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OPINION: Lessons for climate compatible development from African agriculture

CDKN Africa’s Nkulumo Zinyengere shares six lessons from the Regional Climate Smart Agriculture Conference, which he recently attended. He looks at the detailed efforts to advance climate smart agriculture in southern Africa. 

The climate change challenge on development is a drawn out, long term challenge that will require more than piece-meal efforts. This was one of the headlines of the Regional Climate Smart Agriculture Conference (CSA), held in Johannesburg, South Africa, which I attended on behalf of the Future Climate For Africa programme. But the conference, which brought together SADC, the Centre for Coordination of Agricultural Research and Development for Southern Africa, the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network and GIZ among others, also highlighted detailed efforts to advance climate smart agriculture. Here are the six lessons I learned.

1. The time of working in silos is long gone

Tackling developmental challenges in a changing climate requires inter and trans disciplinary engagements that target a holistic intervention approach. The challenges that are imposed on development by climate change are multifaceted and complex in nature, demanding that responses should be versatile and dynamic – a kind of dynamism that a one-track mind set or approach cannot fully address. Radical shifts in our thinking and approaches may be required. Stakeholders in the agriculture sector, as those in the climate and development space need to work more collaboratively and creatively to better address the climate change question.

2. Context, context, context

There is a tendency to deliver one-size fits all interventions to farmers, as with most climate change related development intervention. A good example is of conservation farming, a climate smart approach that has been strongly promoted in the region owing to its known technical superiority. Yet, in some countries such as Zambia where some of the earliest efforts of conservation farming promotion have been targeted, the adoption and use of it have been largely patchy and disappointing. Just because an intervention is climate smart and suitable somewhere doesn’t mean it is climate smart and suitable everywhere. Understanding local contexts and tailoring interventions to them goes a long way in better targeting development interventions under climate change, especially given the uncertainties involved.

3. Locally owned and driven

Following on the need for better contextualisation of interventions, it is clear from the experiences of implementing CSA that a country demanded and driven process is invaluable in developing and implementing development efforts under a changing climate. Furthermore, interventions need to be narrowed to account for sub-national disparities. This approach better supports the sustainability of interventions by fostering ownership. Too many interventions have seen immense progress occur as external support and resources flow, only to lose momentum or fizzle out entirely once projects or programmes run their course.

4. Build capacity

It was agreed that in order to support locally driven processes, there is need to build the capacity of local target communities to implement climate smart agriculture and to strengthen the institutions that will support intervention efforts. It is however clear that capacity building efforts that have been ongoing in CSA, have their limitations. The focus and approach of capacity development on individuals and to a lesser extend institutions is limited. The system under which the targeted interventions are intended, the processes involved and the mechanisms required will continue to hamstring developmental efforts under climate change and will need to be addressed and taken more seriously.

5. Measure and track effectively

Successful climate smart interventions and practices are hardly ever brought to scale. Apart from capacity constraints, the lack of effective monitoring, and measuring continues to hinder scaling. Common national visions are important in order to have consistent understanding of appropriate interventions and to best align these interventions with national strategies and policies for better traction. As such, national monitoring systems that are solidly cognisant of local disparities, with clear indicators of success are required to form a solid foundation for informing the scaling up and out of successful interventions.

6. Do not crowd out the private sector

Supporting farmers through input subsidies was found to be one of the most useful methods of providing resources that can drive the farming enterprise, growth and development. Malawi is a shining example of what subsidies can achieve, having achieved food self-sufficiency over a period of 5 years of intensive well-coordinated implementation of input subsidies. However, such intervention approaches can be severely threatened by funding flows. As such, development interventions under climate change should seek to ensure that external support and efforts are targeted effectively such that they also stimulates private sector innovation and engagement, avoid crowding private players out and distorting markets.

Overall, the lessons from CSA show that the climate change challenge on development is a drawn out, long term challenge that will require more than piece-meal efforts. Increased and more effective collaboration, improved targeting of interventions, strengthened local/national capabilities, local ownership and innovation, continual learning and dynamism will be invaluable in advancing climate compatible development.

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