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Lessons from Hanoi: The Imperative of Implementing Climate-Smart Agriculture

David Olivier Treguer's picture

Terraced rice fields in Vietnam. World Bank/Tran Thi Hoa

Ninh Binh Province was hit by severe flooding two weeks ago, like many other regions in Vietnam. It was yet another sharp reminder that Vietnam will increasingly be facing the effects of climate change. However, as we were visiting the region a few days later, activity had returned to normal, and people were busy working in rice paddy fields or cooking meals for their families (with biogas produced from livestock waste).

Ninh Binh Province has shown remarkable resilience to flooding, thanks in part to an innovative program set up by local authorities called “living with floods.” It consists of stepping up the number of staff (military, policemen, civilians) on duty during the flood season and reinforcing physical infrastructure – dikes have been upgraded with more than 2,700 cubic meters of rocks, and about 2 million cubic meters of mud have been dredged to assure water flow in the Hoang Long River.

This field trip to Thanh Lac Commune during the 2nd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change illustrated some examples of what resilient agriculture could be and how adaptation, productivity, and mitigation should be considered in an integrated manner. Ensuring the resilience of the country’s agricultural sector will be essential, not only to its own food security, but to the world’s—it is the world’s second largest rice exporter.

Resilience in the Face of Climate Change

The first Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change, in The Hague in 2010, made a strong case for tackling the need to increase productivity, adaptation, and mitigation in agriculture concurrently – through climate-smart agriculture.

Climate-smart agriculture seeks to increase productivity in an environmentally and socially sustainable way, strengthen farmers’ resilience to climate change, and reduce agriculture’s contribution to climate change by reducing greenhouse gas emissions and increasing carbon storage on farmland. It includes proven practical techniques, such as mulching, intercropping, conservation agriculture, crop rotation, integrated crop-livestock management, agro-forestry, improved grazing, and improved water management, as well as innovative practices such as better weather forecasting, drought- and flood-tolerant crops, and risk insurance.

As a core component of an inclusive green growth strategy for the agricultural sector, climate-smart agriculture is urgently needed. This year’s conference stressed that urgency in its final communiqué, issued on Sept. 7, as more than 500 delegates from 150 countries and 20 international organizations met against the backdrop of volatile agricultural markets and rising food prices.

The Hanoi Communiqué advocates developing policies with an integrated approach, putting farmers at the center of the innovation process, building new partnerships with a strong involvement of the private sector, and financial innovation.

Practical Implementation

One strong message coming out of the World Bank report “Inclusive Green Growth: The Pathway to Sustainable development” is that developing countries need to implement inclusive green growth quickly in order to avoid being locked into unsustainable and irreversible pathways that will be very costly, if not impossible, to reverse.

This is especially true for agricultural production, which must increase rapidly to keep pace with rising food demand, but must do so in an environmentally sustainable way. Failure would result in large-scale environmental damage – deforestation, soil degradation, biodiversity loss, eutrophication– that would be virtually impossible to reverse.

At this year’s conference, a two-pronged strategy emerged for spurring the implementation of climate-smart agriculture:

  • Use landscape approaches to integrate agriculture, forests, fisheries and water resources, and
  • Strengthen the private sector’s involvement in order to scale up climate-smart agriculture projects.

Meeting that strategy will require countries to facilitate better collaboration among the government bodies in charge of agriculture, water and forest. It also requires mainstreaming the creation of public-private partnerships to finance the scaling up of climate-smart agriculture. Both can be challenging, as the Inclusive Green Growth reports shows, but both are necessary.

Climate-smart agriculture must now be implemented quickly. Failure is not an option. Food security and the preservation of natural capital on which agriculture depends can only be guaranteed by sustainable agriculture intensification that avoids overtaxing natural resources and can adapt to an already changing climate.

The 3rd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security, and Climate Change will take place in South Africa next year. In the invitation, Tina Joemat-Pettersson, the minister for agriculture, forestry, and fisheries in South Africa stressed the importance of standing “united as a sector on the need to be more climate-smart about agriculture, with benefits to agriculture and the planet.”

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