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What Does “Climate-Smart Agriculture” Really Mean? New Tool Breaks It Down

The base for a water catchment tank. Faced with severe droughts, many farmers in the Caribbean have found it necessary to set up catchment areas to harvest water whenever it rains. Credit: CDB

PORT OF SPAIN, Trinidad, Aug 14 2017 (IPS) - A Trinidadian scientist has developed a mechanism for determining the degree of climate-smart agriculture (CSA) compliance with respect to projects, processes and products.

This comes as global attention is drawn to climate-smart agriculture as one of the approaches to mitigate or adapt to climate change.

“It can be used as a preliminary filter to sort through the number of ‘green-washing’ projects that may get funded under the rubric of climate-smart agriculture...all in a bid to access the millions of dollars that should go to help small and genuinely progressive farmers." --Steve Maximay

Steve Maximay says his Climate-Smart Agriculture Compliant (C-SAC) tool provides a certification and auditing scheme that can be used to compare projects, processes and products to justify the applicability and quantum of climate change funding.

“C-SAC provides a step-by-step, checklist style guide that a trained person can use to determine how closely the project or process under review satisfies the five areas of compliance,” Maximay told IPS.

“This method literally forces the examiner to consider key aspects or goals of climate-smart agriculture. These aspects (categories) are resource conservation; energy use; safety; biodiversity support; and greenhouse gas reduction.”

He said each category is further subdivided, so resource conservation includes the use of land, water, nutrients and labour. Energy use includes its use in power, lighting, input manufacture and transportation. Safety revolves around production operations, harvesting, storage and utilization.

Biodiversity support examines land clearing, off-site agrochemical impact, limited introduction of invasive species, and ecosystem services impact. Greenhouse gas reduction involves enteric fermentation (gas produced in the stomach of cattle and other animals that chew their cud), soil management, fossil fuel reduction and manure/waste management.

“These subdivisions (four each in the five categories) are the basis of the 20 questions that comprise the C-SAC tool,” Maximay explained.

“The manual provides a means of scoring each aspect on a five-point scale. If the cumulative score for the project is less than 40 it is deemed non-compliant and not a truly climate smart agriculture activity. C-SAC further grades in terms of degree of compliance wherein a score of 40-49 points is level 1, (50-59) level 2, (60 -69) level 3, (70-79) level 4, and (80-100) being the highest degree of compliance at level 5.

“It is structured with due cognizance of concerns about how the global climate change funds will be disbursed,” he added.

The United Nations (UN) Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) describes climate-smart agriculture as agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces or removes greenhouse gases (mitigation) where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals.

The climate-smart agriculture concept reflects an ambition to improve the integration of agriculture development and climate responsiveness. It aims to achieve food security and broader development goals under a changing climate and increasing food demand.

CSA initiatives sustainably increase productivity, enhance resilience, and reduce/remove greenhouse gases, and require planning to address tradeoffs and synergies between these three pillars: productivity, adaptation, and mitigation.

While the concept is still evolving, many of the practices that make up CSA already exist worldwide and are used by farmers to cope with various production risks.

Mainstreaming CSA requires critical stocktaking of ongoing and promising practices for the future, and of institutional and financial enablers for CSA adoption.

Maximay said C-SAC is meant to be a prioritizing tool with a holistic interpretation of the perceived benefits of climate-smart agriculture.

“It can be used as a preliminary filter to sort through the number of ‘green-washing’ projects that may get funded under the rubric of climate-smart agriculture…all in a bid to access the millions of dollars that should go to help small and genuinely progressive farmers,” he said.

“C-SAC will provide bankers and project managers with an easy to use tool to ensure funded projects really comply with a broad interpretation of climate smart agriculture.”

Maximay said C-SAC incorporates major categories of compliance and provides a replicable analysis matrix using scalar approaches to convert qualitative assessments into a numeric compliance scale.

“The rapid qualitative analysis at the core of C-SAC depends on interrelated science-based guidelines honed from peer reviewed, field-tested practices and operations,” Maximay explained.

“Climate-smart agriculture often amalgamates activities geared towards adaptation and mitigation. The proliferation of projects claiming to fit the climate smart agriculture designation has highlighted the need for an auditing and certification scheme. One adaptation or mitigation feature may not be enough to qualify an agricultural operation as being climate-smart. Consequently, a more holistic perspective can lead to a determination of the level of compliance with respect to climate-smart agriculture.

“C-SAC provides that holistic perspective based on a structured qualitative assessment of key components,” Maximay added.

The scientist notes that in the midst of increased opportunities for the use of global climate funds, it behooves policymakers and financiers to ensure projects are not crafted in a unidimensional manner.

He added that small farmers in Small Island Developing States are particularly vulnerable and their needs must be met by projects that are holistic in design and implementation.

Over the years, agriculture organisations in the Caribbean have been providing funding to set up climate-smart farms as demonstrations to show farmers examples of ecological practices that they can use to combat many of the conditions that arise due to the heavy rainfall and drought conditions experienced in the region.

Maximay was among the first agricultural scientists addressing climate change concerns during the Caribbean Planning for Adaptation to Climate Change (CPACC).

A plant pathologist by training, he has been a secondary school teacher, development banker, researcher, World Bank-certified training manager, university lecturer, Caribbean Development Bank consultant and entrepreneur.

Maximay managed the first Business Development Office in a Science Faculty within the University of the West Indies. With more than thirty years’ experience in the agricultural, education, health, financial and environmental sectors, he has also worked on development projects for major regional and international agencies.

 
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