodology and suite of tools that have been developed to address the challenges of improving agricultural yield in an environmentally conscientious manner. CSA is defined by FAO as "agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals". Case studies show significant and positive economic benefits from practicing these sustainable agricultural practices. A collection of researchers have compared a combination of three methods of sustainable agriculture which they term, "farming system innovations”. They examined the effects of runoff diversion (RD), on-site water harvesting (WH), and conservation tillage (CT) at four sites in Tanzania using traditional hand-hoe methods, and found an increase of maize yields of up to 4.8 tha-1 over the current average of less than 1tha-1. Evidence shows that interventions to increase agricultural sustainability reduce pesticide use, increase yields and improve soil. These researchers showed "the extent to which 286 interventions in 57 poor countries covering 37 million hectares (about 3 per cent of the cultivated area in developing countries) have increased productivity on 12.6 million farms, while improving the supply of critical environmental services". Sustainable agricultural practices, such as minimum crop tillage and integrated pest and nutrient management modalities helped increase "average yields by 79 per cent, and 64 per cent on average. Potential carbon sequestered amounted to an average of 0.35 gross tons per calendar year.

A critical question for COP20 in Lima is: if the principles and methdologies of CSA produce significant and positive results for mitigation, adaptation and improved productivity, why have they not been widely implemented in LDCs? Research illustrates that the supply side of the value chain for agricultural and irrigation products and support is underdeveloped and the critical driver for sustainable agricultural improvement. However, models for reliable and cost-effective delivery and support systems for equipment, advice, training, operation and maintenance, are formally institutionlised in the developed nations and, importantly, these models are scalable and replicable for the developing world.