In Cambodia, a country dependent on seasonal rainfall, the use of good agricultural practices and improved seed varieties are allowing farmers to thrive in all climatic conditions. Rice productivity has increased by 40 percent since farmers began incorporating these mitigative practices. Photo by: Fintrac

No one wants to live a life filled with regrets. Why not take the same approach to agricultural development, particularly when it comes to climate change adaptation and mitigation?

You don’t have to be a climate change expert to know that temperature increases, precipitation changes, and extreme weather events are a real and growing threat. The farmers we work with in Africa, Asia and the Americas are experiencing it now: longer and more intense rains in Tanzania, increased flooding in Cambodia and higher temperatures in Central America, contributing to the devastating outbreak of coffee leaf rust. We may not be able to predict exactly which specific geographic areas or crops will be hit the worst by climate change over the next few decades, but we do know that smallholder farmers in developing nations will likely suffer the most.

This is precisely why it is imperative to take a “no regrets” approach to climate change when working with smallholders. This approach promotes adaptation and mitigation measures that have positive returns on productivity, profitability, environment, biodiversity, risk reduction and future adaptability. This is nothing new, but now is the time to actively pursue it, or we will have much bigger regrets later down the line.

The underlying principle here is that good agricultural practices, income, and climate adaptation and mitigation are all inextricably linked. Development practitioners must not only embrace this principle, but take concrete steps to put it into practice or global food security will continue to be threatened. There are five key interventions that matter most.

First, promote good agricultural practices to increase incomes. Farmers will only adopt new practices if they see a profit incentive. Practices, such as crop rotation and drip irrigation, raise yields, decrease production costs and increase gross margins. They also have adaptive properties that allow farmers to reduce losses from extreme weather events and mitigative qualities that lower greenhouse gas emissions. Environmental activities that are market-led and profit-driven have the best sustainability rates.

Second, implement adaptation methods that reduce loss risk from extreme weather events. Adoption of basic agronomic techniques can reduce losses from droughts, floods and other extreme weather events. For drought conditions, these include more efficient irrigation methods that conserve water and mulching and contouring to retain and increase soil moisture. For floods and heavy flash rains, mitigation measures include raised beds or contouring to divert heavy flows from plants and reduce erosion.

Third, incorporate a whole-farm integrated crop management approach. It is crucial to prioritize risk reduction through diversification of both crops and buyers and markets. Fintrac trains government extension workers, NGOs, farmer associations and private companies to promote technologies and practices that benefit a wide range of crops, providing farmers the flexibility necessary to meet changing market demands and agroclimatic conditions.

Fourth, support research, development and adoption of new varieties. We need demonstration trials to promote faster-maturing varieties that are more tolerant of drought, heat, pest, virus, disease and saline. At Fintrac, we prioritize local propagation of improved planting material, like banana tissue culture seedlings in Zimbabwe, and promote farmer adoption of new varieties through demonstration plots.

Fifth, expand capacity in remote weather stations, disease modeling and index insurance systems. The affordability, remote applicability and accessibility of weather stations for agriculture have improved remarkably in recent years. The technology can be used for improved pest and disease forecasting and control, risk-reducing financial instruments and higher-precision climate change modeling.

As someone who has been passionate about agricultural development for more than 25 years, I have seen the “no regrets” approach work in countries around the world, from Cambodia to Honduras to Tanzania. For example, in Cambodia, a country whose agriculture productivity hinges on seasonal rains, the use of good agriculture practices and improved seed varieties has led to remarkable results. Horticulture yields have nearly tripled while rice productivity has increased around 40 percent. Climate change mitigation techniques have enabled farmers to survive, and even thrive, during devastating floods and extended droughts, while short-duration and drought-tolerant seed varieties have allowed for crop plantings in traditionally dormant dry seasons.

Live life with no regrets and practice a “no regrets” approach to climate mitigation — smallholders around the world, and the future of global food security, depend on it.

Want to learn more? Check out Feeding Development's campaign site and tweet us using #FeedingDev.

Feeding Development is an online conversation hosted by Devex in partnership with ACDI/VOCA, Chemonics, Fintrac, GAIN, Nestlé and Tetra Tech to reimagine solutions for a food-secure future from seed and soil to a healthy meal.

The views in this opinion piece do not necessarily reflect Devex's editorial views.

About the author

  • Tom Klotzbach

    Tom Klotzbach is a primary contributor to Fintrac’s methodological field approach and has designed numerous multi-year agricultural development programs worldwide. He is the recent author of a white paper on reducing smallholder vulnerabilities to climate change, and original architect of the Fintrac M&E system, which is cited by donors as a model for measuring the impact of new technologies on food security and smallholder income generation.