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How Climate Smart Agriculture Can Help Us Tackle Global Food Insecurity

How Climate Smart Agriculture Can Help Us Tackle Global Food Insecurity

Climate change is one of humanity’s biggest challenges today, and agriculture is both a victim and a contributor to this global crisis. With changing weather patterns, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures impacting crop yields and livestock production, farmers are among the most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. However, with the right tools and practices, however, agriculture can also play a key role in mitigating its impacts. Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is a practice that aims to address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change. It can help farmers worldwide to prepare for the future by increasing productivity, enhancing resilience, and reducing emissions. In this article, we showcase some real-life examples of CSA in action.

As I write this piece, the United Kingdom is facing a vegetable and fruit shortage. Onions, the second-largest consumed vegetable worldwide, are facing a massive shortage, triggering another global food crisis; carrots, tomatoes, and potatoes all face a similar fate. 

All these trends trace back to one common problem: Climate change. 

When temperatures fall or exceed the crop’s optimal ranges, yields drop because heat stress or frost can disrupt a plant’s pollination, flowering, root development, and phenological growth stages. The extreme weather events affecting various parts of the world will create more challenges for the agri-food value chain and contribute further to the looming global food crisis. 

Agriculture is both a victim and a contributor to climate change. On the one hand, the sector is one of the most vulnerable to the increasing pace of climate change, with changing weather patterns, extreme weather events, and rising temperatures directly impacting crop yields and livestock production. On the other hand, agriculture is responsible for a significant share of greenhouse gas emissions, which contributes to the problem. 

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According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), the global food system is responsible for over one-third of global greenhouse gas emissions. This means the agricultural sector has a unique relationship with the environment, requiring urgent attention and action. UN Deputy Secretary-General Amina Mohammed recently warned that the world is facing an unprecedented hunger crisis, reversing decades of progress in international food security. Access to nutritious food is non-negotiable and economies must work together to balance food security and environmental sustainability

This is where Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) comes in as a saviour and offers solutions to many unaddressed global challenges. 

CSA is an integrated approach to managing landscapes, including crops, livestock, forests, and fisheries, which addresses the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change. It aims to achieve several important goals simultaneously, such as increased productivity in agriculture, enhanced resilience to weather events, carbon sequestration, and reduced emissions. Enabled by technology, digitisation, and data, CSA provides a comprehensive, environment-friendly approach to farming.

Empowering global farmers to be aware of environmental concerns and their impact on farming is crucial to the success of CSA. Farmers need to understand the risks and opportunities of climate change and the actions they can take to adapt and mitigate its impacts. This requires access to information, training, and tools that enable them to make informed decisions about their farming practices. 

Remember, out of the 600 million global farms, a majority are smallholder farmers from Asia, Africa, and South America. Any attempt to drive sustainability and climate resilience in the global food system without covering this whopping population will be meaningless. The journey will not be easy, and we must prepare for a mass movement. 

A classic example in this direction is the effort by Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). The continent is a goldmine for agriculture, yet it struggles to feed its citizens. The farming sector employs more than 50% of its population and is a key contributor to the region’s GDP. In order to build highly productive agricultural systems and make farmers adaptable to climate change, AGRA partnered with Cropin, a global agritech pioneer

The project, which focuses on climate adaptation and climate resilience in agriculture, aims to positively impact the lives of a few million smallholder farmers across Ghana, Nigeria, Burkina Faso, Mali, Tanzania, and Mozambique. As part of the initiative, farmers were trained to use digital solutions and were offered farmer advisory services, capacity building and training, and knowledge management. They were supported with the Package of Practice (PoP), best suited for a specific crop and region. 

While we cannot control natural disasters overnight, it is certainly possible to prepare our farmers, governments, and agribusinesses to address them in a better way. 

Traditional agricultural methods fail as unpredictable weather and atmospheric conditions disrupt water availability, crop growth, agriculture productivity, and yield, as well as farmer income. To tackle these challenges, a host of globally proven CSA packages of practices are readily available in the market. For example, precision agriculture technologies supported by sensors, satellite monitoring, drones, and artificial intelligence (AI) applications, can help farmers optimise their water use, fertilisers, and pesticides, reducing inputs and greenhouse gas emissions. 

Soil conditions, water resource availability, and weather conditions are constantly monitored, helping farmers to choose climate-resilient crops during extreme weather conditions. Regenerative and conservation-oriented agricultural practices, such as minimum tillage, crop rotation, and cover cropping, can improve soil health, increase carbon sequestration, and reduce erosion. CSA applications help farmers select the right crops and seeds as well as the right time for sowing and harvesting and support them in the adoption of the best farming practices suited for their region. 

Using real-time data from satellite imagery and in-field devices, smart farming solutions help farmers identify over-or under-irrigated areas and take adequate measures to manage optimal irrigation schedules, resulting in higher yield and quality while reducing costs.

The CSA project envisioned by the World Bank in association with the Government of India tells the story of the grassroots-level transformation of smallholder farmers. This project was implemented in India in 244 villages, digitising more than 30,000 farm plots and covering 77 crop varieties across different climate zones. As a result, 92% of farmers could demonstrate climate-resilient agricultural practices, resulting in over a 30% average increase in yield and productivity, with a nearly 37% increase in farm revenue. 

The world does not have a choice but to adopt CSA at scale. We can’t let the food crisis deteriorate further, as the consequences would be catastrophic. There needs to be a mass movement led by governments and supported by international organisations and private enterprises. Agriculture is probably the only sector that can be a net-zero carbon emission or a carbon offsetting sector. Our collective responsibility is to support and enable that to happen, and the time to act is now.

Food security should not be an afterthought; we are talking about the survival of the human race.

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About the Author

Praveen Pankajakshan

Praveen Pankajakshan is the Vice President, Data Science & AI at Cropin, an Agtech pioneer that has developed Cropin Cloud, the world's first industry cloud for agriculture. He has more than 20 years of experience in the areas of signal and image processing, pattern recognition, and machine learning in a variety of domains including agriculture, energy, power and utilities, life sciences, and healthcare.

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