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FEATURE: Climate smart-agriculture needs an excellent evidence base to access large-scale funding

Elevating climate-smart agriculture to achieve significant international funding on the scale we need will require innovative partnerships that can quantify effective change on the ground, says Dr Natasha Grist, Research Fellow in Climate Smart Agriculture at ODI and Head of Agriculture and Coastal Clusters, CDKN

Many of the world’s largest research and governmental agencies now support the concept of climate-smart agriculture. Their vision is to achieve the ‘triple win’ of food security, mitigation against avoidable climate change and adaptation to inevitable climate shifts, an applied version of CDKN’s goal of climate compatible development.

The challenge for the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization, International Fund for Agricultural Development, World Bank, Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) research programme, plus the many NGOs and other research institutions that have embraced the climate-smart approach, is to put the theory into practice and to be able to measure its impacts credibly.

Without hard data to back up their hypotheses, these organisations won’t get funding for projects that could help feed the global population in future, as food insecurity increases. And in the run up to the 18th COP of the UNFCCC in Doha, agriculture urgently needs the evidence to prove it is a viable contender for investment in carbon emissions reduction and adaptation efforts.

Identifying the details of exactly what data is needed to underpin the climate-smart approach was the focus of the recently completed the Scaling up Climate Smart Agriculture project. PwC, the University of Edinburgh and Plan Vivo (a voluntary offsetting scheme) worked together to help make climate finance work for smallholders, primarily in Africa, by examining market opportunities, technical barriers, finance sources and relevant agricultural practices. The project developed new user-friendly reporting and verification guides for projects conducting carbon accounting and monitoring within climate-smart agriculture.

At the Scaling up Climate Smart Agriculture meeting organised by the project and held in London on 31 October, Jack Steege from PwC explained that levels and stringency of monitoring and reporting vary depending on the types of financing available. While compliance-grade carbon-offset markets, such as the Clean Development Mechanism, require very high levels of precision, other sources of finance do not demand such rigour in reporting carbon savings.

Within carbon offsetting, how emissions are measured makes a big difference to potential funds received: conservative approaches hedge, but might underpay farmers for their emissions reductions, while ‘best estimate’ accounting could represent a more pragmatic approach, especially in situations where access to site-specific datasets is limited. The meeting showcased several tools and methods that have been developed to help quantify emissions reductions from smallholder farmers.

For example, Dr Nick Berry presented the SHAMBA tool, a kind of ‘carbon calculator’ developed as part of a project led by PwC in partnership with Edinburgh University and funded by the Rockefeller Foundation. The tool was designed as a ‘proof of concept’ to show that measuring the mitigation benefits of smallholder agriculture, can be simplified to make best use of ‘what we already know’; existing data sets and activities being implemented on the ground.

When calibrated to the African farm level and ‘normal’ livelihoods uses, the tool estimates the emissions reduction from different techniques or farm crop innovations. It therefore acts as a building block for carbon projects. In future, it could be developed to include on-going adaptation choices by rural people, such as different crop varieties, intercropping or agroforestry, and potentially wider social variables.

Alexa Morrison of Plan Vivo and Meena Kunwar from the Himalayan Community Carbon project of Rupantaran in Nepal demonstrated how they are able to help communities meet requirements for funding sources with the Plan Vivo voluntary certification scheme. Plan Vivo awards certificates for avoided CO2 emissions achieved through biodiversity conservation projects, poverty reduction and sustainable livelihood initiatives and work to restore degraded ecosystems. Initially concerned with forestry projects, the organisation has now branched into agricultural practices. It pays according to performance.

Another innovative scheme using the voluntary market for carbon emissions reduction was outlined by Charlotte Cressy from FLO-CERT. Termed Insetting, it involves investing in businesses’ own supply chains rather than traditional offsetting. The approach is helping to monitor and reduce emissions from agroforestry, waste-water management with biodigestibles and intercropping techniques in Nicaragua.

Kristy Buckley from the Meridian Institute reflected on the policy context and potential donors for climate-smart agriculture following pre-Doha informal discussions in Rome with experts from international climate change negotiations teams. She reported that funding needs to include better coordinated, longer-term, multi-lateral financing if it is to be effective, and that the sector needs to engage much more in sharing information and transferring knowledge between projects.

One major conclusion to emerge from the meeting was that monitoring and reporting will be vital for getting climate-related finance for these projects. This will increase the level of reporting for those wanting to access such funding and is also likely to create winners and losers, with those more literate or responsive able to benefit sooner. Using cooperatives or user groups could help ensure that poorer and the poorest members of communities are not excluded. Tailored, easy-to-use modelling tools will be vital.

For climate-smart agriculture to be effective, scaling-up must not be too rapid. Practitioners will need to have realistic expectations of the process and the long lead-in times required when working with communities. Mike Riddell from Bioclimate Research and Development commented that project funding needs to reflect this long start-up time. He said that three- to five-year funding periods are not enough, and noted that the initial set-up transaction costs are high.

The biggest elephant in the room, according to Tim Schloendorn from South Pole Carbon Asset Management, is demand and guarantee of payments for these projects. Plan Vivo’s experience is of an increasing demand for its voluntary certification scheme, based on an impressive certification standard and strong ethical branding. But it is still relatively small at only $8m. Other opportunities for funding could come from ‘insetting’ approaches.

Gaining credibility will be essential if agriculture is to be included in any kind of financing deal around mitigation. Practitioners will need to know how to measure the impacts of choosing climate-smart methods and show that the concept really works with communities in the long-term. Achieving this will require innovative partnerships that can identify the problems clearly, provide workable solutions, share these with others, and rapidly elevate the climate-smart concept from farm, to national level and into the realm of international policy.
This area has been highlighted by CCAFS and others – and it was the subject of a two-day meeting last week on 16-17th November in Accra, West Africa. Researchers look forward to moving this issue forward together, in partnership.

Read more in detail from the projects reports from Sub-Saharan Africa in Case Study 1 here.

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