by Maria Eliza Villarino
Over the last few years, CIAT, under the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security, or CCAFS, has been promoting climate-smart agriculture, a set of practices that can boost farming yields, while enabling farmers to adapt to climate change and, where appropriate, reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Developing climate-smart agriculture (CSA) profiles for countries in Asia, Africa, and Latin America forms part of this effort.
The profiles offer a comprehensive overview of a country’s agricultural sector, including the kinds of crops grown, the types of inputs used, and the farming systems there. They present key challenges posed by climate change and the impacts it might have on the agricultural sector. They then suggest specific interventions that could address those challenges and outline financing opportunities for CSA.
To date, there are more than 20 CSA country profiles, with many more in the pipeline.
So what has the CSA profiling project achieved so far? We spoke with Evan Girvetz, who has been leading the project, about the biggest takeaways from and the future of the initiative.
What prompted CIAT to start developing CSA profiles?
In 2014, the World Bank Group asked CIAT to partner in developing profiles for countries where it was interested in making climate-smart agriculture investments, in order to understand the context, opportunities, and entry points for these investments.
Why did the bank approach CIAT in particular?
I think the World Bank recognized what CIAT could bring to the table.
For one, we have established ourselves as a leader in climate-smart agriculture, built on our deep foundation of climate-related research and by CIAT globally hosting CCAFS. Our work under the CCAFS program involves not only testing interventions on the field to identify what is climate-smart where. We also employ a comprehensive approach to studying and developing interventions, taking into consideration the agricultural, policy, and investment contexts. We also have deep expertise in climate impact modeling and strategic foresight analysis.
In addition, we have proven experience in convening people, including experts from various disciplines who work on climate-smart agriculture, and in engaging with policymakers and investors on this particular issue.
Would you say that the approach we use for developing the profiles to be novel?
Certainly many before have taken scientific information and evidence on a subject and put it in terms that are accessible to a less technical audience. But when it comes to climate-smart agriculture, the CSA profiling work is novel because nobody before had put together a product that provided such a comprehensive view of climate-smart agriculture targeted at key decision-makers working to make large agricultural investments climate-smart.
What are some of the accomplishments of the CSA profiling initiative so far?
The initiative has helped solidify CIAT as a global leader in climate-smart agriculture. Everywhere we go now — such as the meeting of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture last year — people approach us about it.
In countries where we work, these profiles have provided key information to underscore why large investments should be made in climate-smart agriculture.
For example, we created a climate-smart agriculture country profile for Kenya, which the World Bank has used as reference for a $250 million climate-smart agriculture investment there. The profile continues to influence decision-making by funders and the government alike.
The profiling initiative has led governments in countries where we work in to engage CIAT as a key partner in developing and implementing climate-smart agriculture interventions. In Kenya, the national government approached CIAT to partner in developing climate risk profiles for their counties, and we have now partnered in developing county-level profiles for 31 Kenyan counties.
Similarly, in Tanzania, national government authorities became very involved in developing the country profile and even wanted to have leadership themselves over the process. This, in our minds, was quite good because that means that they could really have ownership of the final product.
After facilitating that process, the Tanzanian authorities have come back to us, expressing that they wanted CIAT to be a key partner in implementing the interventions suggested by the profile. In fact, we collaborated with the Tanzania Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance to develop its recently launched website. And at the launch event, a member of the Tanzanian parliament commented on the work that we’ve been doing and invited CIAT to give a presentation to his peers.
And we keep getting interest from different countries to conduct this work. We are in discussions with partners in Nigeria to expand our work there, and I was told by partners in the Kenyan Ministry of Agriculture that their counterparts in Uganda want to bring this profiling work to districts there.
It appears you’ve received buy-in from various sectors. What would you say would be the reason for that?
There are a couple of reasons. First, climate change is definitely a huge issue right now. It’s at the forefront of the minds of governments globally, and certainly developing country governments, because of the risk that it poses to them. They already know the climate’s impact on agriculture has effects on their entire economies. And the private sector is increasingly becoming interested in how climate impacts their bottom lines.
Second, they’ve seen that these profiles have been able to take quite a complex, big issue and boil it down into something that a policymaker, a business person, an investor, or a parliamentarian can understand. Reading through these documents, they can see how climate change can impact agriculture and learn some of the solutions to deal with the risks. So it’s not a doom-and-gloom type of document. It’s proactive and forward-looking, describing where we are now and where we can be to help address these issues.
So in many ways, the profiles empower governments, development organizations, and businesses. They allow them to fully understand the issues, grasp what climate-smart agriculture means, and suggest solutions that they can then go and act on to help farmers in their countries.
We also make sure to engage with all parties interested in and working on climate-smart agriculture not only in developing the profile but also in disseminating it. These include representatives from the research community, civil society, private sector, and government, who provide input to the document itself. And then we try to have a workshop where we present the document and make it available to the broader public within the country. This can help foster a platform that can continue bringing these people together, allowing them the opportunity to interact and sustain the activities suggested by the profile. This is something we’ve done in Tanzania.
What are the biggest lessons from this initiative?
The process of bringing people together around climate-smart agriculture is as important as developing a CSA profile. Both go hand in hand. Producing a knowledge product without a broader platform for it to have influence doesn’t maximize its benefit; it’s the same for having a platform without the knowledge to support it. In some ways, the profile is a starting point for a country to pursue climate-smart agriculture.
This engagement with stakeholders is critical — coming in and producing a knowledge product like this without buy-in from key stakeholders, especially the government, is a recipe for producing a document that just accumulates dust on the shelf. Having people on board, even directly involved in collecting information and writing of the document, sets the profile up to have much more impact in the long term.
What’s next for CSA profiles?
Agriculture is a risky business in general, especially in developing countries, which is often a barrier to investment and financing being put toward the sector. Ultimately, we see the profiles as a tool for de-risking investments and unlocking finance in agriculture for farmers, agribusiness, governments, and development organizations alike.
Beyond continuing to expand our work of profiling agricultural risk for governments and development partners, such as the World Bank, we see a few different new frontiers.
One major focus moving forward will be to work with financial service providers — financial institutions, lenders, insurance companies — to use this climate risk information to make financial products more inclusive for farmers and agribusinesses. The inherent riskiness of agriculture, and the lack of good information on it, is why interest rates and insurance premiums for farmers are very high. When an insurance company doesn’t know what the risk profile is of a certain agricultural area or farmer, it’s going to set its premiums very high to buffer itself from any loss.
We see an opportunity to profile agricultural risk for specific farmers and specific investments, to help financial institutions better tailor their products and set interest rates that better account for the risk profile of individual farmers. And farmers that are implementing climate-smart agriculture practices will have lower risk profiles. This will make them more attractive to lenders or encourage insurance companies to lower their premiums because they know that these farmers are doing agriculture that is less risky.
In doing this, we are working to get even down to the farmer. It will be a challenge, though, I acknowledge. We’re not going to be able to produce a 20-page document for every farmer, by any means. That’s just not feasible.
But we see a real opportunity in using information and communication technologies, such as mobile phones, in doing this type of profiling. So now we’re talking more about profiling farmers for their climate risks, and being able to understand their context, not just the conditions affecting their farms but also their households. Digital tools can provide them with targeted advisory services and climate data. Through these tools, we can aggregate such information across many farmers in the region, to better understand the risks that they face and better inform the climate-smart agriculture district and country profiles.
We likewise see the opportunity for the profiles to inform businesses about the climate risks along their supply chains and the opportunities to make these supply chains more resilient and sustainable in the long term. When supply chains become climate-smart, agribusinesses reduce the risk to their bottom lines and can sustain the supply and quality of their products.
The bottom line is that we need to find ways to reduce the risk in our food systems to unlock financing and investment for agricultural transformation. These profiles can provide some of the information needed to help do this.
The CSA country profiles and the subnational climate risk profiles are products of the CIAT-led CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security, or CCAFS. They are based on work commissioned and led by the World Bank Group to identify country-specific baselines and entry points for scaling out CSA, through data analysis and series of dialogues with national stakeholders.
The official launch of the Africa CSA profiles takes place during the event “Profiling climate risk and CSA opportunities to de-risk agriculture” at the two-day (May 15-16, 2018) Africa Climate Smart Agriculture Summit in Nairobi, Kenya. The event features a panel discussion involving representatives from multilateral banks, civil society, and the private sector.