By Helena Wright and Katrin Glatzel
Image credit: IISD
Last month, the UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee and the Adaptation Committee co-hosted the ‘Workshop on Technologies for Adaptation’ in Bonn, Germany. The workshop highlighted a range of technologies for adaptation to climate change in agriculture; a sector that is extremely vulnerable to climate change and most commonly prioritised by countries in their Adaptation Technology Needs Assessments.
Creating an enabling environment for climate-smart agriculture: institutions and technology matter
There are a range of “enablers” and “barriers” to climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector, with a lack of finance often identified as the key barrier by countries. Market factors, such as food price fluctuations, are also commonly seen as an obstacle to food security under climate change.
Enabling measures in the agriculture sector must therefore include innovative financial products that enable farmers to access to finance, credit or loans to be able to invest in adequate technologies and to diversify production. For this to be achieved, political leadership and strong institutions are key.
However, technologies needed to adapt to climate change are not just ‘hard’ technologies (such as fertilisers or equipment) but also ‘soft’ technologies (the right farming practices, skills or institutions) as identified in the workshop background paper on “Technologies for Adaptation”.
The different forms of technologies can be complementary, for example, seed varieties require know-how to be used effectively, or an early warning system requires effective institutions. Providing seasonal forecasts for farmers, for example, will be key in making agriculture more resilient to climate change; precautions before extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts, can be taken, which will ultimately reduce the costs of damages to equipment, agricultural produce or livestock.
These soft technologies can be just as important for climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector, as having the right ‘hard’ technology.
Recognising indigenous knowledge
The importance of technology justice, which is “the right of people to decide, choose and use technologies that assist them” has been widely advocated as an integral part of delivering a climate-smart agriculture. Communities, alongside governments and the private sector, must play a central role in technology adoption to ensure it is effective, sustainable and inclusive.
Knowledge held by local people is essential to identify and scale-up responses to different climate-related challenges.
The ‘re-greening of the Sahel,’ a famous example when food security was improved for almost 3 million people, started when local farmers’ practices were rediscovered by innovative farmers and NGOs and then diffused by a coalition of different actors, including farmers, donors, private and public sector. The use of the Zaï technique (planting pits) by farmers to improve soil fertility and humidity was eventually scaled-up. Since then, along with protection of trees to provide fodder, firewood and fruit, the technique has been effective in rehabilitating degraded land and in protecting against drought in the Sahel.
Another example is the case of ‘floating agriculture’ in Bangladesh. This age-old practice of cultivating vegetables on a floating platform was promoted by NGOs in North-east Bangladesh. However, while the practice has captured the imagination of policy-makers, it was argued that more research is needed to find out whether the technology is in fact resilient under a changing climate.
Community-based adaptation. Image credit: ARCAB/IIED
Learning from successes and failures
It is important to draw lessons from successes and failures for future projects and in the development of longer-term policies. For example, new climate-resilient crop varieties are increasingly being developed drawing on experiences from field-trials. ‘
Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa,’ supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was developed through conventional breeding methods and disseminated through capacity-building events and activities for maize breeders, seed producers, extensions workers, NGOs and farmer groups.
In this context, South-South cooperation and research will be vital to enable farmers to adapt to climate change. Governments need to ensure that research and innovation facilities are strengthened to encourage a new generation of researchers and entrepreneurs to meet the challenges of a changing climate.
It is generally more difficult to identify examples of failures than successes, perhaps because the success stories are widely promoted. It is important, though, to also look at the technologies and approaches that have not worked, in order to learn lessons and continuously improve technologies, soft and hard, to be able to build a climate resilient agriculture sector in developing countries.
There are, however, physical limits to adaptation, including physiological or bio-physical limits to heat tolerance in plants or animals. This highlights the urgent need to mitigate emissions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.