Climate Smart Agriculture Makes Sense

Climate change refers to gradual shifts in temperatures and weather patterns over a long period of time. Climate shifts can be natural, for example due to changes in the sun’s activity or large volcanic eruptions. However, since the industrial revolution in the late 1700’s, human activities have been the main driver of climate change, primarily due to the burning of fossil fuels in the form of coal, oil and gas and the destruction of natural habitats and their ecological systems.

The agriculture and food production sectors are significant contributors to climate change in the form of land use change, the intensive use of water (it accounts for up to 70% of surface water use globally), loss of biodiversity and carbon dioxide emissions (principally methane emissions from intensive rearing of livestock). It also stands to be the most severely affected by the consequences of climate change in the form of more frequent extreme weather events (including drought, fires, extreme heat, storms, and flooding) and pest and disease outbreaks, amongst others.  

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) encompasses a range of farming practices by which agriculture can both mitigate (i.e. address the causes of its contribution to climate change) and adapt to (i.e. respond to the effects of climate change).

Other terms related to CSA include:

  • Conservation agriculture (CA) aims to achieve sustainable and profitable agriculture through the application of the three CA principles: (i) continuous minimum mechanical soil disturbance; (ii) permanent organic soil cover; and (iii) diversification of crop species grown in sequences and/or associations. 

  • Regenerative agriculture (RA) is a conservation and rehabilitation approach to food and farming systems. It focuses on topsoil regeneration, increasing biodiversity, improving the water cycle, enhancing ecosystem services, supporting bio-sequestration, increasing resilience to climate change, and strengthening the health and vitality of farm soil.

CSA entails an integrated approach to managing landscapes – cropland, livestock, forests, and fisheries – that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change. CSA aims to achieve the triple win of (i) increased productivity, (ii) enhanced resilience, and (iii) reduced emissions.

CSA is often simply a way to adapt to climate risk by applying common sense.

Building on this foundation, examples, barriers and opportunities through CSA practices will be considered and outlined with reference to farming conditions in Southern Africa.