The Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) defines climate-smart agriculture (CSA) as an approach that helps guide actions to transform agri-food systems towards green and climate resilient practices. CSA supports reaching internationally agreed goals such as the SDGs and the Paris Agreement. It aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience to climate change; and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible.
Mongabay-India reports that that food systems are responsible for a third of our global emissions. At the United Nations climate conference in Glasgow, Scotland (COP26), the negotiations featured plans lowering the sector’s contribution to global warming. Scientists and farmers criticised the dichotomy narrative in the ‘food versus fuel’ conversation and called for more climate-resilient food and energy systems while highlighting the existing technology. They pressed on the fact that transformative agricultural systems exist and agriculture can be climate-friendly.
Technologies and practices for better water management and CSA are improving in India. Farmers face different climate vulnerabilities based on their landholding sizes, crops grown and their geographic location.as technologies and practices for better water management and CSA improve in India, solar-based irrigation systems and direct-seeded rice are gaining momentum.
The FAO states that different elements of climate-smart agricultural systems include management of farms, crops, livestock, aquaculture and capture fisheries to balance near-term food security and livelihoods needs with priorities for adaptation and mitigation; ecosystem and landscape management to conserve ecosystem services that are important for food security, agricultural development, adaptation and mitigation; services for farmers and land managers to enable better management of climate risks/impacts and mitigation actions; and changes in the wider food system including demand-side measures and value chain interventions that enhance the benefits of CSA.
CSA supports the FAO Strategic Framework 2022-2031 based on the Four Betters: better production, better nutrition, a better environment and a better life for all, leaving no one behind. What constitutes a CSA practice is context-specific, depending on local socio-economic, environmental and climate change factors. FAO recommends the approach is implemented through five actions points: expanding the evidence base for CSA, supporting enabling policy frameworks, strengthening national and local institutions, enhancing funding, and financing options, and implementing CSA practices at field level. As the Mongabay-India report points out one good example of CSA intervention is Dhundi village in Gujarat, where the farmers irrigate their lands with solar power. The solar programme provides remuneration to the farmers in two ways. First, the farmers transfer the electricity to the local grid, and they are provided an income for the same. Second, they can also diversify and grow different crops as there is a guarantee of water and they don’t have to depend entirely on monsoons.
The report adds that farmers are also experimenting with a switch in rice planting. Direct-seeded rice, in which rice seeds are sown and grown directly into the field instead of the need for puddling in water, is increasingly being explored as a climate mitigation strategy to cut back on greenhouse gas emissions associated with the volume of water required to grow traditional varieties in flooded fields.
Scientists from the International Rice Research Institute (IRRI) are breeding new varieties of rice that can thrive without puddling, and the first trials are currently close to harvest at sites across India, including Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar and Odisha. Rice currently generates around 10% of global methane emissions – comparable to emissions associated with livestock. The IRRI’s breeding programme targets the development and testing of breeding lines specifically targeted to dry and puddled direct-seeded systems by bringing together yield potential, stability and specific traits crucial for these systems into elite breeding lines. Direct seeded crops require less labour and tend to mature faster than transplanted crops. But they can have problems in lodging, weeds, and uneven growth, requiring weed management and robust tillering.
One of the challenges direct-seeded rice could help address is the paddy stubble burning issue in north India. Mechanization (including how quickly or easily machinery is available in a certain area), weed management and how fast seeds move into farmers’ hands are factors that need to be considered for the successful uptake.
The report states that the need of the hour is for technological interventions and multistakeholder collaborations. Collaborative approaches between the government agencies and the farmers, enabling mechanised farming and opening up to new technological inventions is the way to go in CSA. Big data and digital innovations, at various levels, can empower farmers to face climate-linked challenges in agriculture.