Making the business case for climate-smart agriculture

Making the business case for climate-smart agriculture

If you’re a regular visitor to the CIAT blog, you’ll already know that climate change is expected to take a big bite out of chocolate production. A storm is brewing for coffee too. You’ve probably also been hearing that climate-smart agriculture (CSA) can help farmers big and small prepare for and respond to climate change – not just for crops like coffee and cocoa, but across the board.

But how should CSA be implemented, and more to the point, who should pay for it?

Should smallholder farmers bear the cost of, say, a new irrigation system or the switch to a drought tolerant crop variety, when the whole supply chain benefits from their efforts? Can smallholders even afford to invest in effective CSA practices without financial support from the buyers who depend on them? And where do consumers fit into all this – shouldn’t they do their bit by paying a premium for food with climate-smart credentials?

These are the kinds of issues that a new project from USAID, which leads the US government’s global hunger and food security initiative, Feed the Future, hopes to shine a light on. By starting a series of conversations with famers, agribusiness and consumers it’s aiming to build the business case for private sector investment in CSA. It could result in more widespread adoption of CSA.

It’s no coincidence that this “learning community” – a consortium led by CIAT, the Sustainable Food Lab, the International Institute for Tropical Agriculture and Root Capital – will start off by looking at the coffee and cocoa sectors.

It’s not just because coffee and cocoa are two high-value crops expected to take a hammering from climate change. Nor is it just because they’re grown predominantly by smallholders in developing countries. Nor is it simply because coffee and cocoa are well-known, internationally-traded commodities with big markets in the wealthy world.

“An additional major draw of working with the coffee and cocoa sectors is that they are already familiar with the language of supply chain responsibility,” says CIAT’s Mark Lundy. “Over the past couple of decades these sectors have helped pioneer voluntary certification schemes, for example, to ensure things like good environmental stewardship and fair working conditions for employees.”

“Looking at whether it’s viable to embed climate-smart agricultural practices into these kinds of schemes makes total sense.”

Certification is just one option; as the conversation grows it is likely to uncover more possibilities, depending on the crops, the regions and the markets involved.

“Together, we’ll co-develop a learning community that provides business cases, strategies and action plans for agribusiness engagement in climate smart agriculture,” said USAID’s Justin Finnegan, writing on the Feed the Future blog this week.

It’s the beginning of a much bigger conversation that could end up covering a much broader range of crops and regions.

“Our goal is to increase understanding of how private companies, in coordination with governments and civil society, can increase the adoption of climate-friendly practices that improve the lives of the farmers our global food system depends on,” continues Finnegan.

“Working together, we can ensure that progress in global food security lasts for years to come.”