Can Climate-smart Agriculture help realize REDD+?

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27 January 2015

By Sarah Carter (Wageningen University / CIFOR), With contributions from Arild Angelsen, Martin Herold, Hambulo Ngoma, Rosa María Román-Cuesta, Mariana Rufino, Niki De Sy, and Beatriz Zavariz.

At the Global Landscape Forum in Lima, Peru in December 2014, scientists working on the links between REDD+ and Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) presented results of their research. CSA has been hailed by many as being a win-win-win technology, providing mitigation, adaptation and increased productivity in the farming system. Looking into the forest sector, CSA also holds the potential to provide another benefit – reduced deforestation as increased yields negate the need to expand agricultural land into forests. In theory this synergy can be realised by integrating CSA into REDD+ interventions which will increase the effectiveness of the REDD+ programme.

The benefits and threats of integrating CSA and REDD+ were the focus of discussions, and the following conclusions emerged from the session:

  1. Agriculture is a main driver of deforestation, so should also be considered in REDD+ interventions

Agriculture and forestry are closely linked, since agriculture is the most dominant deforestation driver leading to around 80% of tropical forest loss. Recently competition for land from large-scale land acquisitions or ”land grabs” has been highlighted as a threat to forests. Around 80% of land grabs are for agricultural use, with many for cash crops such as soy and oil palm. The risk of land grabbing on REDD+ is evaluated in forthcoming research.

Professor Martin Herold (Wageningen University) said “About 70% of deforestation in South America is followed by pasture. All agriculture together accounts for 90% of the deforestation area. Is it also receiving 90% of the attention in REDD+ implementation?

Although some countries have already linked REDD+ interventions to drivers of deforestation, findings show that many countries do little to address the causes of deforestation so more action in the future is recommended.

  1. Emissions accounting from agriculture and forestry should be integrated

Traditionally emissions accounting is done on a sectoral basis – with crop land, grass land and forest land for example being treated separately in the IPCC guidelines. Follow up land uses, including pastures contribute to emissions beyond those from the removal of trees so accounting emissions from agriculture and forestry together will give a better picture of the dynamics coming from a deforestation event. Accounting for all emissions from land use and land use change in an integrated approach will also improve emission reporting by forcing definition harmonization, and avoiding double counting. Pantropical research using this integrated approach for the 2000-2005 period identified regions where high emissions occurred. It also offered some evidence on the drivers behind these emissions (e.g. fire in Africa, deforestation in Latin America, and livestock and soil-related emissions from rice paddies in Asia). This type of integrative exercise should help target mitigation priorities and potentials for the land use sector in countries with limited data access.

This research is being carried out by CCAFS and will be published in 2015.

  1. Potential benefits of CSA to reduce deforestation should be explored

It is clear that CSA can deliver benefits to farmers in terms of increased productivity on farm and to protect food production in the face of climate change. Mitigation in the farming system is also a considered a benefit, but mitigation outside the farming system is not widely discussed. The ‘land sparing hypothesis’ introduced by Norman Borlaug suggests that by increasing productivity on existing land, less expansion is needed to provide for food needs. If CSA positively affects forest conservation, this can be directly used as a REDD+ intervention.

However one danger is that trade-offs will occur when REDD+ and CSA are integrated. Since CSA is a technology focused agricultural approach often with adaptation, and productivity as the main objectives and REDD+ is a mechanism with the primary aim of mitigation, integrating the two may lead to a less emphasis on the other CSA priorities.

  1. Further research on the socio-economic context is required to assess if a positive forest outcome will arise from CSA interventions

Commenting on the ability of CSA to reduce deforestation, Professor Arild Angelsen (Norwegian University of Life Sciences) stated “Don’t just assume a positive result, different context and technologies give different forest outcomes”. New technologies, higher yields and supportive policy frameworks (e.g. input subsidies, market support) can also make forest encroachment more profitable and lead to higher emissions. This outcome is more likely when farmers have a ready outlet for their produce in a national or global market. The net effect also depends on the labour intensity of CSA; technologies that increase labour demand are more likely to give positive outcomes, but labour constrained farmers may also be reluctant to adopt such technologies. Simply assuming a win-win outcome can be dangerous for forests, and if encroachment is likely, counter measures should also be employed.

New empirical evidence from Zambia related to the Minimum Tillage practice, a key element of Conservation Agriculture (CA) which falls under the CSA umbrella, suggests that farmers who have adopted CSA techniques do not acquire less agricultural land, or have less of an intention to do so in the future (research forthcoming).

  1. CSA practices should be promoted where they are likely to give positive forest outcomes

Despite advances in knowledge of where the emissions hotspots are, and what is the contribution from the agriculture and forest sectors, linking these scientific findings to actions is not straightforward. To bridge this gap, scientists from CIFOR and Wageningen University produced a simple tool which can assist policy makers to prioritise mitigation actions (research forthcoming). Based on the potential for mitigation actions (in either the forest or agriculture sectors), capacity of the country to implement such actions and risks associated with land-based interventions (such as food insecurity), the most likely places for successful action can be identified.