Visions of a sustainable food future

Ana María Loboguerrero, Latin America Regional Program leader, CCAFS


“Climate-smart agriculture requires a carefully tailored package of interventions, developed in unison with farmers”

Making climate-smart agriculture the normE_SDG_Icons-13

It might have taken years, but agriculture is firmly on the global climate change agenda. The next step is to make change happen on the ground too. I think that in the coming years we’re going to see the rapid expansion of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) into regions we never thought possible.

From Africa and Asia, to the work I’ve been involved in Latin America, we’ve already seen how climate-smart villages (CSV) can reduce emissions from farming and help farmers adapt to extreme weather, while also sustainably increasing production of crops and livestock. The results have been outstanding; we’ve seen farmers not just adapt to climate change, but thrive under it.

CSA requires a carefully tailored package of interventions, developed in unison with farmers. These include rainwater harvesting – so that they can grow crops all year round – even during the dry season. Farmers in our CSVs in Colombia are becoming scientists themselves: they’re taking part in trials to breed bean varieties that are more resistant to water stresses. They’re also monitoring the climate, through a local network of weather stations, helping them take the right decisions about what and when to plant. They’re also producing their own organic fertilizers using crop residues, reducing greenhouse gas emissions by a factor of ten.

But despite these bright spots, agriculture still lags behind the progress being made in other sectors in responding to the climate change challenge. For example, the explosion in clean energy has resulted in new ways of generating electricity to the point where green energy now can compete with fossil fuels. In transport, hybrid and electric cars are now a reality. This is happening because investors saw that the long-term payoffs were huge. They plowed money into research and development (R&D); they saw the challenge as an opportunity.

So why does agriculture only receive a tenth of the R&D funding enjoyed by the energy and transport sectors? After all, it contributes a quarter of global greenhouse gas emissions and is one of the sectors most exposed to extreme weather. The bottom line is that we all need to eat; surely there can be no bigger payoff.

But agriculture is different; it requires more than a technological fix. It’s a way of life. In many parts of the world it’s associated with poverty rather than profit. And while over two-thirds of the cars we drive come from 10 major carmakers, the food we eat comes from hundreds of millions of small-scale producers, and hundreds of thousands of larger ones. It means large-scale transformation is more elusive – and therefore less appealing to investors.

But I think we’re on the cusp of a major transformation. In the coming years, we’ll see a big shift in the ways we produce, distribute, and access our food, towards ones that are much more climate smart, profitable, and sustainable. The huge opportunities will drive innovation and investment. We’ll see the rapid rise of things such as crop insurance, which – almost overnight – has created a multi-billion dollar-industry in India, and the use of communication technologies to make seasonal forecasts more accessible – these have already reached more than 7 million rural people in Senegal. We’ll also see more impact investors, such as Root Capital, partnering with research centers to promote and scale-up CSA in Latin America and Africa. This is just the beginning. As the interests of research organizations, the private sector, farmers, and consumers begin to align, I believe we’ll see big, positive disruptions to our food systems, with climate-smart agriculture becoming the norm, rather than the exception.

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