Sharifa Idd Mumbi inspects the harvest in her maize field. Representatives from the Netherlands and other countries are discussing a new initiative called the Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance in an informal meeting organized by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Photo by: Gates Foundation / CC BY-NC-ND

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization headquarters in Rome is a flurry of activity this week as the Committee on World Food Security gathers for its annual meeting.

But while delegates debate future agricultural investments inside the plenary hall, Devex has learned that in another wing of the complex, representatives from the Netherlands and other countries are discussing in an informal meeting a new initiative called the Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance.

The project, to be launched this December in South Africa, aims to support farmers in their day-to-day agricultural practices by sharing knowledge and ideas on environmentally friendly agriculture practices. Alliance partners would help to raise funds, channel available resources to the initiative and coordinate these resources better.

“[The] process should lead to an action plan of concrete measures,” Roald Lapperre, deputy director general for agro-food at the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, told Devex.

This week’s meetings in Rome are meant to identify priority sectors of intervention, but according to a U.N. source, it’s also important to see who will actually be on board.

The World Bank, Bill, Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation and FAO itself have shown interest, albeit not publicly. FAO member states would need to be consulted first, one source told Devex.

The Netherlands has the ambitious goal of becoming a catalyst of funds and knowledge on climate-smart practices, the source suggested. However, the investments needed to make an impact are substantial, and FAO member states have yet to reach a consensus on a strategy for mitigation and adaptation to climate change in food and agriculture.

New push for climate-smart solutions

Why such a big interest in climate-smart agriculture? According to FAO economist Leslie Lipper, CSA is not a new concept — but this initiative seems to want to push the idea to a whole new level.

“Climate change is changing the way in which we should approach agriculture development for food security,” Lipper told Devex, adding that CSA agriculture does not only mean introducing climate change adaptation and mitigation into a broad agriculture policy, but also figuring out how to implement these changes.

FAO’s current smart-climate efforts are being tested in three pilot projects funded by the EU and to be concluded next year in Malawi, Zambia and Vietnam.

The first step was to build an evidence base, looking for example at how changes in rainfall and temperatures affect agriculture practices and what the barriers are to the adoption of specific climate-smart practices. Next came policy dialogues to help governments create an environment supportive of reform. Finally, FAO is crafting investment plans and country-specific solutions to be financed by host governments and foreign partners.

Adopting a climate-smart approach to agriculture has a very country-specific effect on investment, Lipper suggested. It’s not about focusing on new areas like livestock, but at how to improve activities through, for instance, the efficient use of fertilizers, she added.

Expensive project

Until now, climate change finance has focused much more on mitigation than adaptation, Lipper argued. That is changing.

“There has been a shift recently to look more into financing [solutions] that have both adaptation and mitigation benefits,” she said, citing the restoration of degraded lands, the promotion of fertilizers and efforts to improve the water-holding capacity of lands as examples.

These solutions “can raise incomes in the long run,” Lipper said. But “one of the big tricks is that some of it can take time.”

Significant upfront financing is required, and projects should run for five to 10 years, Lipper suggested.

In the case of restoring and reintegrating land, for example, farmers aren’t able to use the land for long periods of time, and thus lose their livelihoods.

Credit is only a short-term solution and more long-term financial instruments are needed, Lipper stressed. CSA strategies also require investments in capacity building, sharing knowledge and increasing the flow of information.

The aid community — and nonprofits in particular — has an important role to play in that.

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About the author

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    Elena L. Pasquini

    Elena Pasquini covers the development work of the European Union as well as various U.N. food and agricultural agencies for Devex News. Based in Rome, she also reports on Italy's aid reforms and attends the European Development Days and other events across Europe. She has interviewed top international development officials, including European Commissioner for Development Andris Piebalgs. Elena has contributed to Italian and international magazines, newspapers and news portals since 1995.