Climate-smart Agriculture: A new approach for a new reality

As the world’s population continues to surge, there are mounting concerns about how agricultural production will cope with feeding everyone. The Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations (FAO) estimates that food production must increase by at least 60% to respond to the demands of the nine billion people that are expected to inhabit the planet by 2050. This has become a food security issue globally.


With many of the resources needed for food security already stretched, the challenges are huge – and are being intensified by the fact that the world’s climate is changing fast. For agriculture, change will be significant, as temperatures rise, rainfall patterns change, and pests and diseases find new areas to inhabit or spread to, all of which pose significant new risks to food and farming.


There is also a growing recognition of agriculture’s contribution to climate change, and of the means by which farming systems can adapt to cope with the changes, as well as the potential of agriculture to mitigate climate impact. This recognition has led to the concept of ‘climate-smart agriculture’ (CSA).


Just what is CSA?

CSA is defined by the FAO as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience, reduces/removes greenhouse gas emissions where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals”.


Therefore, CSA is an integrated approach that aims to deliver food security in the face of climate change by:


  • Sustainably increasing agricultural productivity
  • Building the resilience of food systems
  • Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from agriculture


While there are several other sustainable agricultural models in place already, what is new about CSA is that it includes climate change and risks, which are happening more rapidly and with greater intensity than in the past.


CSA is more comprehensive as it strives to adopt a perspective including various other systems at play, such as landscapes, ecosystems and value chains. It also goes beyond new technologies and practices like drought-resistant varieties or precision farming. Identified CSA practices include the following, along with some examples of actions that contribute to CSA:


  • Soil management: Nitrogen and other nutrients are essential to increased yields – this can be done through composting manure, precise matching of nutrients with plant needs, or using legumes for natural fixation.
  • Crop production: Crop productivity can be increased through breeding higher-yielding crop varieties, though crop and crop nutrient management, and through choosing crop species that have higher yield potentials under given environmental conditions.
  • Water management: For rain-fed agriculture, improved water management can be done through water harvesting, soil management practices that result in the capture and retention of rainfall, as well as through soil fertility and crop management innovations that enhance crop growth and yield, thus using water more effectively.
  • Livestock management: Sustainable interventions that target improved feed resources directly increase productivity. For cattle, examples include improved grazing management, using improved pasture and agroforestry species, as well as nutritious diet supplements. Similarly, interventions aimed at improving animal health, such as vaccination programmes, will also improve animal productivity.
  • Forestry & Agroforestry: Examples here include planting trees to act as windbreaks to protect adjacent field crops, reduce wind erosion, and store carbon, or as shelter for grazing livestock.
  • Fisheries & Aquaculture: For aquaculture, the emphasis is on intensifying production, improving stocks, making feeding more efficient and reducing losses from disease. More broadly across the sector, efforts should be made in reducing losses and wastes, increasing yields and productivity in fish and aquatic food processing and other areas where value can be added, and enhancing efficiencies in product distribution.
  • Energy management: Agricultural production can be increased by improving energy efficiency, and implementing the use of renewable energy sources.


What are the benefits for farmers?

For farmers, weather variability brings both lucky breaks and difficult challenges that must be managed. This is especially true for resource-poor small-scale farmers in developing countries, like many in Africa. CSA gives farmers a framework for achieving increases in agricultural production despite the increasing climate variability being caused by climate change. This helps to secure both individual livelihoods and global food security.


CSA is gaining ground in South Africa – it was the topic of a workshop at the PMA Fresh Connections Conference hosted in Cape Town recently, which investigated the needs of South African agriculture. The needs identified for farmers, particularly small-scale farmers, were:


  • more resilient seed varieties;
  • the importance of business planning and inclusion of youth in agriculture;
  • market access and logistics; and
  • scaling up or growing a farming enterprise, within an enabling policy environment.


The Government is currently working on a national strategic framework on climate smart agriculture for 2018.


For more information on innovation in agriculture, contact AFGRI Technology Services on [email protected]


Climate Smart Agriculture – Introduction

Climate Smart Agriculture workshop at PMA Conference, Cape Town