Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach to agriculture that can offer farmers in Africa substantial benefits in terms of increased productivity and income, better risk management, and improved resilience to climate change. As such, CSA has become a key development goal, championed by donors and governments alike. Despite this focus, however, the adoption of CSA approaches and practices by smallholder farmers has been slow, piecemeal and largely unsustained.
The common narrative is that adoption depends on accessibility, promotion and training around specific CSA technologies and increased access to markets. However, this narrative misses a number of key behavioral change factors, including the wider social, political and institutional environment in which agriculture is embedded. To address this substantial knowledge gap, Integra and Clark University, on behalf of USAID, recently conducted a rigorous, systematic analysis of the factors shaping the adoption of CSA. Through a triangulation of a comprehensive literature review, expert interviews and farmer surveys in Burkina Faso and Kenya, three key themes emerged:
1. Economics do matter to adoption but nuances also matter.
The economic narrative is well known and includes barriers such as high initial cost, high long-term cost, diseconomies of scale, and poor access to credit and inputs. Unsurprisingly, cost is one of the top adoption factors across all data sources. However, disaggregating these costs reveals some key and overlooked differences between farmer perspectives and the conventional wisdom of practitioners. Farmers cite initial costs over twice as often as a barrier to adoption than technical experts, while long-term costs are not a significant factor of farmers’ decision-making around CSA adoption. This points to the need for a better understanding on behalf of practitioners of different CSA costs, as well as the seasonal decision-making processes that underpin farmers’ livelihood and CSA decisions.
2. To be adopted, CSA needs to align with societal and cultural values and norms.
Agriculture, as a livelihoods activity, is a deeply socially embedded approach and farmers understand CSA through their own formal and informal systems and norms that govern factors such as labor, gender, identity and beliefs. As developed throughout this report, such factors create often unseen opportunities and risks for farmers that shape their CSA adoption but are often overlooked by the CSA literature and expert interviews. The issue of short-term climatic risk, for example, is the second highest cited barrier by farmers but is completely overlooked by practitioners. It seems that farmers will not adopt any CSA practice that lowers their capacity to address immediate risks of climate variability, even if that practice might be well targeted at future climate change.
3. Market forces and institutions form the foundation for CSA adoption.
In many African countries, structural constraints within markets and supporting institutions severely constrain the adoption of CSA approaches. These constraints are not unique to CSA but instead define and influence the entire agriculture sector. They include poorly functioning markets, dysfunctional government institutions and weak land tenure systems. In order for CSA to be adopted in a sustained and collective way at a national scale, there are basic foundational conditions and good agricultural practices that are required within the agriculture sector that go beyond any specific farm technology. Achieving these conditions requires integrated programming that draws upon wider efforts in democracy and governance, economic growth, agriculture and food security, and disaster risk reduction.
This blog was originally posted on Agrilinks.