What is CSA?

Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) may be defined as an approach for transforming and reorienting agricultural development under the new realities of climate change (Lipper et al. 2014). 1 The most commonly used definition is provided by the Food and Agricultural Organisation of the United Nations (FAO), which defines CSA as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs (mitigation) where possible, and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals”. In this definition, the principal goal of CSA is identified as food security and development (FAO 2013a; 2 Lipper et al. 2014 1); while productivity, adaptation, and mitigation are identified as the three interlinked pillars necessary for achieving this goal

The three pillars of CSA

  • Productivity: CSA aims to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and incomes from crops, livestock and fish, without having a negative impact on the environment. This, in turn, will raise food and nutritional security. A key concept related to raising productivity is sustainable intensification.
  • Adaptation: CSA aims to reduce the exposure of farmers to short-term risks, while also strengthening their resilience by building their capacity to adapt and prosper in the face of shocks and longer-term stresses. Particular attention is given to protecting the ecosystem services which ecosystems provide to farmers and others. These services are essential for maintaining productivity and our ability to adapt to climate changes.
  • Mitigation: Wherever and whenever possible, CSA should help to reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. This implies that we reduce emissions for each calorie or kilo of food, fibre and fuel that we produce. That we avoid deforestation from agriculture. And that we manage soils and trees in ways that maximizes their potential to acts as carbon sinks and absorb CO2 from the atmosphere.

Key characteristics of CSA

  • CSA addresses climate change: Contrary to conventional agricultural development, CSA systematically integrates climate change into the planning and development of sustainable agricultural systems (Lipper et al. 2014). 1
  • CSA integrates multiple goals and manages trade-offs: Ideally, CSA produces triple-win outcomes: increased productivity, enhanced resilience and reduced emissions. But often it is not possible to achieve all three. Frequently, when it comes time to implement CSA, trade-offs must be made. This requires us to identify synergies and weigh the costs and benefits of different options based on stakeholder objectives identified through participatory approaches (see figure 1).
  • CSA maintains ecosystems services: Ecosystems provide farmers with essential services, including clean air, water, food and materials. It is imperative that CSA interventions do not contribute to their degradation. Thus, CSA adopts a landscape approach that builds upon the principles of sustainable agriculture but goes beyond the narrow sectoral approaches that result in uncoordinated and competing land uses, to integrated planning and management (FAO 2012b; 5 FAO 2013a 2).
  • CSA has multiple entry points at different levels: CSA should not be perceived as a set of practices and technologies. It has multiple entry points, ranging from the development of technologies and practices to the elaboration of climate change models and scenarios, information technologies, insurance schemes, value chains and the strengthening of institutional and political enabling environments. As such, it goes beyond single technologies at the farm level and includes the integration of multiple interventions at the food system, landscape, value chain or policy level.
  • CSA is context specific: What is climate-smart in one-place may not be climate-smart in another, and no interventions are climate-smart everywhere or every time. Interventions must take into account how different elements interact at the landscape level, within or among ecosystems and as a part of different institutional arrangements and political realities. The fact that CSA often strives to reach multiple objectives at the system level makes it particularly difficult to transfer experiences from one context to another.
  • CSA engages women and marginalised groups: To achieve food security goals and enhance resilience, CSA approaches must involve the poorest and most vulnerable groups. These groups often live on marginal lands which are most vulnerable to climate events like drought and floods. They are, thus, most likely to be affected by climate change. Gender is another central aspect of CSA. Women typically have less access and legal right to the land which they farm, or to other productive and economic resources which could help build their adaptive capacity to cope with events like droughts and floods (Huyer et al. 2015). 6 CSA strives to involve all local, regional and national stakeholders in decision-making. Only by doing so, is it possible to identify the most appropriate interventions and form the partnerships and alliances needed to enable sustainable development.

CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). 2015. What is is Climate Smart Agriculture? https://csa.guide/csa/what-is-climate-smart-agriculture 

CGIAR CCAFS. 2015. Climate-Smart Technologies and Practices. https://ccafs.cgiar.org/flagships/climate-smart-technologies-and-practices

Understanding Climate-Smart Agriculture,
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
Climate-Smart Agriculture for policy makers
Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations
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