The challenge to be climate smart with the world’s agriculture


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The West Africa Agriculture Productivity Program (WAAPP). Photo Credits: Dasan Bobo/The World Bank

Here’s something you may not be aware of: agriculture and changes in land use already contribute 25 percent of greenhouse gas emissions.  It’s a statistic that matters in the face of two unrelenting challenges now facing the globe –how to turn the promises of last December’s historic Paris climate change agreement into reality and how to feed a growing global population.

Already more than one billion people on the planet are now undernourished , and the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food by 2050 to feed an estimated nine billion people.  And we have to achieve that while delivering on the Paris agreement to keep the global temperature rise well below two degrees Celsius and to drive efforts to limit the temperature increase even further to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels.
On a continent like Africa, we already know climate change is taking a toll on farmers seeking to feed their families and earn some income. Just consider West Africa, where shorter and more erratic rainy seasons and more frequent extreme weather events such as droughts and floods have impacted harvests. And according to projections, climate change could cut yields even more – by as much as 25 percent in the future. 
To help them adapt to the changing climate, farmers in West Africa have been learning the benefits of “climate-smart agriculture” – an integrated approach that helps farmers grow more, be more resilient to climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock, crops, and land use change.
Through the World Bank funded West Africa Agricultural Productivity Program (WAAPP) close to six million farmers have learned how to become “climate smart” through using 160 climate-smart crop varieties developed through the program – a move which has seen productivity boosted by at least 30 percent.
With Bank support, 1.7 million dairy farming households across 18 Indian states are adopting better feeding and fodder practices for their cows. Use of local and seasonal green fodder and grain has boosted milk yields, reduced production costs and decreased methane emissions by about 12 percent while increasing net daily incomes by nearly 25 rupees per cow.

Farmers who have adopted agroforestry are reaping bountiful harvests without the use of costly fertilizers—like in Zambia, where maize planted under Faidherbia trees have yielded harvests that are three times larger than usual. In Senegal, a lack of rainfall during the planting season led to withered crops and low yields, obliging farmers to reseed in an effort to recover their losses. An emergency program under WAAPP is providing one-time subsidies on the sale of almost 2,000 tons of certified maize, millet, and sorghum seeds. The improved seeds result in crops that have shorter maturity cycles and are more drought resistant, resulting in higher yields.
And in Asia, alternate wetting and drying rice production techniques in Vietnam helped more than 33,000 farmers boost crop production by up to 10 percent. They achieved this jump in productivity while using less fertilizer, which has reduced methane and nitrous oxide emissions from their rice fields.

We know there’s also growing recognition of the role of agriculture in the overall mix of emissions which we need to bring down globally to achieve the global targets set in Paris. At COP 21, 113 countries committed to reduce agriculture sector emissions as part of their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) or domestic climate action plans.  

While globally governments, scientists and farmers are taking steps to make a sustainable, climate-smart global food system a reality, more needs to be done.

We know for the world’s poorest countries, especially those funded by IDA, our fund for the poorest, climate-smart agriculture is vitally needed to help farmers grow more and reduce post-harvest losses so there’s more food in the face of a changing climate.

Across Africa, most of the national climate plans, the INDCs, prepared for Paris prioritize adaptation. For example, Niger’s INDC included sustainable land and forest management and climate smart agriculture with a strong emphasis on food security, farms and pastoralist communities.

It’s also singled out in both the World Bank’s Africa Climate Business Plan, unveiled in Paris, and also our Climate Action Plan, developed post-Paris to lay out a roadmap to help countries deliver on their promises in Paris.

And we’re already acting. Earlier this year, the Bank approved the Niger Climate-Smart Agriculture Support project, which is the first Bank project in Africa specifically designed to deliver climate-smart agriculture, as laid out in our Africa Climate Business Plan. The project will directly benefit around 500,000 farmers and agro-pastoralists in 44 communes. This was a big step. Our hope is that this project will pave the way for a more climate-smart food system in Niger, as well as in other countries, funded by IDA.

For our part, we have made climate smart agriculture a key component in all our operations. Last year, 50 percent of the Bank’s agricultural projects delivered all three of the aims of climate-smart agriculture – increasing productivity, boosting resilience and delivering a lower carbon footprint. Benefits include lowering aquatic nitrogen pollution and biodiversity impacts.

We know the path to climate-smart agriculture will be different in every country and is made even more challenging by limited resources. This is why the Bank has developed tools and analytical work to help countries assess opportunities, balance trade-offs, prioritize investments and identify key entry points for climate-smart agriculture. 

Transitioning to a climate-smart food system is no longer just the ambition of a few. But still, we need greater ambition. Our ability to feed the world’s future population depends on us all becoming climate smart. 


Juergen Voegele

Vice President for Sustainable Development at the World Bank

John Roome

Director, South Asia

August 15, 2016

Very good!
I have learned a lot by reading your paper...May we all be climate smart and may we particularly work so sub Saharan farmers become climate-smart!

Dr Mahesh Chander
August 16, 2016

Very informative article !

Rajeev Gopal
August 18, 2016

The whole world wants to be SMART. Hence, smart cities and climate smart agriculture. The irony is we want to be smart by producing more, by investing more and by doing more. Is that smart?
I think smart is when we achieve more by doing less!
I am not a food sector person so I have to be careful in what I say. I also am not aware of all the work being done by us in the food sector so my comments may be misplaced. However, as a lay person, if I look at the ratio of food produced to the world’s population today and the same ratio say a hundred or a thousand years ago, my guess is that this ratio has been steadily increasing. This means that per capita food production has been rising. So we continue to produce more but at the same time poverty is not falling fast enough, malnutrition hasn’t been controlled and the earth has certainly been put under more stress.
Are we really being smart!
Can we look at some food related issues other than productivity to solve the world’s food and climate problem, and thus reduce the earth's exploitation. Can we look at food storage and food logistic efforts. Is it necessary to produce in bulk, then look for storage/ refrigeration, and then look for distant markets and then transport the food and then play with prices which usually are detrimental to the small farmer.
Can we look at non-mechanised and local production/ consumption which are not resource intensive. Can we look at less refined and less processed foods where we needn’t produce 10 units for one unit of consumption. Can we look at non mechanized processing which is less wasteful. Can we look at nourishment and not just food which appeals to our sight, taste and smell.
Can we try to protect the independence and self-sufficiency of the small farmer so that he is not dependent on the fertiizer or the seed company. Or should we continue to support the large multi national food producing and processing corporation which is focused on shareholder return and not on climate or sustainability. Can we look at the issue of minimum support prices and see who is benefitted!
I am sure such efforts are already underway and we need to make sure that we talk about them and thus inspire others.
I am sure we can switch the dialogue from 'more' to truly SMART.

August 23, 2016

To secure our ag production we have to adopt a way to reduce our exposure to the known vulnerabilities and associated risks. Producing ag indoors for both human consumption and livestock consumption is the only way. Some crops used for biofuels could still be grown outside. Using aquaponics we can go soilless and chemical free and reduce our use of water. Off grid, underground or even urban sites can be used to grow food anywhere, as long as you have energy and water. These solutions are beyond science fiction, they are realities. Aid is only an immediate, short term solution. As soon as aid starts, the planning must begin for a long term solution, that is sustainable. If the solution is not empowering but building dependencies or enabling it is not a solution but further exploitation and enslavement.

Parveen Kumar
August 23, 2016

Very Informative Article. I belong to a farmer family from India. I've my own experience that farmer should use natural fertilizer which increases the crops/agricultural produce. Due to use of chemical fertilizer our land is become barren and also crops are become poisonous which effects our health. For making natural fertilizer peoples should use Animal feces which helps in increasing crop production per acre.

Patrick Walsh
August 24, 2016

Very interesting article and comments.

baa ojong
September 07, 2016

yes! this article is great. we have to ensure that agriculture is sustainable as a way to reduce hunger.
can these resistant seeds work in all countries? my worry. demonstration farms must be established to ensure what product can do well.
recall in some countries already, fertilesed trees are being encourage to be plantes in farms and other crops cultivated in them.

Nomula Yogibabu
September 18, 2016

Very good and Very Informative Article. I belong to a farmer family from India. I've my own experience that farmer should use natural fertilizer which increases the crops/agricultural produce. Due to use of chemical fertilizer our land is become barren and also crops are become poisonous which effects our health. For making natural fertilizer peoples should use Animal feces which helps in increasing crop production per acre.
Is there any substitute of paddy for the formers those who are habituated to this.
August 23, 2017

That is right. The way we handle the nutrients recycling is one of the core points to make sustainable our food supplies. Best regards.

Ibrahim Sala
November 29, 2019

Smart and resilent agriculture is the appropriate response to the effect of climate change on agriculture in africa.