Five years ago, at a U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization’s conference at The Hague, the international body defined Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) as an approach to developing 1) the technical, 2) policy, and 3) investment conditions to achieve sustainable agricultural development for food security in the future.
We have a long, long way to go. But we are seeing promising returns in food production and economic opportunity where governments, corporations, and nonprofit organizations are stepping up with bold and creative investments, particularly in the rural areas of developing countries. And, according to the journal Agriculture & Food security, there may even be a silver lining in the food price spikes of recent years because they have reinforced awareness of the links between food security and political and economic stability.
The Scope of the Need
The numbers are staggering: According to the U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), food production must increase by at least 60 percent to respond to the demand of the 9 billion people who are projected to live on Earth by 2050. Agriculture & Food Security puts the increased production need at 70 percent—with dire consequences to the environment and society.
But as The World Bank reports, “Already, these pressures are forcing farmers and researchers to reassess mainstream farming techniques and consider alternative approaches to securing food, including conservation agriculture, integrated crop-livestock management, intercropping and agroforestry.
“The good news is that there is no shortage of women and men ready to take the last century’s agricultural advances into a new era of opportunity,” the report concludes.
Unfortunately, the people we may need most—and those who will benefit most—are those who face the greatest obstacles to agricultural change: small farmers, particularly in rural areas of developing countries.
Writing in The World Bank’s blog Voices, Dr. Ademola Braimoh, a sustainability scientist, listed these five socioeconomic barriers to adoption of improved practices:
- Significant upfront expense to implement most land management practices, which are unaffordable to poor farmers
- Lack of access to local markets
- Lack of information on the potentials of alternative techniques of farming and limited capacity in many developing countries
- Resistance to adoption of new methods that are inconsistent with community rules and traditional practices
- Unwillingness and inability to work together in collective action, which hinders successful uptake, diffusion, and impact of new land management technologies
But creative Climate-Smart Agricultural programs that are fostering community-based collaboration and teaching marketing and fundraising skills are making a dent in those barriers.
CSA Successes: Rwanda, Jamaica, and South Africa
Among projects now seeded around the globe, we are seeing successes take root in rural countries where the private and public sectors are investing in local farming initiatives.
In Rwanda, a government program is halting hillside erosion through soil improvement runoff management and terraces built by local farmers. At the same time, Rwanda has added economic incentives and empowered the farmers by helping them develop farmers’ groups and gain access to credit.
As a recent World Bank report explained, “With erosion controlled, less fertilizer and crops are being washed downhill. The farmers at the original site reported significant increases in yields and income: after satisfying their community’s food needs, more than 65 percent of their first potato harvest was sold in the market. In the past, that number was only 10 percent.”
In Jamaica and South Africa, INMED aquaponics installations have generated both public and private support. The single low-maintenance tank and grow-bed aquaponics system can meet the nutritional needs of a family of four, plus additional fish and produce that can be sold to generate household income. But the promise of aquaponics is seen most quickly and clearly on a commercial scale. INMED’s simplified modular design allows farmers to scale up their systems as income allows, with a strong return on investment.
In Jamaica, INMED Caribbean is partnering with the Jamaica Adaptive Agricultural Programme (JAAP). Members of community groups and schools benefit from seminars in aquaponics systems and technical training workshops with special focus on the economic aspects of Climate-Smart Agriculture. Paul Barrett, project director of INMED Caribbean, told the Jamaica Gleaner that the workshops are designed to strengthen the participants’ “adaptive” capacity to enable them to assume a leadership role in income generation.”
He added, “One specific objective was to increase the confidence of the beneficiaries by providing them with marketing kits and training through role play,” he explained. “They were provided with brochures, fliers, labels, and business cards to strengthen their marketing skills. In fact, the Youth In Action group used their skills and training later that evening and approached three supermarkets and were successful in making sales and having orders to fill,” Barrett told The Gleaner.
The other specific objective of the workshop focused on sustainability by encouraging the formation of an aquaponics association to bring together famers and groups to network, coordinate marketing, and develop plans for additional funding.
In South Africa, the gas and chemicals giant Air Products has teamed up with INMED Partnerships for Children to address the nationwide plight of poverty and hunger through an aquaponics project. Launched in 2013 at the Carel de Wet Technical High School in Vanderbijlpark, the project utilizes the INMED aquaponics system, which can be adapted to fit available space and purpose, from family units to community or commercial systems.
The aquaponics project can produce as much as 2,000 kg of fish, which can result in 26,000 kg of vegetables being grown and produced annually, making the project commercially viable, year-round.
“There is great potential for aquaponics in this country, and this project will teach our children not only how it works, and how to grow their own food—but also how to produce food on a larger scale as a commercial venture for the school,” said Gawie Richter, principal of Carel de Wet Technical High School.
At INMED Partnership for Children’s Harvest the Future International Symposium from June 14 to 17 in Montego Bay, Jamaica, you will have the opportunity to learn about the income potential of aquaponics installations around the world from the leaders who are initiating, funding, and managing them.