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By Charlie Pye-Smith
There are dozens of different activities that could help farmers adapt to climate change, or reduce their emissions, while ensuring their future food security. Little wonder, then, that farmers are sometimes bewildered by the advice they receive.
In South Asia, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has come up with a concept that should make the prospect of adopting “climate-smart” practices less daunting. This is being done under the banner of “climate-smart villages”.
The process begins with meetings at which the farmers discuss the sort of measures they might want to take. “We then offer them a portfolio of different projects and strategies for tackling current climatic variability,” explains Pramod Aggarwal, CCAFS Regional Program Leader for South Asia. “We talk them through all the costs and benefits of different activities, then it’s up to them to identify the ones that interest them.”
In 2011, CCAFS and its local partners established strong relationships with six villages in the Indian states of Punjab and Bihar, and began discussions in three villages in Nepal. Work in Khulna District, on the southern coast of Bangladesh, was scheduled to begin in 2012.
The approach is always the same. A steering group, led by CCAFS and its partners, identifies a list of options that could be tested in the village. A farmers’ group, including village officials, is then introduced to the concept of “climate-smart” villages and the portfolio of activities on offer.
After a series of discussions, the group decides which steps they favour and enters into an agreement with CCAFS and its partners. This stipulates that the farmers will keep a detailed diary of all the activities, thus providing CCAFS researchers and their colleagues with a rich source of data. This will enable them to assess the relative merits of different climate-smart practices.
In the end, says Aggarwal, it’s all about identifying activities that enable farmers to address current climatic variability and make a decent living at the same time. “They are interested in everything that will help them to increase their profits,” he says.
Among the activities being promoted are practices such as agroforestry, conservation farming and better manure management - which not only store carbon but enhance food production and income, therefore boosting resilience.
Farmers are being encouraged to improve their nutrient management, for example through the use of leaf colour charts. In some villages, farmers are particularly keen to improve water management through better irrigation and by setting up rainwater harvesting schemes.
The project is also encouraging the use of information and communication technologies, such as mobile phones, and rainfall and temperature insurance. Mobile phones can be used to receive accurate weather forecasts, as well as information about climate-smart practices and markets.
In addition to work in South Asia, CCAFS has launched several climate-related projects at its benchmark sites, working in partnership with a wide range of organisations. In Kenya’s Lower Nyando Basin, for example, projects involved research on the evaluation of drought-tolerant sorghum; a breeding programme to improve the adaptation of local sheep and goats; and an agroforestry scheme to help farmers take advantage of the carbon market.
All, in one way or another, are designed to help farmers increase their incomes, adapt to climate change and variability and, in the case of the agroforestry scheme, reduce their carbon footprint.
More sustainable agriculture innovations and successes will be showcased at the Rio+20 sustainable development conference, as part of the 4th Agriculture and Rural Development Day on June 18.
Charlie Pye-Smith is a science writer for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). CCAFS is co-organising Agriculture and Rural Development Day on June 18, 2012, ahead of the Rio+20 summit.