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Foster Climate-Smart Agriculture

April 23, 2014

A growing population and changing diets are driving up the demand for food. At the same time, declining ocean health, and more frequent droughts and floods made worse by climate change are cutting productivity. Food stocks are already struggling to keep pace with demand. 1 in 8 people suffers from chronic hunger and more than 1 billion people are undernourished. The food challenge will only—the world needs to produce at least 50 percent more food by 2050 to feed 9 billion people. Building more sustainable and resilient agricultural systems is an important part of the solution.

This challenge is made more intense by the fact that agriculture is extremely vulnerable to climate change. Its largely negative effects are already evident in several regions of the world. Without substantial investments in adaptation, yields will continue to be negatively impacted for local temperature increases of 2°C or more, with substantial variation across crops, regions and adaptation scenarios. The majority of models predict a yield reduction of more than 5% with around 10% of projections expecting yield losses of more than 25% (IPCC, 2014). Agriculture is also a major part of the climate problem. It currently generates 19–29% of total GHG emissions. Without action, that percentage could rise substantially as other sectors reduce their emissions.

Producing More with Less

To be sustainable, agriculture needs to produce more food on less land. It also needs to be resilient to extreme weather and minimize its negative impact on the environment.

Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) is an approach to managing landscapes—cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries—sustainably in the face of climate change. It aims at 3 goals:

  1. Increasing productivity: Produce more food to improve food and nutrition security and boost the incomes of 75 percent of the world’s poor, many of whom rely on agriculture for their livelihoods.
  2. Enhancing resilience: Reduce vulnerability to drought, pests, disease and other shocks; and improve capacity to adapt and grow in the face of longer-term stresses like shortened seasons and erratic weather patterns 
  3. Lowering emissions and/or emissions intensity: Pursue lower emissions for each calorie or kilo of food produced and avoid deforestation from agriculture.

The CSA approach includes reducing livestock emissions, alternate wetting and drying of rice crops, agroforestry, soil carbon sequestration and a number of other integrated approaches and practices.

Climate-Smart Agriculture and the World Bank Group

The World Bank Group promotes CSA by helping farmers manage their livestock more efficiently, aiding countries as they restore landscapes, and supporting agroforestry projects. It also backs research programs such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research, which develops drought-and-flood resistance food crops, early warning systems, risk insurance and other innovations that promote resilience to climate change.

Working Towards Food and Nutrition Security

The Bank’s support of CSA is making a difference:

  • In Ethiopia, the Humbo Assisted Natural Regeneration Project has helped restore 2,700 hectares of biodiverse native forest, which has boosted production of income-generating wood and tree products such as honey and fruit.
  • In Niger, farming systems now include trees that capture nitrogen.
  • In Vietnam, alternate wetting and drying techniques have intensified production, resulting in increased yields and dramatic reductions in the amount of seed (70%) and water (-33%) required, as well as the amount of nitrogen fertilizer used (-25%).
  • African farmers who have adopted evergreen agriculture are reaping impressive results without the use of costly fertilizers. Crop yields often increase by 30 percent and sometimes more. In Zambia, for example, maize yields tripled when grown under Faidherbia trees.
  • In China, a major reforestation program to protect watersheds and control erosion has returned the devastated Loess Plateau to sustainable agricultural production, improving the lives of 2.5 million people and securing food supplies in an area where food was sometimes scarce. An estimated 20 million more people in China have benefited from the replication of this approach in other areas.
  • In Rwanda, a hillside erosion project is having dramatic results. Through terracing, improved soil cultivation, better water run-off management, and irrigation systems, farmers reported an immediate increase in yields and income.