‘Climate-Smart Agriculture’ – the greenwash threat to the ecological farmers who feed the world

November 9, 2015 by Lawrence Woodward

Agroecology, practised by grassroots small scale food producers and small farmers, is in danger of being pushed off the climate change agenda by corporate interests.

In the run up to COP21 – the United Nations Conference on Climate Change – at the end of November, civil society organizations are warning about the growing influence and agenda of so-called “Climate-Smart Agriculture” (CSA) and the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA).

What does ‘climate-smart’ mean?

The term ‘climate-smart agriculture’ (CSA) was first coined in 2009 and subsequently developed in 2010 by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations (UN).

A 2011 UN FAO report Climate-Smart’ Agriculture: Policies, Practices and Financing for Food Security, Adaptation, and Mitigation, very broadly defined CAS as “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes GHGs [greenhouse gases] (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals.”

The emphasis throughout that report was on agroecological approaches to soil, nutrient, water and ecosystem management with attention paid to the importance of preserving genetic resources of crops and animals – including wild relatives, which are critical in developing resilience to shocks. It did not promote things like carbon markets, increased fertiliser use or GMOs.

Fast forward a few years, however, and things have changed.

CSA has no place in climate strategy

In a recent joint statement, a collation known as Climate Smart Agriculture Concerns says that ‘climate-smart agriculture’ is a politically-motivated term and is being used to protect the interests of agribusiness corporations profiting from synthetic fertilisers, industrial meat production and large-scale industrial agriculture – all of which are widely recognised as contributing to climate change and undermining the resilience of farming systems.

The coalition – which is made up of social movements, peasants/farmers organizations and faith-based organisations from around the world that are working on climate change and food and nutrition issues – argues that CSA does not involve any criteria to define what can or cannot be called ‘climate-smart’.

It lacks any social or environmental safeguards and fails to prioritise farmers’ voices, knowledge and rights as key to facing and mitigating our climate challenges and threatens to undermine genuine agroecological approaches.

“Without definitions, criteria, standards, safeguards or exclusions, ‘climate-smart agriculture’ is a meaningless and dangerous concept that has no place as a climate strategy” and which can undermine “the radical transformation of current food and agricultural systems that the world urgently needs.”

Protecting corporate interests

According to a briefing published alongside the statement, the GACSA – launched a year ago – has a membership of 21 nations but only ten of them are developing countries. Over 70% of its membership is multi-national agri-businesses, such as Monsanto, or businesses related to the fertiliser industry.

There is much concern in civil society groups that ‘greenwashing’ by the GACSA will misleadingly promote CSA, leading to confusion and threatening support for grassroots agroecological methods.

“We urge decision-makers to stand against green-washed false solutions rebranded as CSA, and to have the courage to recognise and promote the decisive role of agroecology in ensuring food and nutrition security, the full realization of the human right to adequate food and nutrition, and food sovereignty in the face of climate change, resource scarcity, and growing demand challenges.”

Make agroecology the main pillar agricultural policy 

The civil society statement urges the UN and national decision makers to make agroecology the mainstream pillar of agricultural policy frameworks worldwide and to acknowledge, endorse and support local and national initiatives that have been developed and exist.

It states that agroecology is a holistic approach to agriculture, based on principles of ecology as well as food and nutrition security, food sovereignty and food justice which seek to enhance agricultural systems by using and recycling natural resources instead of relying on externally-purchased inputs.

The essence of agroecology is local/national food production by small food producers and family farmers, and is based on techniques that are not delivered from the top-down, but developed from farmers’ traditional knowledge and practices as well as from farmer innovations.

It makes nature a powerful ally in ensuring food and nutrition security, building healthy soils and biodiversity, conserving water, and increasing farmers’ incomes and resilience in the face of climate change. (You can learn more about agriculture’s contribution to climate change here).

Putting the farmers that feed the world in the picture

Beyond GM supports the civil society statement and shares the concerns that the agroecological approach followed by small scale and small family farmers will be swept aside by a “business more or less as usual” being promoted under the ‘climate-smart’ banner.

These farmers who produce most of the world’s food are denigrated and are under real threat of being marginalised by the corporate driven, global agriculture and food industry that dominates farming and food policies throughout the world.

They should be celebrated not denigrated; supported not threatened; made visible not ignored. Our We Feed the World project is all about trying to do that by providing a more inspiring picture of sustainable food production – minus the GMOs and unnecessary chemicals – around the world.

It aims to raise the profile of these farmers by telling their stories and viewing in a different way, them through the lens of world-renown photographers

If the world can see them, they can no longer be ignored and can, instead be celebrated and supported.