Dear Friends and Colleagues
Agroecology is Productive, Inclusive and Increases Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change
Climate change is disrupting food production systems with serious implications for food security and economic development. World population is predicted to reach 9.6 billion people by 2050; in the same time period, food insecurity is expected to rise by a further 15–40% as a result of climate change.
‘Climate-Smart Agriculture’ (CSA) appears to be gaining traction as a solution to the global challenge of achieving food security and economic development under a changing climate. A briefing paper evaluates CSA technologies and practices through the lens of ‘Technology Justice’, which is defined as where people have the ability to choose and use technologies that assist them in leading the kind of life they value, without compromising the ability of others and future generations to do the same.
The paper discusses how the definition of CSA is lacking in terms of environmental and social criteria. Without these, there is the danger that CSA will be used as a cover for continuation of business as usual, i.e., unsustainable agricultural systems that marginalize smallholder farmers.
The brief instead calls on policy-makers to use the technology justice framework and give priority to the promotion of agroecological practices. It stipulates that for an agricultural intervention to be truly climate-smart, it must satisfy the three pillars of technology justice: access to agricultural production for marginalized smallholder farmers in a way that minimizes risk; user-centred innovation that improves the adaptive capacity of smallholder agricultural systems; and the sustainable use of the natural resource base to ensure the viability of continued production and adaptation. Agroecology meets these three criteria, hence priority should be given to promoting agroecological approaches to improve and maintain the productivity, inclusivity, and adaptive capacity of smallholder agricultural systems.
The Executive Summary of the paper is reproduced below.
With best wishes
CLIMATE-SMART AGRICULTURE AND SMALLHOLDER FARMERS: THE CRITICAL ROLE OF TECHNOLOGY JUSTICE IN EFFECTIVE ADAPTATION
By Practical Action
There is increasing support for Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) as a solution to the challenge of achieving food security and economic development under a changing climate. This paper uses Technology Justice as a lens to evaluate whether CSA is truly climate-smart for smallholder farmers in developing countries based on the argument that agroecological approaches are essential for achieving sustainable development in the context of climate change.
Climate change is already disrupting food production systems, exacerbating immense global challenges, including widespread poverty and food insecurity (FAO, 2013; World Bank, 2015). Many smallholder farmers are marginalized by existing food production systems, and employment in the agricultural sector – 72 per cent in the least developed countries (LDCs)
(Cheong et al., 2013) – is largely failing to deliver widespread economic development and food security. Despite growing awareness of the need to maintain the natural resource base for sustained productivity, unsustainable agricultural practices are still the norm.
Current debates among many prominent development actors feature CSA as the solution to these challenges; however, without clear social and environmental criteria, this definition may be applied to many unsustainable practices and technologies. There is a danger therefore that CSA will be used as a cover for continuation of business as usual: unsustainable agricultural systems that marginalize smallholder farmers. Furthermore, agricultural development needs to move beyond ‘adaptation’, that is, specific adjustments to actual or predicted climate changes, to building ‘adaptive capacity’, defined as ‘the ability of a system to adjust to climate change’ (IPCC, 2007).
Use of the three pillars of Technology Justice – access, innovation, and sustainable use – to evaluate CSA shows that agroecological approaches increase access to food production systems for marginalized smallholder farmers by minimizing financial risk. While innovation is dominated by commercial interests, it is possible and vitally important to find common ground between private interests and development objectives, for the innovation of sustainable agricultural technologies that increase adaptive capacity. Many CSA practices are unsustainable and create dependency of smallholders on high-cost external inputs. Agroecological systems have high adaptive capacity, due to the maintenance of healthy soil and on-farm conservation of genetic diversity. Furthermore, agroecological practices can produce higher yields and higher incomes than chemical intensive systems (Curtis, 2015; De Schutter, 2010; Pretty et al., 2006), improving well-being and resilience to climate shocks.
Integrating agroecological approaches into smallholder farming systems is not without challenges: new opportunities for private investment in low-external input systems must be identified; diversifying crop production may alter workloads, potentially with gendered impacts; and capacity-building and organization may be necessary to achieve more equitable market access for smallholders. Despite these challenges, Practical Action believes that agroecological approaches are essential to achieving sustainable development and food security under a changing climate.
Practical Action calls for governments and other development actors to apply the principles of Technology Justice in their evaluation of agricultural adaptation practices, and to give greater priority to promoting agroecological approaches to improve and maintain the productivity, inclusivity, and above all adaptive capacity of smallholder agricultural systems.