Transformative partnerships for a food-secure world

The call for increased collaboration and knowledge exchange in this video is spot on, but the “speeding up” of science to accelerate towards the “future” is too reminiscent of some of the ideologies that helped turn our food system into the mostly unsustainable one it is today.

A beautiful video nonetheless, and an important message regarding partnerships for all those working to support the adaptation of our agricultural systems to climate change.

Transformative partnerships for a food-secure world:


Traditional knowledge in Climate Adaptation

The role of traditional knowledge in climate adaptation strategies is something I think about almost daily. The people native to their lands are most intimately in tune with its changes and, in most cases, have been “adapting” for years, decades, centuries. To treat traditional knowledge as an afterthought –a nice but peripheral component of adaptation strategies and policy– is not only disrespectful, but also counterproductive. Many impressive efforts get this, and are earnestly working in ways I admire; others seem to have much to learn. 

There are so many layers to explore within this particular topic. I have no fully formed answers or insightful suggestions for the field, at least not yet. I do, however, have a few humble observations to offer. 

Climate adaptation is constantly being redefined and reimagined. Our efforts to improve its practice will serve as the foundation for future education, training, implementation, policy, and all other responses. The relative infancy of climate adaptation practice (at least at the growing rate we are seeing today) means that it’s not “too late” to more thoroughly  include traditional knowledge into our plans and vision for all our communities as they adapt.

Additionally, I think that this effort serves to de-standardize the goals and metrics in the adaptation space.  At first that sounds like a negative, unsettling effect, since we like uniformity and comparability when measuring the impact of activities we are spending lots of money and time on. But it might alternatively be a more effective way to conceptualize successful adaptation. As development practitioners have learned, some of the most “successful” efforts are carefully and thoughtfully localized. That is because communities define health, well being, dignity, and progress in very different ways; they all have just as different sets of needs, resources, and socio-political contexts. Therefore, our metrics are best designed not as standard and one-dimensional, but rather as dynamic and adaptable themselves. (To see more on monitoring and evaluation of climate adaptation work, check out SEA Change’s list of publications on the topic here.)

Finally, the integration of traditional knowledge into the strategies we use to help each other adapt to climate change offers an opportunity to work in partnership with groups of people whose expertise is usually undervalued or ignored. More profoundly, it allows us to bring conservation and social equity into one (very important) conversation. 

Such conversations are happening all over the world at all kinds of levels. It is encouraging, and we need more of them. For example, UICN’s pilot projects in Bolivia, Colombia, Ecuador, and Peru give us lots to study and think about. 

This is an important, fascinating, and complicated topic I hope to come back to in the coming weeks. Thanks for reading, and please do share your thoughts either here or by email danuuribe at gmail dot com!



How Smart is Climate Smart Agriculture?

Photo: CIAT/ Neil Parmer

Climate Smart Agriculture is one of those practices that simply sounds like a no brainer. Even without knowing what it means or entails, the name alludes to a savvy farmer who understands what she needs to do to in the face of a changing climate. For me, that’s a great image. I envision affordable drip irrigation systems, attentive communities in tune with their crops’ volatile needs, smart use of shading….

But what is it really? What form does this idea take on the ground?

I did a little searching, and think videos paint the most comprehensive picture. Here are a few:

  • This video can be your Climate Smart Agriculture “primer”.
  • Climate Smart Agriculture according to the FAO.
  • Climate-Adaptive Farming technology in the U.S. Midwest. It’s interesting how this technology is seen as relatively simple for U.S. standards, but is incredibly advanced compared to methods used in other places.
  • For example, take a look at WOTR’s Agro-Meteorology component of its Climate Change Adaptation project in India.
  • CafeDirect’s coffee climate adaptation  project in Peru seems very worthwhile. The more I learn about CafeDirect’s work, the more impressed I am by their partnerships and programmatic goals. If any readers are familiar with their work and want to share any thoughts, I’d be delighted to read them.

Personally, I think the term Climate Smart Agriculture might have a short life. Climate Smart Agriculture is simply smart agriculture, and smart agriculture is sustainable agriculture. That, as most of us know, has been a term and a goal for quite a long time. Agriculture that is sustainable– meaning, for one, that it can be sustained over time– must necessarily be climate smart; it must be “adaptation”.

If this seems like a rant on semantics, I hope it is not. We can call these practices, efforts, ideas whatever we want, but I think it is important to fragment our climate mitigation/adaptation community only when absolutely necessary. The moment a new “branch” shoots off in an innovative, great-sounding direction, we risk losing the much needed cohesiveness and core strength of our efforts. Before we know it, those working in climate adaptation will be off in their own isolated programs, pushing their own witty acronyms. Maybe it’s too late, since there are already more adaptation-related acronyms than I can keep track of!

Here’s to hoping that climate smart agriculture, sustainable agriculture, resilient agriculture, and whatever else might come our way, will have shared visions and goals for the future of agriculture. Ideally, those would be visions of human wellbeing, environmental stewardship, and timely innovation.

Photo credit: Daniela Uribe

Climate Mitigation through, not “or”, Adaptation

When I tell someone I’m interested in climate change adaptation, I usually get one of two questions: “Cool. What does that mean?” or “Really? Have you given up on climate change mitigation/stopping climate change that easily?”

Photo. N. Palmer (CIAT)

Photo. N. Palmer (CIAT)

The first is usually fun to answer; the latter can be frustrating. Many individuals working on climate change issues argue that a shift towards  climate adaptation efforts undermines the continued, more pressing need to halt climate change, mitigate carbon emissions, do whatever we can to save us from some of the most terrifying projections for the future of our planet. Adaptation is distracting, defeatist, unambitious, some might say. But here is an undeniable reality– climate change is here and has been here. We live in an age of change and subsequent, desperately needed adaptation. Communities around the world are adapting to climate change as I write this, and through their adaptation, they are mitigating climate change. It seems obvious, yet sometimes it is necessary to state it anyways, that mitigation through adaptation and vice versa are inevitable  notions (and fortuitous partners) all climate change and development practitioners, policymakers, and academics ought to embrace.

But what does this “mitigation through adaptation” look like? David Lobell at Stanford University’s Center on Food Security and the Environment gives us a great answer:

A new study shows that when it comes to agriculture, adaptation measures can also generate significant mitigation effects, making them a highly worthwhile investment.

Food production is big. If farmers fail to adapt to climate change we can expect to see more land being turned over to agriculture, in order to keep up with food demand. With this in mind, David Lobell, from Stanford University, US, and colleagues used a model of global agricultural trade to investigate the co-benefits of helping farmers adapt to climate change, thereby avoiding some of the emissions associated with land-use change.

Running their model to 2050, they show that an investment of $225 bn in agricultural adaptation measures can be expected to offset the negative yield impacts associated with predicted temperature and rainfall changes. But that’s not all – the model revealed that this investment would also save 61 million hectares from conversion to cropland, resulting in 15 Gtonnes carbon-dioxide equivalent fewer emissions by 2050. (From FSI, emphasis added)

The full findings can be found here. 

The adaptation and mitigation communities should not be polarized, but must work together if there are any hopes of achieving meaningful change. So whether adaptation is helping us all mitigate carbon emissions by saving land from conversion to cropland, or by encouraging infrastructure  updates that make our communities more resilient but also efficient (and therefore less carbon-intensive), it is clear that we all have a lot to learn from each other.

Aristotle would tell us that our “whole” can be greater than the sum of our parts.

These types of tensions are very common, and I might take a risk and say most common in the environment world. An emerging conversation outside the scope of this blog but worth a mention is that around a shift from a paradigm of sustainability to one of resilience. Should we “forget sustainability? I don’t think so, just as we should not “forget” mitigation in our search for adaptation.

Sustainability, resilience, mitigation and adaptation. All have a place in a world facing climate change.