Smallholder Farmers can Address Climate Change Through Triple-Win Strategies

Farmer workshop in climate information, Kaffrine, Senegal. Governments are being called on to build capacity at all levels. Photo: P. Casier (CCAFS)

This article, published on the New Agriculturist, is one in a series of case studies published in the lead-up to Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2011. Read it here or below.

By expanding underexploited agricultural strategies, smallscale farmers can mitigate climate change, increase their resilience to climate change impacts and boost their profits from agricultural production, new research has revealed. Using crop and livestock model simulations and household survey data across Kenya’s diverse climate zones, researchers from the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute (KARI) and the University of Georgia identified a number of these ‘triple-win’ strategies.

“We discovered that there is a set of highly beneficial practices that farmers could use to build their resilience against climate change and bolster their livelihoods,” says IFPRI senior researcher Claudia Ringler. The combined application of inorganic fertiliser, mulch, and manure – which simultaneously enhances crop yields, increases soil carbon stocks, and boosts profits – was identified as one of the most effective triple-win strategies. The use of higher quality feeds for livestock, which boosts profits and decreases methane emissions, was another important strategy.

“Farmers in Kenya who we surveyed are aware that climate change is happening and they are changing their practices to adapt,” explains Barrack Okoba, lead KARI researcher. Survey results show, for example, that rural farmers are already changing crop varieties, types of crops and planting dates to adapt to the effects of climate change. But Okoba warns that many farmers don’t fully understand the role that agricultural practices can play in battling climate change. “Farmers do perceive a direct link between deforestation, or the cutting down of trees, and climate change. But they don’t know that there is an array of additional practices in crop production that can also mitigate greenhouse gas emissions,” he adds.

To fill this knowledge gap, the researchers state that Kenya and other countries in sub-Sahara Africa must integrate triple-win agricultural strategies into their national climate change action plans. Governments are also being called on to focus investments into capacity building at all levels so that smallholder farmers are able to learn about the relationship between agriculture and climate change, provide the right incentives for adoption of enhanced management practices, and reward farmers for their efforts. “If the challenges climate change poses for agricultural and economic development are not adequately addressed,” Ringler warns, “a growing number of Kenyans will be put at risk of malnutrition and poverty.”