The Good News and Bad News on Agriculture and Climate Change


This page in:

 CGIAR Climate.I have recently returned from the United Nations climate talks that were held in Warsaw, Poland, and I have both good and bad news.
The bad news is that delegates opted to delay again discussions of agriculture. This decision, given agriculture’s substantial and well-documented contribution to greenhouse gas emissions, reveals the discomfort negotiators still feel around the science and priorities of what we consider “climate-smart agriculture”.
The decision to postpone is short-sighted when we consider the potential agriculture has to become part of the global solution. Agriculture is the only sector that can not only mitigate, but also take carbon out of the atmosphere. It has the potential to substantially sequester global carbon dioxide emissions in the soils of croplands, grazing lands and rangelands.
The good news is that there are steps we can take to make agriculture part of the solution. Importantly the discussions with farmers on how to improve incomes and yields, to serve the nutritional content of the food we grow, are our key focus. But we can at the same time improve resilience of food systems and achieve emissions reductions.

At the World Bank Group, we are deeply committed to supporting climate-smart agriculture, which is an approach with three core goals that together point the way towards a “triple win”:  increasing productivity and incomes, building resilience while reducing vulnerability, and reducing emissions – potentially capturing carbon as well.
To have real impact, we must apply these principles and act across landscapes – that means crops, livestock, forests, and fisheries. Otherwise progress on farms will come at the expense of forests, streams and biodiversity – the loss of which will impact farmers’ productivity and resilience down the line.
The potential is enormous.
When I visited Kenya last month, I met a farmer who embodies the triple win promised by climate smart solutions. John Obuom and Poline Achieng’ Omondi plant trees that sequester carbon and transfer nitrogen to the soil. They grow improved crops that are more resistant to drought and disease. And they keep livestock breeds that are better adapted to a changing climate. This model works for John and Poline: they have improved soil fertility, restored degraded land, and reduced greenhouse gas emissions – while providing more food and income for their family.
John and Poline are beneficiaries of a CGIAR Research Program that is working with communities to develop Climate-Smart Villages. The idea is to test agricultural interventions to gain a full understanding of the benefits and effects they might have.
Clearly, some of these models show great promise. But John and Poline’s farm is one hectare. We now need to replicate successful approaches on a much larger scale.
In Costa Rica, farmers have benefited from more than a decade of payments for ecosystem services. Those payments, nationwide, have shifted behaviors toward better livestock and crop management practices that protect natural water sources and take advantage of trees on farms to fix nitrogen in the soil, provide shade for cows and coffee and sequester carbon. These practices are good for the environment; the reason they stick is because they’re also good for the farmers’ wallets.
Part of what makes Costa Rica so unique is the strong multi-stakeholder approach and commitment. In Costa Rica’s agroforestry program, for instance, the country’s National Forestry Financing Fund is working together with farmers and farmer organizations like CoopeAgri and the BioCarbon Fund to achieve the successful results we’ve seen. Innovative partnerships will be critical moving forward, as many different skills are needed to achieve systemic change in how countries address the challenge of providing food security in the face of climate change.
Support is growing. This week, innovative farmers, scientists, government officials and representatives from private sector and civil society – are coming together at the International Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change in Johannesburg, South Africa, to launch the Alliance on Climate-Smart Agriculture. The conference will provide a platform to discuss and share experiences on successes, as well as lessons learned, to deliberate the challenges and threats to food and nutrition security under the impact of climate change and to start identifying and advancing solutions for action.
This alliance could become a key forum for collaboration. Working together, I believe we can move climate-smart agriculture to the next level, identifying common goals and fostering new working partnerships that deliver systemic change on the ground.
Pursuing climate-smart agriculture is not a luxury – it’s an imperative. Let’s make this a groundbreaking move towards real advances in sustainable agriculture. We need to act now.

Rachel Kyte
Vice President for Sustainable Development
Twitter: @rkyte365
Photo: Climate-smart farming in Kenya. Credit: CGIAR Climate
This post also appears on Farming First


Rachel Kyte

Vice President and Special Envoy for Climate Change

Join the Conversation

Shaun Paul
December 11, 2013

I completely agree with the thinking here on climate-smart agriculture. In today's politics, I also concur with a focus on adaptation with collateral mitigation benefits. I've previously brokered the sale of emission reduction offsets from adopting more sustainable land use practices by small holder farms and I resonate with the need to consider a landscape approach.
However, working in the private sector, it is disappointing that policymakers could not assure an adequate regulatory framework whether for emissions trading or carbon taxes that could accelerate adoption of climate-smart agriculture.
As a private investor in emerging market climate-smart agriculture, I am focused on realizing opportunities that reduce international supply chain risk, increase productivity, while enhancing production stability that anticipates increased weather variability. We favor smallholder farms and aspire to have sensible public sector investment partners.
We could bring even more private investors to climate-smart agriculture with investment risk mitigation provisions that can be afforded by greater public sector participation in capital markets benefiting climate-smart agriculture. One hurdle is that private investors can be dissuaded by the transaction costs associated with engaging multilateral agencies.
All to say that I commend you on furthering this important area of work.
Shaun Paul
People and Planet Holdings
[email protected]
- Catalyzing private investment to accelerate the regenerative power of people and nature

Don Wilkinson
December 25, 2013

Climate-smart is the best way in that is working with Nature, and its success is further supported in that it will be sustainable! I come from the Agriculture and biology side with degrees in both and a life-long production agriculture experience base.
Sustainable production,soil health,monitoring with the new carbon sequester protocol from Carbon Link Ltd AU.(which is 100 times more accurate)and monitoring the GHG problem can be challenged. That system will also work to improve water quality, food supply and better health to developing countries.
I also believe the National Rural Electric Coop Assoc. through its US and International ties can play a big part in the sucess. It is a matter of drawing all resource groups together for the common good.

Bharpoor Singh Sekhon
January 09, 2014

Agriculture cannot be bypassed in any measure aimed at addressing climate change. Soils hold a great potential in storing carbon and thus mitigating climate change. Let the farmers be paid for the ecosystem services. Such incentives will make farmers aware about carbon farming and will enhance agricultural sustainability. For instance, farmers in Punjab state of India, one of the most advanced agricultural regions, can be incentivized for minimizing water use, fertilizer use and for raising soil organic carbon level. In other words, the farmers can be rewarded on the basis of carbon footprint of their farming practices. Such measures can go a long way in activizing agriculture in the climate change scenario.