Climate-smart agriculture, including agroforestry and other diversified farming practices, is the future of farming. The world can no longer rely on monocultural, commercial practices to feed the two billion new mouths expected by 2050.
While the world is facing a looming food shortage thanks to inadequately preparing for the extra two billion people expected to be on the planet in the next 20 years, results of research and on-the-ground experience of integrating trees on farms are a bright light in the gathering gloom.
ICRAF The World Agroforestry Centre has conducted various studies in Southeast Asia (see Agroforests expanding across landscapes in Northwest Viet Nam, Agroforestry having an impact on farmers in eastern Indonesia, Farms with trees and crops recover quicker from natural disasters, Which agroforest for which farm under changing climates?) that have shown that integrating trees on farms has multiple benefits, including securing food supply in the face of climate extremes. But for a greater number of people to benefit, the scale of such practices must be increased.
But can the world’s farmers and governments successfully expand climate-smart agriculture and agroforestry? To try and understand how this can be done, the Asian Development Bank organized the Food Security Forum: Safe, Nutritious, and Affordable Food for All, 22–24 June 2016 in Manila, Philippines to share knowledge, showcase agricultural technologies and networks and build partnerships that will help achieve global and regional food-security goals.
An integrated approach to climate-smart agriculture
Takehiko Nakao, President of the Bank, stated that ensuring a secure food supply meant the food and agricultural sectors must be more heavily promoted because the combination of fisheries, forestry and agriculture is critical for producing good quality and safe food.
To expand the scale of climate-smart agriculture, a change in the mindset of the people is needed. From looking at the management of the environment and natural resources in a segmented way, we need to shift to seeing whole landscapes. Looking through the lens of a landscape rather than at individual farms or groups of trees or livestock would help people appreciate the potential of climate-smart agriculture practices, such as agroforestry, to integrate not only crops but also farms, communities and whole ecosystems. Such a view has been shown by ICRAF and others to address multiple challenges in a holistic way.
Landscape management that maximizes protection of local and indigenous communities and provides food, fuel and incomes is also being increasingly recognized by governments and communities worldwide.
One example is coastal villages in the municipality of Guinayangan, Philippines, which have started rehabilitating mangrove systems in their areas through a project supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security. Fishers say these mangroves help improve their livelihoods and at the same time protect their communities from storms. They have experienced firsthand how mangroves can be an integral part of their communities, bringing more benefits that will sustain them into the future.
ICRAF researchers have also been promoting integrated agroforestry systems, which include mangroves, to connect coastal communities to lowland and upland communities. Such integrated systems view communities and livelihoods as part of a landscape that extends from ridge to reef.
Aside from protection and fast recovery from natural disasters, integrated agroforestry systems can also be sources of biofuel and feed for livestock. Increasing farmers’ awareness of the benefits of trees and integrated systems is one way of expanding the scale of such beneficial strategies. Governments and donor nations need to concomitantly expand their support for communication projects that connect farmers with researchers and agricultural advisory services.
Collaboration for expanding climate-smart agriculture
Integrated landscape management wasn’t the only thing emphasized during the Forum. Nakao also argued that we should not forget the social and political dimensions of food security. Policies that support communities also help increase inclusiveness, which increases the likelihood that farmers will adopt climate-smart agriculture.
Sunny Verghese, executive director of Olam International Limited, Singapore, said public-private-plural society partnerships should also be prioritized. Collaboration between organizations helps connect communities to those who can help them address food security and climate change. Improved information sharing, whether it is farmer-to-farmer, farmer-to-extension/development workers or farmer-to-policymaker, is an important facet in such collaborations.
One example of how improved information sharing helps to expand the scale of climate-smart agriculture is the ‘learning farm’ initiative of JonJon Sarmiento, known online as Farmer Jon. He is the sustainable agriculture program manager of the Pambansang Kilusan ng mga Samahang Magsasaka (PAKISAMA), a national farmers’ federation in the Philippines, which helps farmers to set up ‘learning farms’.
Guided by plans they develop themselves in training sessions, the farmers employ climate-smart agricultural practices and become ‘farmer technicians’. Their ‘learning’ farms are visited by other farmers to see how these practices actually work.
If more farmers then decide to adopt similar practices—such as integrating rice and trees—and served as learning farms in their own communities, a ripple effect could be created as more and more farmers adopted the innovative practices. Having multiple learning sites in a certain area could then lead to establishing ‘learning communities’: groups of villages that implemented different climate-smart and integrated farming practices.
In the municipality of Lantapan, southern Philippines, ICRAF has been building the capacity of upland communities to establish agroforests and other climate-smart practices that not only help them adapt to climate change but also allow the watershed to provide more water for irrigation. The research team is now looking to connect the farmers with private and public groups that could help them implement such systems through ‘co-investment’ schemes.
Now is the time for governments to pay attention to the research results of ICRAF, of Farmer Jon’s initiatives and the many other climate-smart practices that will help them secure food supply for their citizens, protect the environment, reduce global warming and provide multiple benefits not only now but for generations to come.
Part 2 of the food security and agriculture story. Read part 1.