A forthcoming paper describes the experience of CCAFS* and its partners to establish climate-smart villages across five regions around the globe. We spoke with Ana Maria Loboguerrero Rodriguez, CCAFS Regional Program Leader for Latin America and one of the paper’s authors, who explains what climate-smart villages are, and what makes them a unique model for improving the lives of smallholder farmers.
What exactly is a climate-smart village?
A climate-smart village is a community or a collection of communities that brings together interested groups from various sectors, including members of the community themselves, the public sector, agricultural research institutes, and non-governmental organizations, to understand how and what makes climate-smart agriculture work. The purpose is to spread the adoption of climate-smart practices. When we talk about climate-smart agriculture, we’re talking about three objectives: to sustainably increase food production, and that covers improving nutrition; to enable farmers to adapt to climate change; and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
Practices vary from one village to another. Families in one climate-smart village may decide to plant crop varieties that are resilient to drought and resistant to pests, while households in another may opt to produce and use organic fertilizers on their farms in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions. The idea is that they decide what works best for them.
We don’t see these climate-smart practices and approaches as existing in a vacuum. We know there are socio-economic, cultural, and political factors that affect their massive, widespread adoption. As such, we are working with local communities to understand under which conditions climate-smart agriculture works, hoping that this process will help us scale it up so that it can benefit many more farmers. Also, we are using these data to talk with policymakers, investment banks, and the private sector to directly support these communities.
We also view climate-smart villages as an early warning system for what we call “maladaptation.” This can mean the adoption of practices that in the short run may be beneficial to the environment and society but actually make communities more susceptible to climate change. So what we do is use several modeling techniques to gauge how each climate-smart practice may fare in future climates.
How do you set up a climate-smart village?
The process involves interacting with locals because they — not CIAT, not CCAFS — will drive the changes they want to see in their communities.
We also conducted surveys to try to understand the situation in these communities. In Cauca, what’s really interesting was that the locals, particularly the youth, were the ones that carried out the surveys. They got so excited about doing them, and also about developing a map of the village, as it allowed them to better understand the territory where they reside.
Together with the locals, we also carried out a vulnerability analysis, where families assessed why the changing climate affects them, identified which climate-smart practices they could use for their farms, and outlined the roles of family members in implementing the practices.
For Cauca, we came up with 14 different options for adaptation. Then farmers decided which actions they wanted to implement. One such action was water harvesting. Due to climate change, the village has been suffering from longer periods with no access to water for use on their farms. And so they decided to put channels on their roofs to harvest rainwater, which is then stored in large tanks. Using this water, they were able to cultivate vegetables both at home and in daycare centers, where children would see and take care of the lettuce, carrots, and celery. That meant people in the village no longer needed to go to the city of Popayan to buy their vegetables. But also, mothers from the village have told us that previously, their children didn’t eat vegetables at all, but when they’d see vegetables from the gardens on their plate, they would be happy to eat them.
We’ve also found that members of nearby communities that were not initially part of the initiative are now coming to us and saying they want to take part. And of course, we welcome them!
What kind of evidence are you gathering from climate-smart villages?
We are evaluating the effectiveness of climate-smart agriculture practices, as well as the barriers to and advantages of adopting these practices.
We recently finished a study comparing the costs and benefits of implementing different portfolios of climate-smart agriculture practices, as well as an analysis on marketing vegetables produced by the Cauca climate-smart village. We are now doing a survey to understand behavior of women and children, particularly how they participate, in implementing these practices. We are also trying to establish how the actions from the village’s adaptation plan are reducing greenhouse gas emissions. And we need to get the results of this research out to people, particularly those that can drive investments into climate-smart agriculture.
What’s the potential for scaling up climate-smart agriculture practices?
When you actually see that something works, you use it. And that’s what we do. We generate evidence that shows when, where, and how climate-smart agriculture practices work. Therefore, the potential is huge.
It’s actually now happening in India, where we’ve been working closely with the National Agricultural Research Systems, local universities, NGOs, and farmers’ groups. The government is putting a lot of money to develop many more climate-smart villages in the country. Specifically in Bihar, it wants to see climate-smart villages in all of the state’s 38 districts. All in all, the plan is to establish an additional 2,000-plus villages in India and Nepal.
How are climate-smart villages different from Millennium Villages?
They’re very different. Climate-smart villages, first and foremost, are active research areas, with the goal of scaling up adoption of climate-smart agricultural practices. Secondly, our financial outlay is minimal. Third, residents of climate-smart villages are the ones leading the process, to help them achieve the future they want — where they are resilient to climate change and agriculture is productive and profitable. The best thing is that they have continued to implement the practices even after we left.
We hope that with the evidence we generate from climate-smart villages, we can direct public and private sector investments toward the agricultural community and help improve the lives of millions of farmers.
Watch this space for the paper on the climate-smart village approach and strategy to scale it up.
*CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security