TWN Briefing 3

2nd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change
3-7 September 2012, Hanoi, Vietnam

Published by Third World Network


Climate Smart Agriculture: “Triple win” or Trojan Horse?

Based on a briefing by Climate Justice Now! Working Group on Agriculture and Forests

Climate Smart Agriculture – the claims

What is Climate Smart Agriculture? According to the World Bank and the FAO, it is a system of agriculture that can give developing country farmers a “triple win”. It claims to help farmers to 1) adapt to climate change, 2) increase yields, and 3) mitigate climate change by reducing emissions or sequestering carbon.

On the surface, this approach would appear to resonate with the demands of farmer and civil society organisations, particularly in developing countries. Instead, these groups have expressed scepticism, concern and even outright opposition.

Ecological image, industrial practice?

Agroecological approaches must be the basis of genuine climate solutions in agriculture. The proponents of Climate Smart Agriculture point to ecological projects and partners to highlight social, ecological and climate priorities.

But it seems that Climate Smart Agriculture also means industrial agriculture – and the very practices and players which cause climate change and farmer vulnerability. Fertilisers are a major contributor to climate change through N2O emissions and the decomposition of soil organic matter. Dependence on the agrochemical industry’s hybrid seeds has led to the erosion of the indigenous crop diversity that farmers need to meet changing and challenging conditions. Yet Climate Smart Agriculture is clearly and closely linked to partners who promote fertilisers, pesticides and industrial agriculture. These include Yara (the world’s largest fertiliser company) and CropLife (the biotechnology lobbying agency). Factory farming is a major contributor to developed country emissions and yet Climate Smart Agriculture works closely with the Danish pig industry, while talking of “sustainable intensification” of livestock. Such players are incompatible with a sincere objective of ecological, genuine climate-resilient agriculture solutions.

The mitigation money myth

A key element of the Climate Smart Agriculture package is finance from carbon markets. Proponents claim that carbon offsetting mitigation activities could fund adaptation and food security co-benefits.

There are many good reasons for rejecting this as a climate strategy. There is a significant risk that agriculture carbon offsets will incentivise “carbon land grabs” by large-scale investors, and genetically modified organisms [1]. The plummeting price of carbon towards €3 per ton shows that carbon markets are an “over-hyped, unreliable, volatile and inequitable source of funding for Africa” [2]. Precious and limited donor public finance for adaptation in developing countries is being diverted towards measurement, reporting and verification of carbon stocks for carbon markets. Setting up carbon markets requires huge investment, but generates few returns, and allows developed countries to avoid meeting their financial commitments to fund adaptation. Climate Smart Agriculture may therefore undermine farmers’ rights, adaptation strategies and adaptation finance.

 [1] Clear as Mud: why agriculture and soils should not be included in carbon offset schemes. The Gaia Foundation, 2011

[2] Letter to African negotiators at Durban COP17 from 100+ international civil society groups.