Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture: A renewed research and dialogue agenda is needed

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      One of the most pressing global challenges is making our food systems more sustainable. As part of that, there is no other option than making agriculture "climate-smart". This requires combining sustainable increases of agricultural productivity,  adaptation to climate change, and reduction of greenhouse gases and deforestation. This is particularly urgent in Africa because the continent will be the hardest hit by climate change. Agriculture in Africa not only employs the majority of people, it is also entirely climate dependent. African policy-makers seem to be increasingly integrating the ‘climate-smart’ approach into policies at the continental, regional and national levels, but when it comes to their implementation, there are several problems, including that climate change and agriculture are in practice still treated in isolation. Two weeks ago, I attended the Annual Forum of the Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA). The GACSA was launched at the UN Climate Summit 2014 as a voluntary alliance of partners, dedicated to addressing the challenges facing food security and agriculture under a changing climate. ECDPM wants to contribute to making agriculture in Africa "climate-smart". For years, we have worked very closely with the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD), the African Union Commission, Regional Economic Communities, Regional Farmer Organisations and development partners to support their agricultural policy and investment processes (especially the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP). Plenary session at the GACSA 2016. Photo: Francesco Rampa I learned a lot at the GASCA meeting about what different stakeholders from all regions of the world are doing to make Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) a reality. Scientific evidence and country case studies were presented through the CSA Practice Briefs produced by the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research’s (CGIAR) programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), the Food and Agriculture Organisation and others. Data on current levels of climate change investment and available financing for CSA (as collected by the Climate Policy Initiative) was also presented as well as projects by members of GACSA highlighting how these are impacting the lives of the poorest. I also found it very interesting that public sector participants from Europe and other ‘rich’ countries (unlike in most policy dialogue processes ECDPM engages with) were not only from development agencies or Ministries of Foreign Affairs, but also from the Ministries of Agriculture and of the Environment. From them I learned, for instance, that French authorities have mainstreamed agroecology in every public policy and that multi-stakeholder governance has been the key to the success of the CSA projects undertaken on French soil so far. However, I also realised that GACSA, and the regional CSA alliances such as in West Africa and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA), are just at their starting point. And I was struck by some significant weaknesses in the GACSA process. It seemed to me that the topics discussed around CSA and the approaches of most experts involved were very technical. But solutions to a multi-faceted and ‘societal’ challenge like food systems sustainability cannot be purely technical, they must be political too. I felt a strong need to bring to the GACSA debates some policy, governance and political economy dimensions, including the lessons learnt so far about how high-level policy frameworks, related scientific solutions and international alliances play out on the ground within extremely complex institutional, economic and political dynamics (such as in African countries). Just to take an obvious example, countries seem in general to be overlooking how the private sector can help meet national climate goals. But businesses are key for both producing sustainably and financing greenhouse gas reductions. This is not going to happen automatically, and many companies are likely to oppose a paradigm shift and a development model whereby agriculture would use less and less traditional fertilizers, pesticides, or genetically modified seeds. Similarly, one can design the best possible scientific-based policies for CSA, but this does not mean that such policies will actually be implemented. The history of development policies, especially in Africa, is characterised by serious lack of enforcement, especially when reforms are designed at the global, continental or regional level. At the Annual Forum, the GACSA ‘Enabling Environment Action Group’ covered some CSA policies, but not how to enforce them, nor on how to achieve policy coherence across the relevant reform areas. A related, and striking, weakness was the lack of discussions on trade issues. Making agriculture climate smart will strongly depend on how increasing food trade will impact the natural resources footprint of agriculture and how CSA practices would change particular national, regional, and international food markets and value chains. Inclusivity seemed another weakness of GACSA. I expected many more participants from the business and smallholder farming communities. If GACSA and the regional alliances want to be effective and beneficial for all stakeholders, a renewed research and inclusive dialogue agenda is needed to address these weaknesses. What I found promising was that the GACSA structures and members seemed pretty flexible and open-minded, and acknowledged some of these challenges. The ‘Knowledge Action Group’ for instance recognised that the CSA knowledge agenda so far was too much focused on yields improvement and other technical aspects. When NGOs stressed the lack of inclusivity, the GACSA co-chair from NEPAD responded that indeed explicit efforts should aim to involve farmer organisations much more and that GACSA needs a much better communication strategy to explain its objectives and practices. A renewed research and dialogue agenda on CSA requires innovative, inclusive, politically-savvy and policy-oriented partnerships. ECDPM is ready to contribute, through its independence, think-and-do-tank methodologies and extensive networks in Europe, Africa and beyond. The views expressed here are those of the author and not necessarily those of ECDPM.
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