"Climate Smart Agriculture" causes confusion

'Climate Smart Agriculture' is gaining increasing attention among governments, NGOs, academics, corporations, researchers and international policy spaces. With the impacts of climate change being felt on food systems around the world, and the contribution of agriculture to global emissions also gaining attention, agriculture is one of the issues at the heart of climate change concerns. But there is growing confusion and debate over what the term 'Climate Smart Agriculture' really means, and whether it really can benefit food systems in the face of climate change.

The concept of 'Climate Smart Agriculture' was originally developed by the FAO and the World Bank, claiming that "triple wins" in agriculture could be achieved in mitigation (reducing greenhouse gas emissions), adaptation (supporting crops to grow in changing climate conditions), and increasing crop yields. A number of industrialised countries (the US in particular), along with a number of agribusiness corporations, are now the most enthusiastic promoters of the concept.

But increasingly civil society and farmer organisations express concerns that the term can be used to green-wash industrial agricultural practices that will harm future food production. Some governments and NGOs also worry that pressure to adopt Climate Smart Agriculture will translate into obligations for developing countries’ food systems to take on an unfair mitigation burden. They point out that their agricultural systems have contributed the least to the problem, but that mitigation obligations could limit their ability to effectively adapt to the climate challenges ahead.

Ultimately, there are no means to ensure that 'Climate Smart Agriculture' is actually smart for the climate, for agriculture, or for farmers.

This document is a shortened and updated extract from ActionAid’s 2014 briefing “Clever Name, Losing Game: how ‘Climate Smart Agriculture’ is causing confusion in the food movement”.