Making climate-smart also people-smart

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    2015 is the year in which the alliance for sustainable development needs to be inclusive, robust and visionary. In this mix, the role of agriculture is critical to meeting food and nutrition goals as well as those related to poverty, health, education, biodiversity, water, energy and economic growth. Gender and climate change are two conditioning factors likely to shape agricultural futures and in these intertwined discourses, (in)equality shapes the art of the possible. 

    In order to achieve the ambitious agenda set out by the Open Working Group on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) over the next 15 years, partnerships are needed not only within but also between sectors and thematic areas. This means more than government, private sector, non-governmental organisations (NGOs) and individual citizens working together as defined in Goal 17. It means entering a new era of collaborative and cross-sectoral alliances, especially where issues are inextricably linked. Gender, agriculture and climate change are a perfect illustration. They go hand-in-hand, influencing negatively or positively the lives of millions depending on who they are, the resources at their disposal, the time of the year, the technologies available or the lack of them and the knowledge at the fingertips of critical actors.

        Currently, at the global level as well as the national level, these three communities often work within different spaces. Yet, within these spaces, they seek to include more perspectives.  Gender has recently been acknowledged specifically within the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) including the recent adoption of the Lima Work-programme on Gender and Climate Change. The Convention still falls short though of a full acknowledgement of agriculture. Land use, Land Use Change and Forestry (LULUCF) however continue to be active areas of engagement and the UNFCCC’s Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) has reviewed agriculture regularly since 2011. Global gender equality policy embraced environmental issues in the Beijing Plan of Action. However, while gender mainstreaming in agricultural policy and practice has definitely advanced in the last two decades, it still remains at many times more responsive to practical versus more strategic gender needs.  

        2015 is a year in which these critical elements of the global development agenda are under review and have their greatest chance for being addressed coherently as part of a broader landscape of sustainable development policy. There are three key moments to create momentum: 1) the 20th Anniversary of the Beijing Platform for Action (Beijing +20) taking place in March; 2) the UN General Assembly is expected to approve a new set of SDGs in September; and 3) the UNFCCC COP 21 - expected to be the launching pad for a new global climate deal. 

    Figure 1. Gender and CSA Infographic, RIO+ Centre and FANRPAN

    Why gender, agriculture and climate change?

    We have found that control over resources remains one of the weakest areas in national policies, particularly in addressing strategic gender needs in the agricultural sector. Research by the RIO+ Centre shows that inputs and gains, credit and labour are still spaces of unequal allocation of resources and highlights the important role of a governance space which brings policies, people and institutions together more effectively (see Figure 1 below).

        There are a number of factors impacting the control over resources in the context of agriculture, particularly agriculture that is under threat from climate change. These are, 1) livelihoods - millions still rely on agriculture as a main source of livelihood, particularly women smallholder farmers; women, in Africa, provide the bulk of the labour for food production but own little land and are sometimes unpaid for their contributions; 2) availability of resources due to multiple and intensifying demands from all economic actors including the unplanned-for degradation of resources from powerful economic actors to the detriment of others; and 3) enabling frameworks including policies, strategies, legislation and champions who can bring attention to, provide evidence for and negotiate effectively for change.

        The Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) estimates that more than 800 million people were chronically under-nourished between 2012 and 2014. Recent evidence from work commissioned by the Copenhagen Consensus Center makes the case even clearer on how enabling frameworks, availability of resources and unequal practices can contribute to cutting the annual 25% of food loss by half, which could feed an extra billion people. Food loss is due to improper storage, poor harvesting and waste in the kitchen. 

    Women farmers selling vegetables and fruit to commuters. EU-funded Swaziland Agricultural Development Project.

    CSA: a game-changer?

    The Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA)agenda, which has gained significant momentum since 2010, is a potential game-changer. It is one of a recent trend of sustainable development solutions. It distinguishes itself from traditional agriculture and even other elements of sustainable agriculture by virtue of the triple-wins it sets out to achieve: food security, income and adaptation/resilience and mitigation at the same time. For the FAO that developed the concept, CSA is critical for ensuring food security under climate change. CSA has now generated a Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA).

        Critical too, is the shape of the GACSA. Now comprising more than 74 members, it aims to create a coordinated and inclusive approach, recognising the need for a bridge between sectors traditionally engaged in agriculture. Identifying food security as the point of departure for CSA, priority is given to establishing a wide-ranging coalition and to promoting integration. The three focal areas of the Alliance are knowledge, investments and enabling environments.

        With a target of positively changing the lives of 500 million farmers vulnerable to climate change, at its launch the Alliance already included 20 member governments. These accounted for a significant portion of world cereal production, undernourished people and total agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. The GACSA’s achievements so far include:

    • Enabling local environments for CSA in Africa and North America through the establishment of the African Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance (ACSAA).
    • Enabling investment structures via the commitment of the International Fund for Agriculture and Development (IFAD) and the World Bank to making their investment portfolios climate-smart by 2018.
    • Significant investment in knowledge production through a US$10 billion commitment by the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) to be invested over the next ten years.

        One of the key strategies for the Alliance is to strengthen and enhance public policy frameworks, particularly those related to sustainable agriculture, climate change adaptation, resilience and disaster management policy. It goes on to mention a number of other elements linking policy and action but the people element appears weak. The attention to social policy frameworks outside of nutrition, is quite weak.

        Some NGOs have expressed similar concerns, in some cases rejecting the Alliance itself. In their rejection letter, more than 100 NGOs cite a number of reasons including (i) no significant advance beyond business-as-usual; (ii) an industrialised approach to agriculture as well as (iii) no environmental and social criteria, amongst other concerns. Thus, the challenge for the GACSA is to make a better partnership amongst its various elements and between the social and environmental agendas, which will influence its success. The space and the need is there, particularly where gender, agriculture and climate policy coherence is concerned.

    Minding the social/gender gap

    While the GACSA has made a good start, its agenda remains somewhat incomplete. As a global alliance, it needs to be as adaptable and flexible as the policies, instruments and knowledge it will offer members and other stakeholders. In the area of policy, it will need to inspire as well as enable.

        In a review of the policy frameworks in five Southern African countries (Lesotho, Mozambique, Swaziland, Zambia and Zimbabwe), we found that 50% of policies relating to the agriculture sector made no reference at all to gender. Of eight we were able to access online from Swaziland, there were no references to gender but some to climate change or disaster risk reduction. The linkages that do exist also seem to be one-way. More broadly, there were few examples of backwards linkages in gender policy relating to agriculture or broadly environmental or natural resource management factors.

        The next generation of agricultural policies, therefore, will need to be as much people-smart and gender-smart as they are climate-smart. They must be anchored in inclusive as well as sustainable development and must be about action as well as change in the short, medium and long-term.  Our analysis (see also Figure 1) indicates where the GACSA may need to invest more:

    • Where to start: credit, labour, inputs, water-harvesting and storage;
    • How: moving beyond access to resources towards greater control by women of the resources they need to plant, harvest, sell and reinvest in a sustainable livelihood;
    • Which policies: agricultural investment policy, land tenure policy as well as climate policy; undertake gender, agriculture and environment and gender, environment & climate change policies as Mozambique has done; and mitigate and reduce the conflict between influential policy frameworks including mining;
    • Prioritising: (i) Different entry points and support structures that need to be made available to men and women. Policy alone is not enough. (ii) Effective tools for a people-smart approach to CSA – in investment, other financial instruments and in identifying and scaling up viable solutions.

    The entry-points and strategies will differ between countries and within countries. While Lesotho is strong on participation and weak on tenure, Zambia is strong on decision-making, participation and economic opportunity but weak on institutional culture. 

        Embedding this type of gender-smartness review has the potential to make CSA fit-for-purpose, extending beyond agricultural futures, and in so doing, better strengthening its relevance to people’s ever changing and increasingly variable realities, particularly from COP 21 in Paris onwards. The last eight years show a trend of increasing multi-sectoriality in policy and one which the Paris meeting can capitalise on even as pressures increase for emissions reduction commitments from developing countries. Defining respective capabilities should be shaped by governance criteria and not just emissions per capita. A more ambitious CSA Agenda, anchored in a whole-of-government and a whole-of-society approach to agriculture, could bring about overdue revolutionary change to the sector, long in the making. The challenge for the GACSA is to leverage its influence for a new global agenda that makes climate-smart synonymous with people-smart. Bridging this divide is the kind of practical inclusive partnership that sustainable development needs in order to succeed.

    Note: The research findings in this article relating to Gender and CSA are derived from a series of outputs by the RIO+ Centre in collaboration with the Food Agriculture and Natural Resources Planning Analysis Network (FANRPAN) Initiative, focusing on Gender and CSA in Southern Africa.

    More information can be found at  The Working Paper – Gender in the CSA Discourse - can be downloaded at:

    About the author

     Leisa Perch is a policy specialist at the World Centre for Sustainable Development (RIO+Centre), a partnership between the Government of Brazil and the United Nations Development Programme. At the Centre, she works on policy coherence particularly between social and environmental policy, with a focus on gender and sustainable development and inclusive green growth. She is a Lead Author of the IPCC Fifth Assessment Report.

    This article was published in GREAT insights Volume 4, Issue 2 (February/March 2015).

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