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Reflections on Climate-Smart Agriculture in Feed the Future

Predicted impacts of climate change on smallholder farmers can seem overwhelming, but good agricultural development provides a strong base for addressing climate challenges. Good agricultural development, by nature, addresses how resource-limited smallholder farmers cope with risk due to weather variability and challenging climate conditions. It also draws from the latest innovations (e.g., improved plant breeding techniques, remote sensing to understand landscape level patterns, knowledge of behavior change, enhanced information about pests and diseases, market conditions and weather forecasts), supports strengthened governance structures, strategizes for scaling up impact, and leverages partnerships. Thus, while the severity of climate challenges will increase with climate change, good solutions have a promising starting point.

Feed the Future draws from decades of learning on good agricultural development as well as the latest innovations to incorporate climate into programming. The Bureau for Food Security is now working to make the Feed the Future portfolio even more robust in theface of climate change through an assessment of ongoing activities and approaches. This work, considered climate-smart agriculture, has three goals: sustainable increases in productivity; improved adaptation to climate change; and reduced greenhouse gas emissions, where appropriate. In development, the third goal of is often interpreted as “bending the curve,” or reducing the rate of emissions during a course of development.

Feed the Future’s incorporation of the climate-smart agriculture framework is exciting because it allows the initiative to participate in a global conversation on the nexus of climate and agriculture, and it demonstrates support of U.S. membership in the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture which was launched in September 2014. It also builds on the original climate change cross-cutting approach of Feed the Future to more intentionally consider all three pillars.

Climate-Smart Agriculture is not defined by absolutes. To better understand what it means in Feed the Future, the Bureau for Food Security (the lead for Feed the Future) has been working with other experts, including the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security group of the CGIAR, to assess current Feed the Future programs. Not surprisingly, many Feed the Future programs have strong climate-smart components, even if they aren’t termed “climate-smart agriculture.”

Climate-smart agriculture affords opportunities to define the role of climate concerns in Feed the Future programming. For example, it could help to more explicitly identify the climate concern and time frame in a theory of change. Climate-smart agriculture is often conflated with a single practice or a package of practices, such as conservation agriculture. Conservation agriculture can definitely be a climate-smart activity, but not all climate-smart agriculture has to be conservation agriculture.

Climate-smart agriculture entails: a range of practices, technologies and information and a pipeline of new technologies that can feed into an existing distribution structure; and an enabling environment that links practices and technologies to necessary policies.

At its heart, climate-smart agriculture is smart agriculture, informed by climate science. And many approaches that reflect better climate outcomes are entirely consistent with the economic and environmental drivers that already guide sound agricultural investment.

Laura Schreeg is working on Climate-Smart Agriculture as a member of the Scaling Team in the Office of Agricultural Research and Policy in the Bureau for Food Security at USAID. Here she offers brief reflections on climate-smart agriculture in Feed the Future. The opinions expressed herein are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID).

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