Due to the increasingly negative effects of climate change on food security, the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has pledged to improve “the way we manage agricultural systems and natural resources” with Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA). Presented at the Hague Conference on Agriculture, Food Security and Climate Change in 2010, CSA seeks to achieve food security under the threat of climate change by developing sustainable agriculture systems. In order to do this, FAO asserts the necessity not only of upgrading agricultural methods and technologies, but “building resilience of rural communities to shocks and strengthening their adaptive capacity to cope with increased variability and slow onset changes.”
In a recent report, FAO visited ten sites where CSA programs are alive and thriving. Spread out across the globe, these projects bring together FAO teams and local communities to help alleviate strain on land and develop more sustainable farming methods. From the large to the very small scale, each project is helping reshape the global approach to agriculture. In Kenya and Tanzania, the FAO Mitigation of Climate Change in Agriculture (MICCA) Programme brings together smallholder farmers and consultants to assess agricultural practices and their possible impacts. After a series of consultations, the farmers identity which practices may be in need of adaptation, and which climate-smart methods may be integrated into their farms. Currently, 2,500 farmers in Tanzania and Kenya have been trained in relevant CSA practices. These pilot projects are an example of FAO’s on-the-ground, individualized work to bolster sustainable agriculture.
Additionally, there are several large-scale CSA projects in process. In particular, FAO has helped revitalize the Kihamba agroforestry system located on the southern slopes of Mount Kilimanjaro. The 800-year-old Kihamba system is structured similarly to a tropical forest, where its multilayered vegetation maximizes available land and produces a large variety of foods. In the 1990s, the profitability of Kihamba’s cash crop coffee plummeted and many coffee cultivations were abandoned, threatening the food security and environmental livelihood of the entire region. Now, FAO’s Globally Important Agricultural Heritage Systems Initiative (GIAHS) is working with local farmers and communities to get the system back on its feet. As a result of this collaboration, coffee farming in the region has been transitioned to organic, vanilla introduced as a cash crop for the socio-economic stability of the community, and trout aquaculture has begun along the irrigation system. In addition, farmers and local authorities are undergoing training in sustainable agriculture and are updating the irrigation system to operate more efficiently. The farm cash income has now been projected to increase by 25 percent in the next three years from the switch to organic coffee alone. The project concluded with the organization of an open and independent process of decision-making wherein local government officials, community elders, and group representatives may discuss the development and maintenance of any further climate-smart agricultural adaptations.
FAO conducts a variety of similar climate-smart projects in China, the Andes, Malawi, Vietnam, Zambia, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Indian, and East Asia. At each site, FAO emphasizes the importance of sustainability training and education, as well as the creation or bolstering of strong community-based discussion procedures to help regulate new farming practices. These success stories are a testament to what is achievable for sustainable agriculture through innovative thinking and collaboration.