A growing population and changing diets are driving up the demand for food. Production is struggling to keep up as crop yields level off in many parts of the world, ocean health declines and natural resources—including soils, water or biodiversity—are stretched dangerously thin. Food stocks are already at threateningly low levels. 1 in 8 people suffers from chronic hunger and more than 1 billion people are undernourished. The food security challenge will only get more difficult, as the world will need to produce at least 50 percent more food by 2050 to feed 9 billion people.
The challenge is intensified by agriculture’s extreme vulnerability to climate change. Climate change’s negative impacts are already being felt, in the form of reduced yields and more frequent extreme weather events. Substantial investments in adaptation will be required to maintain current yields and achieve the increases that are needed. While there is significant 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—that aims to achieve three outcomes:
1. Increased 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. Enhanced 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. Reduced emissions: Pursue lower emissions for each calorie or kilo of food produced, avoid deforestation from agriculture and identify ways to suck carbon out of the atmosphere.
CSA promotes practices that enable progress on the three outcomes such as silvo-pastoralism in livestock, alternate wetting and drying of rice crops, agroforestry and conservation agriculture. CSA’s focus on outcomes allows it to embrace any policy, approach, technology, practice or product that can deliver progress across the three outcomes in any context.
Climate-Smart Agriculture and the World Bank Group
The World Bank Group works with countries to support farmers so that they can earn and produce more in the face of climate shocks and reduce harmful emissions from each kilo they produce. It also backs research programs such as the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR), 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.