OL 333 Assignment One Discussion
Climate Smart Agriculture


Good morning class and welcome back.

“Climate Smart Agriculture
Climate smart agriculture is an agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), and reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) while enhancing the achievement of national food security and development goals. This will be achieved by making agriculture resilient to climate change, by making soils and crops less vulnerable to droughts and heat waves–and by offsetting carbon by nurturing the organic matter in the soils of the world’s farms. This carbon offsetting can be accomplished through composting, mulching, recycling crop waste, planting farm trees and much else in the world’s poorest farms. These improved soils richer in organic matter would grow more crops help soils withstand droughts and floods, and capture carbon from the atmosphere.”

“Higher agricultural yields, more carbon sequestered in this soil, and greater resilience to droughts and heat is called the “triple win”: interventions that would increase yields (thereby reducing poverty and increasing food security), make yields more resilient in the face of extremes (adaptation), and make the farm a solution to the climate change problem rather than being part of the problem mitigation”. FAO, World Bank.

As you are enrolled in Climate Smart Agriculture, very likely the project that you’ve been developing over the past few courses has an agricultural component. You also very likely put together a series of activities that could be solutions for helping your farmers adapt to a changing climate. Climate change impacts water (too much and too little), soil erosion and degradation, food security, livelihoods and income generation.

Agriculture is the single largest employer in the world—it provides a livelihood for 40% of today’s global population. It is the largest source of income and jobs for poor rural households. 500 million smallholder farmers provide up to 80% of food in developing nations—yet also make up the largest share of undernourished people in the developing world. They farm and inhabit some of the most vulnerable and marginalized landscapes—such as hillsides, deserts, floodplains and wetlands.

By 2050 we will need to feed a world population of 9 billion people. With increases in the standard of living for many countries this means that we will need to increase food production by 70%. The challenges presented by climate change add another layer of complexity to reaching this goal. Further, today, close to 1 billion people go to bed hungry—so we need to begin feeding them too—now. Plus, how can we achieve this goal sustainably and not compromise the environment?

“Producing enough food without destroying the environment is the greatest challenge facing humanity in coming decades. To meet that challenge, agriculture and the environment can no longer afford to be on opposite sides of the fence. In Rio we will have to show that environment and agriculture are now best friends.” Dr. Frank Rijsberman, CEO, CGIAR.

Many of your projects related to a loss of household and agricultural water due to deforested watersheds. Other projects have focused on degraded soil in farm fields, erosion of topsoil and loss of surface water due to runoff on sloping land. Many of these problems are due to the fact that people have degraded the environmental resources which their families have exploited for generations and the degradation has reached a point where agricultural productivity is plummeting. How then, are we going to increase food production by 70% within degraded ecosystems—and not degrade them further?

In order to do this we need:
-A better understanding of the interconnections between smallholder farming and wider landscapes.
-More food to be produced using fewer resources and in a more effective and efficient way.
-The management of agriculture, forests, and water to function in a far more integrated fashion than is being done today.
-To integrate the planning of the use of land, agriculture, forests and water—and to manage competing land-use systems at a landscape level.

How do we translate planning at the landscape level into the daily lives of smallholder farmers? Huge opportunities exist to improve productivity and to improve livelihoods while maintaining ecosystems. A wide range of restoration options is currently available—but we need to scale out these options and encourage their adoption through community designed programs. Done properly this will result in a triple win: higher yields, more carbon in the soil, and greater resilience to drought and heat. This will increase resiliency, food security, nutrition, and income

This course will look at practical solutions for farmers to take that will begin the process of restoring degraded farmland. The class will look at water conservation and management at the level of a farm field. If you are interested in exploring the restoration of ecosystems such as watersheds you should consider taking OL 332—Water Conservation and Management. 332 looks at water management on a landscape level—such as restoring, conserving and managing larger scale watersheds. These two courses were designed to be taken in conjunction with each other because we believe that agriculture, forests and water must function in a far more integrated fashion than they currently do.

This course, 333—Climate Smart Agriculture—will look at restoring and better managing degraded agricultural systems. The course is focused on smallholder or subsistence farmers as opposed to commercial scale farms. Also, typically these farmers live in communities. So we can look at working with a community of farmers as opposed to working with one farmer at a time. By strengthening local production of groups of smallholders, you can expand their ability to increase income generation and improve their livelihoods by forming farmers associations so they can better access markets. As we have done in the rest of the courses we also want to prioritize working with marginalized food producers—especially women—so that they can be part of the process of marketing a wide diversity of nutritious crops.

Producing enough food without harming the environment is one of the greatest challenges that we will face between now and 2050. To meet that challenge, agriculture and the environment can no longer be treated separately—they need to be integrated. This is our goal to begin doing this in these two sister courses 332 and 333.

How will we do this?
This course isn’t going to present any silver bullets in solving farmer climate change challenges. What we are going to do is to present you with a fairly diverse palette of techniques for you to analyze in cooperation with your community and match the appropriate ones to your community’s contextual situation. Beginning with day one in the very first course—341—we encouraged you to engage the community in assessing challenges, choosing solutions, co-managing activities and being fully trained to take over the project when your NGO leaves.

We will start this course by determining what our community member’s vulnerabilities are, what hazards they face, what their capacity is to implement and maintain activities, analyze what existing techniques they are successfully using and what resources are locally available. In other words we need to determine what can they do, what local materials and techniques they have available for doing these activities, and what would they be motivated to continue to do after your NGOs subsidies and technical resources come to an end.

The first two assignments may be a repeat of other assignments you’ve done in other courses. If that’s the case—perfect! It will make your first assignment very easy to complete. However, your earlier findings may only represent three quarters of what we need to find out for this assignment—or maybe you didn’t do anything like this assignment in the earlier courses. In the early courses we were looking at challenges in a very general sense— now in this course we are going to get very specific about the descriptions of the challenges.

Getting Started
The first thing that we need to do is a participatory needs assessment which will evaluate the terrain of the farmlands, the condition of the soil, access to water, the types of crops grown, levels of productivity in relationship to the past—and also in relationship to livelihood income levels that farmers need to achieve now. We also need to look at traditional agricultural practices that your community uses—and determine if they have adopted any coping strategies to solve the challenges that they face.

We then need to look at resources that they have available for improving existing practices and exploring new ones. These resources could be in the form of capability (capacity), human capital, land, building materials, tools, labor, access to markets, organic materials, and grasses, hedges, and trees for planting in farm fields.

As your ideas develop for refinements in your project design you need to consider two things. One is to seek the advice of an expert in the chosen activities who is familiar with working in your region and with your community’s culture. This expert can help you determine what will work and what will not, what activities communities are likely to maintain over a span of time—and which they’re unlikely to maintain over span of time. They can also connect you to extension services.

Two, you need to regularly share your developing project design with the community members in an effort to make sure that you’re heading in a direction that they like, that they’re comfortable with, and that they will feel ownership in.

You also need to be thinking about the development of a Farmers Association if you haven’t already done that. This might not happen overnight, but it will simplify the training as the association might have a vested interest in encouraging all members to participate.

You may have already done this in a previous course—if so great—that will reduce your workload. On the other hand, you might have established a community project committee—if that’s the case then you can fairly simply be able to develop a farmer subcommittee without having to go through a lot of work.

The improvements that we make to agricultural practices should be planned and developed keeping an eye on farmer effort and costs such that they don’t outweigh the benefits—and lead to eventual abandonment after project subsidies terminate. If you’re able to build improved practices by building upon characteristics and objectives of traditional farming in the region, many resource constraint challenges can be anticipated and avoided.

Also your project design should encourage reliance on local materials for soil, water, and pest management—and on seed production and saving—in other words we want to reduce reliance on “giveaways” because your organizational giveaways will stop once you’re project is done.

When you’re clear about the community’s context, capacities and resources, you can begin proposing improved agricultural practices which will be meaningful for them. In the course we will examine things like conservation agriculture, mulching, building barriers to water flow on sloping fields, water conservation, changing cropping cycles and switching to early maturing and drought resistant crops.

Even though you will have maintained contact with your community, once you have come up with a draft plan of the whole agricultural component, it will be time to present it to the community for their feedback and comments. If the terrain of your community’s farm fields varies, then this will not be a one-size-fits-all process. You might need to let individual farmers pick which of the improved practices will be most appropriate for their individual farm fields. If the farm fields are relatively similar, that will simplify the training process—you might even be able to set up a demonstration plots to do the workshops on so that the farmers can see the process and watch the results.

I’m very much looking forward to doing this course with you. I suggest we get going—please move onto Assignment One Homework!