Climate-smart agriculture must go beyond promoting static solutions to climate variability and change, since this does not prepare farmers and their systems to adapt as the climate continues to change. At the heart of any farmer action, whether it is practicing sustainable water use or using seasonal forecasts, is the capacity of farmers to understand how climate change affects their farming system and the farmers’ ability to respond to these changes. Thus, farmers’ capacity to adopt and adapt technologies and practices that prepare the farming system for shocks and stress is critical.
An essential first step for organizations wanting to help farmers build resilience is to identify important shocks and stresses that affect outcomes as well as to understand what capacities are needed to manage these shocks and stresses. Mercy Corps, for example, uses a process it calls Strategic Resilient Assessments (STRESS). Through several STRESS processes in Uganda, Nepal, Niger and Democratic Republic of Congo, it is clear that vulnerable farmers face a consistent set of climate shocks and stresses including soil degradation, agricultural droughts, floods, pests and diseases. These challenges are becoming more intensive and less predictable due to climate change, which is placing a greater burden on the farmer to adapt continually over time.
Many agricultural responses and solutions are required to achieve resilient outcomes ranging from “good development” to “adapting practices” to “transformational actions.”
The permagarden method is an approach to engage farmers initially in an understanding of climate-smart agriculture that takes the range of responses and solutions into account. The permagarden method develops a small-scale, intensive garden where farmers can examine new practices with minimal risk, practice new concepts, and test solutions before scaling them up. The farmer layers multiple water harvesting and soil fertility building practices into the garden design. The approach should, ideally, have an immediate nutritional and economic benefit at the household level. Rather than only providing a static set of agriculture practices to implement, the method focuses on tailoring solutions to the location-specific agriculture challenges that farmers must overcome. It then helps them design a garden that addresses these challenges by building on local knowledge of what works. The Permagarden Technical Manual explains the technical approach and is part of the Permagarden Toolkit, which also includes training materials for program staff.
At a larger scale, the Resilience Design in Smallholder Farming Systems approach places a greater emphasis on understanding environmental influences that affect a farming system, then creates a better farm design that is more resilient to environmental and economic shocks and stresses. A resilient farm design often requires simple adjustments to enhance natural resources and ecosystem services and increase energy efficiency through a process of strengthening the skill set, adaptability and confidence of smallholder famers. Through promoting approaches that focus on building farmer capacity to understand and respond to shocks and stresses induced by climate change, the permagarden method is increasing resilience of farmers and their farming systems.
Climatelinks is a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. The portal curates and archives technical guidance and knowledge related to USAID’s work to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change.