The way forward for climate-smart agriculture

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The 5th Global Science Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture brought together 410 participants from more than 200 institutions, based in over 60 countries, to catalyze action oriented partnerships for a transformation in global food systems under a changing climate. This included participants from research institutions, governments, private sector and civil society. Since the first global science conference on climate-smart agriculture (CSA) in Wageningen in 2011, these conferences have emerged as the key forum to advance the science underpinning CSA implementation.

In its fifth edition, hosted by the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR), CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the Ministry of Agriculture of Indonesia, and the Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality of the Netherlands, the conference focused on “Transforming food systems under a changing climate.” The key messages to advance CSA implementation and catalyze a transformation in food systems that emerged are as follows:

1. Uncommon partnerships need to be the norm

While the role of partnerships has been a key part of the CSA narrative, and the conference had an emphasis on catalyzing action-oriented partnerships, a key lesson is that we need more unusual partnerships. Different CSA stakeholder groups (e.g. research, investment, policy) are comfortable in their own communities, and are often uncomfortable in engaging with other stakeholder groups as they do not speak the same language. This divide between different stakeholder groups needs to be bridged, and uncommon partnerships need to be the norm. For example, in discussions on innovative finance to leverage public and private sector investments, key players from different parts of the financial system, including Rabobank, World Bank, International Fund For Agricultural Development (IFAD), CCAFS, the Government of Indonesia, the Sustainable Trade Initiative (IDH) and Control Union came together with their experiences, together with best practices from the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and SNV, to develop an action agenda for scaling CSA investment in Indonesia.

2. Think beyond agricultural production

The conference had an explicit focus on issues that lie beyond agricultural production, and saw the launch of the “Changing diets and transforming food systems” paper as part of the Transforming Food Systems Under a Changing Climate initiative. Discussions around reshaping supply chains, food retail, marketing and procurement, led by the Universities of Oxford and Queensland, identified key research gaps in this area, including the need for information on cross-food systems linkages, full cost accounting, and a comprehensive analysis of opportunities and risks of reshaping supply chains.

Walking the talk on the discussion on diets, the conference experimented with three different diets for the participants: a) with red meat, b) without red meat, and c) with meat alternatives. This experiment resulted in interesting insights about how changing diets can help to transform food systems. You can read more about the climate-smart lunches in this blog.

3. Communicate effectively and don’t shy away from controversies

Science needs to be communicated more effectively to catalyze transformative actions, and scientists should not shy away from controversial topics. The conference showcased innovative approaches to advance discussion on controversial and emerging issues, such as an adaptation of the BBC HARDtalk concept, a House of Commons-style debate, speedtalks, and a Big Facts panel.

4. Transformation requires both leadership and levers

Transformative changes will only occur if there is leadership to drive change and levers through which leaders can catalyze change. We identified six key levers as themes of the conference, as well as leaders to lead action in these areas:

  • Empowering farmer and consumer organizations, women and youth (ACIAR, WISAT, Global Resilience Partnership (GRP))
  • Digitally enabled climate-informed services (International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics (ICRISAT), Olam)
  • Climate-resilient and low-emission practices and technologies (Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO))
  • Innovative finance to leverage public and private sector investments (Executive Office of the President of Indonesia, CCAFS)
  • Reshaping supply chains, food retail, marketing and procurement (University of Oxford, University of Queensland, CCAFS)
  • Fostering enabling policies and institutions (International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), World Bank)

5. Go beyond business as usual

Business as usual approaches will not suffice. This applies not only to business practices, but also to research models, development practitioners, and civil society organizations. There is a call for the wider CSA community to go beyond business as usual to realize transformative outcomes for society. Promising actions identified include a focus on revision of NDCs to inform national and global commitments, utilizing results-based payments (e.g. AgResults), new research models (e.g. Evidence for Resilient Agriculture), addressing the “missing middle” in policy implementation to tackle the implementation gap (e.g. county level CSA action in Kenya), and digitizing agriculture (e.g. Olam Farmer Information System).

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