As UK newspapers printed NASA images of the Greenland ice sheet disappearing in four days in July, the struggle to combat climate change seems ever more desperate. With this stark image of how the future may look, research programmes such as Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) are using visions of the future to develop adaptive strategies in agriculture, harnessing the potential for food security and sustainability in some of the world’s most vulnerable communities.
An initiative of the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) and the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP), and led by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), CCAFS works closely with rural communities in 36 benchmark sites established across East Africa, West Africa and South Asia. Encouraging a “bottom up” method of research, CCAFS works with farmers implementing the best use of tools and crop management and promoting smallholder involvement in the carbon market. CCAFS’ work centres around four themes:
- Adaptation to progressive climate change
- Adaptation through managing climate risk
- Pro-poor climate change mitigation
- Integration for decision making
Still in its initial phase, the ten-year programme aims to provide a comprehensive bank of evidence, knowledge and tools for the development of climate-smart agriculture. CCAFS is gathering data, across its benchmark sites, on farming methods, income, diet and existing risk management strategies, emphasising the significance of socio-economic and gender issues in the context of climate change in agriculture and food security.
During 2012 CCAFS has been working with regional stakeholders in East Africa to engage non-state actors in developing pathways for achieving a food secure and sustainable future. In a strategic planning workshop in Nairobi in June, participants were asked to envisage a dream future. From the emergent visions, including “A Rift Silicon Valley” and an East Africa Federation headed by a woman, the participants were asked to plan backwards to the present, helping identify obstacles and develop realistic methods of reaching these alternate futures.
The information gathered in these workshops will be incorporated into discussions with policy makers and researchers, highlighting the strategic positions of non-state actors and their roles in improving a future governed by climate change.
Another vision of the future has been developed by CIAT. A web based programme, Climate Analogues was launched to identify sites with similarities in climate across time and space. This tool enables CCAFS to undertake case studies, working with farmers in different regions to develop strategies for adaptation and realistic pro-poor mitigation.
For example, certain regions in East Africa and the Indo-Gangetic Plains were identified in 2011 as having the same climate today as that predicted for Lawra-Jirapa in Ghana in 2030. Looking at the analogue sites researchers were able to establish that Yams, not grown in East Africa, were unlikely to be successful on the Ghanaian farms of 2030 and begin to develop alternative crop production with local farmers. More recently the Farms of the Future project has arranged “farmer exchanges” allowing farmers from Beora in the Rupandehi District to visit their future climate in western Nepal.
As well as working closely with communities in the field, CCAFS is committed to raising the profile of climate-smart agriculture in global discussions.
Over the last two years CCAFS has:
- Co-ordinated the Commission on Sustainable Agriculture and Climate Change and co-convened discussions of their findings
- Held a science meeting on climate-smart agriculture in Wageningen, the Netherlands.
- Become co-developers and hosts of the Agriculture and Rural Development Day (ARDD), most recently alongside Rio+20 in Brazil.
- Launched Learning Platforms in East Africa and South Asia to prioritise, generate and disseminate knowledge on climate smart farming
By developing two inclusive visions of the future; one of equality and prosperity in the developing world and one where climate change is a living reality; and incorporating them into international discussions, CCAFS is building awareness, globally and locally, of the importance of effective climate risk management and adaptation.
Running workshops, projects like Farms of the Future and developing analogue tools, CCAFS is helping to move global attention away from the challenges presented by a climate-changed world towards a vision of the opportunities offered by a climate-smart one.