CIAT joined an interesting panel discussion on the position of the German Ministry for Cooperation on climate-smart agriculture (CSA). We pointed out that CSA does not mean to ignore alternative development objectives but represents a shift in development priorities. We suggested that a large actor with diverse partners should not restrict supported adaptation options. Adaptation is site and actor specific so that broad portfolios should be considered.

On most occasions when CIAT is invited to present its work on climate change outside of the research community, the interest comes from a search for adaptation solutions. The audience asks very concrete questions, such as whether more or fewer shade trees need to be planted. Across tropical countries and stakeholders, climate change impacts and the need for action are largely undisputed. At the heart of our work lies the concept of climate-smart agriculture:


We search for efficient mitigation options


Identify site-specific adaptation strategies


Accept farmers’ need for higher income

The case against adaptation usually lies in the vested interests of one or several stakeholders: for example, profitable forestry exploitation, wasteful application of fertilizers because of ill-designed incentives, and expanding investments in regions that are of declining climatic suitability.

It was an interesting exception to be part of a panel discussion that was necessary because the concept of climate-smart agriculture itself had been challenged because of vested interests. Although the concept is widely accepted internationally, leading civil society NGOs in Germany published a harsh rejection (in German). Their core criticism is that the concept draws attention away from competing objectives such as human rights protection, environmental protection, and so forth. Alternatively, they present their own concept of smallholder-inclusive organic agriculture as the superior solution. For environmental NGOs, the fact that fertilizer use and GMOs can be termed climate smart if per unit greenhouse gas emissions are reduced raises a red flag. Lastly, the embracing of the CSA concept by the agricultural industry is cited to exemplify the inability of the concept to support the empowerment of producers.

What other discussions have we had about CSA?

Read the “CIAT directly engages with the European Cocoa Industry” blog.

The German Ministry for Cooperation (BMZ) therefore sought the dialogue and, together with the GIZ, organized a panel discussion with civil society representatives to present their draft position paper on CSA. CIAT’s Christian Bunn represented the view of science to mediate among other panelists: for example, civil society representatives who embrace or reject the concept, a representative of the Tanzanian Ministry of Agriculture, and a representative of the German Ministry for Cooperation.

However, what could have been a controversial discussion turned into a constructive dialogue about the need to confront climate change. Without exception, the panelists supported the need to take action for adaptation, independent of the name the concept carries. The draft position paper of the BMZ emphasizes repeatedly that merely technical measures will not be considered climate smart unless they are considered in their economic and societal context.

As CIAT’s Christian Bunn pointed out, CSA is not about reshaping the entire sector but about millions of individual solutions. It is about an adjustment of priorities.

Everyone along the agricultural supply chain, including science, needs to contribute little adjustments.

Everyone needs to question whether the way we conduct our daily affairs is still the optimal way in light of novel or transitioning climatic conditions.

In this respect, the NGOs also have to ask themselves whether the concept that was developed on their old priorities is still adequate to confront this increasingly pressing concern. Participants in the audience requested that the BMZ define a “white list” of supported climate-smart practices that ought to be reduced to agro-ecological farming. However, the panelists agreed that such a white list would be too narrow to provide the tailored solutions that are required. More acceptable would be a “black list” of practices that can’t be supported out of broader interests.

The author of this blog:

Christian Bunn

Christian Bunn

Postdoctoral Scientist-Linking Farmers To Markets

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