December 9th, 2013

Conversation Series: An Interview With Dr. Alice Pell, Cornell University

Dr. Alice Pell is a professor of International Agriculture and Animal Science at Cornell University and the former director of the Cornell International Institute for Food, Agriculture and Development.

We sat down with Dr. Pell at the conference to ask her a few questions on building resiliency and adaptive capacity in agriculture and the importance of sharing scientific data and knowledge in regards to Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA).

Q: You mentioned in your presentation at the conference that resiliency is the younger sibling of sustainability. Everyone thinks they know what resiliency is, but in fact, it’s highly context specific. You spoke about different indicators of resiliency, from human to biophysical. Could you give more examples?

Dr. Pell: FAO has done some work on household resilience, and those indicators are pretty easy to follow and there are ongoing initiatives. We all end up asking essentially the same questions and we ask them in a unique way that will give us insight into the problem. But if we could agree a bit more on those sets of questions, we could be more effective.

Q: What do you think is preventing more groups from sharing their research?

Dr. Pell: People are worried that their data will get used and they won’t get the credit. But that shouldn’t stop us from sharing. NIH (National Institute of Health) and NSF (National Science Foundation) require that the data you collect is made available. That is a big step forward.

One of the bottlenecks is with meta-data. There are a lot of government agencies collecting datasets but they’re not properly annotated so you spend months cleaning it up. Collecting good metadata isn’t that hard, but you need to do it properly from the beginning. If people were more focused on this issue at the outset, then when an NGO collects the data, the next agency or group to analyze it would be provided with the correct data collection.

Q: Information technology for development (ICT4D) is an increasing topic of interest and there are a number of tools available to researchers and surveyors now. Has anything you’ve seen in the field been particularly effective?   

I’ve seen a lot of tablets being used in the field. Clearly there are a few problems still with programming it and getting it developed cost-effectively, so that it functions well. Three years from now, we’ll probably be a lot better at it than we are now.

Obviously, this is the way to go and it reduces a lot of error in data collection.

Q: From an academic point of view, how do you see the CSA alliance moving forward?

Dr. Pell: We have a very strong project in Indonesia, working with the Bureau of Statistics to do the metadata and use the government data. With things like an Alliance, I would use the example of Indonesia to demonstrate that you need to have trust between different parties to work together, and we went in with good connections. If you had an Alliance, it could really help make the data accessible. Just knowing that the data exists is important.

Q: What might be some of the challenges for climate-smart agriculture?

Dr. Pell: I see technology adoption as being one major issue. In addition, people often forget to do a labor assessment and we forget how much work it is for farmers to adopt some of these new practices. I used to be a farmer and remember when the Extension people would come to my house, and by the end of the meeting, though they had wonderful ideas for me, they wanted 3-4 more hours of my time. If people considered the labor part…farmers in Africa are not lazy folks doing absolutely nothing. A lot of farm work is women’s work and women clearly don’t have the time to do it.

Q: How can we overcome these barriers to adoption of technology?

Dr. Pell: I believe in the participatory approach, assuming that it’s done in the right way. When communities see the “white jeep” drive into their community, and they see a tree logo on the vehicle, they know they need to talk about trees.

Good participatory approaches take time and patience, and there should be good discussion in an ongoing process, built into the whole project.

In terms of scaling up projects, I’m much more interested in a snowball approach to projects. There is a group called Farm Concern working in Kenya and Tanzania, and they organize small groups of farmers, they are doing things at a scale that people can run. Each small group already has existing linkages with 2-3 other groups. If a little group fails, the neighbor group can help bail it out and figure out what the next steps are and they can help themselves. That type of institutional capacity building is really important.

We want leadership at the local level and that’s where it’s most lacking. Doing it with a manageable organization size is way better. Having tiny projects isn’t the answer, but how you scale any project is really important.

I think one of the game changers (that often gets overlooked) is improved literacy. People can get information from a whole bunch of different sources that they couldn’t previously. While mobile technology is important, changes in literacy have seen colossal improvements in some countries, and while there are plenty of people that still can’t read there are enough that can bring ideas in to a community and share knowledge.

Thank you to Dr. Pell for giving us her time and insights. 

December 5th, 2013

Creating An “Open, Voluntary and Inclusive” CSA Alliance

“Open, Voluntary and Inclusive” are three main descriptors for the new global Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance. As the 3rd Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change drew to a close, the last few hours of the conference was spent developing the design of the Alliance. The main objective is to formally launch the Alliance by September 23, 2014 at the UN Secretary General’s Leadership Summit in New York.

The basic process for the CSA Alliance is outlined below:

1.     Broadening the partnership: Five regional consultative meetings will be held in the coming year to seek input from governments, private sector, civil society groups and farmers on the CSA alliance. These will take place in Asia & Pacific, Caribbean & Latin America, Africa, Near East, and Europe.

2.     Drafting the Charter: A charter will guide the workings of the Alliance. Stakeholder groups will contribute input to the charter over the next year. The core group of partners (the Netherlands, USA, South Africa and FAO) will prepare the initial draft.

3.     Development of Programming: Three action groups were established at the 3rd Global Conference. There will be an investment, knowledge and enabling environment group, which will develop a scope of work and identify priorities and early action items that support the Alliance.

The final day of the conference allowed for open discussion with conference delegates on the scope, timeline and substance of the new CSA Alliance. Overall, there was general enthusiasm and much energy with moving forward with the Alliance. There were, however, some points of concern that delegates raised, particularly around the issue of inclusion and making the process seem less top-down. These included:

–        Inclusion of farmers in the stakeholder process

–        Inclusion of women and youth specifically in the charter

–        Inclusion of urban agriculture as an important focus of CSA

–        Broadening existing partnerships

–        Incorporating the “right to food” and a more rights-based approach to the Alliance

We will add that another notable actor was little mentioned throughout much of the conference: large-scale agribusiness. While much was discussed around getting better technologies into the hands of small-scale farmers, “Big Ag” will play a crucial role in feeding 9 billion people by 2050 whether opponents of large-scale agriculture like it or not. Market access remains a major barrier for the majority of smallholder farmers, and improving distribution and supply chains will be necessary for both poverty alleviation and food security. When environmental degradation is such a key concern and output from climate change, having agribusiness at the table and providing input to the Alliance is highly recommended.

We are looking forward to seeing concrete action steps and the formal launch of the Alliance next year. We are grateful to the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation and CIERP at The Fletcher School to have included us in this incredible process, particularly when agriculture, climate change and food security will be cornerstones of shifting development needs in the decades to come.

Submitted by: Julia Leis, Tameisha Henry, Tori Okner, Greg Sixt and Easwaran Narassimhan

December 5th, 2013

Conversation Series: An Interview with Dr. Hans Hoogeveen

Interview with Hans Hoogeveen, Vice Minister for Agriculture, the Netherlands

By Tameisha Henry and Greg Sixt


Q: How is the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) different from other sustainable agriculture initiatives?


A: The difference is that in the past, we have worked in silos, but CSA is abandoning that flawed approach. CSA has a focus on sustainable agriculture and increasing productivity, qualitatively and quantitatively.  CSA also includes a central focus on food and nutrition security and climate change. In summary, CSA embraces these three pillars in practice, not only in theory. What is also different is that up until now we have been working mainly through governments and government projects – they have driven the programs with designated funds and have neglected the private sector. CSA better integrates the private sector. We know that if you don’t include the private sector we will not succeed because they have the knowledge about markets and value chains. This is necessary because we cannot increase agricultural production without including a focus on climate change and utilizing the latest innovations that allow us to grow more climate change tolerant crops with fewer inputs.


Q: What do you see as essential for successful implementation of the CSA Alliance?


A: The CSA Alliance will strongly rely on the commitment of the private sector and NGOs. If it’s only driven by governments, we will have the same results as in the past. The Alliance will only succeed if we have multi-sectoral involvement and investment in programs and projects. We are confident that if the will and the interest of the companies are there, the funding will come.


Q: There has been discussion here both in favor of extension services and against. How do you see extension fitting in to the agenda?


A: Extension service is one of the most crucial elements for the CSA Alliance’s success. For example, the Netherlands is a small country but is the second largest exporter of agricultural products. This “Miracle of the Netherlands” was achieved using three pillars: 1) entrepreneurship; 2) farmer cooperatives;  3) science/knowledge-based agriculture. Both 2 and 3 have been driven by extension service – translating and disseminating the science to farmers. Effective extension service will need to be incorporated if we want to achieve food security.  We have to learn from past mistakes in extension. Specifically, the incorporation of indigenous knowledge and local culture are necessary to ensure a people-driven approach.


Follow up question: Extension systems in many countries are terribly underfunded. Do you see a financial mechanism for funding extension in developing countries as part of the CSA Alliance? Does Private Public Partnership have a place here?


A: There is certainly a funding mechanism in the CSA Alliance for extension. There should be sufficient funding from donors for this, in particular from our established relationships with international organizations, governments, the World Bank, and other NGOs.


Q: There has been much discussion at the conference about bringing farmers to the table and the especial vulnerability of women to the impacts of climate change. How will the CSA Alliance bring women and women’s groups to the table?


A: It is crucial that we find new ways to attract and get women farmers to the table. Women are the drivers of agriculture, particularly in developing countries, and should therefore be the drivers of change. Without their involvement, substantial and sustainable change will not happen. Women must have access to finance and access to land and this can only be achieved if they have a seat at the table.


Thank you to Dr. Hoogeveen for his time and insights.


December 4th, 2013

The Road to Forming an Alliance

It is now Day 2, mid-day at the 3rd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change in Johannesburg. We’ve digested hours of content on everything from the need for an agreed upon definition of resiliency to transferring scientific knowledge to the local level on climate-smart agricultural technologies. Yet, at this stage it’s safe to say we have more questions than answers.

There are representatives from over 30 countries here and we are still figuring out who is in the room from governments, private sector, NGOs, research institutions, etc. While we are humbled to learn from some of the major international players present, it is also apparent that some influential stakeholders are absent, notably large agribusinesses outside of South Africa.

Following on the heels of Warsaw COP19, and the failure to include agriculture in the agenda, the need for an alternative forum for multilateral discourse on climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is becoming increasingly clear. In comments made during conference breaks, we have overheard people questioning the relationship between the CSA Alliance and the UNCP process, between the Alliance and the Global Research Alliance, and between the Alliance and the Climate Clean Air Coalition? Some are confident the Alliance will add value while others refrained from commenting until this Alliance is more developed, conceptually and practically.

The conference seems to be moving forward on two tracks. On one level, there is the formal program – a robust agenda packed full of presentations from policy experts, practitioners and academics. The second is taking place behind closed doors and in quiet moments between sessions, in which likely state participants in the Alliance try to gauge interest, concerns, opportunities, and leadership roles. This is diplomacy in action.

The possibility of a Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance has been referenced repeatedly, but the design process is planned to take place tomorrow afternoon. Will it be an Alliance of multiple parties from different sectors, bridging the Global North and Global South? What about the north-south and south-south divisions?  Or, will it be action-oriented, designed to shift national and international policies? This is not to say that these are mutually exclusive, but there is palpable tension between national interests and creating a unified approach to combatting climate change in the agricultural sector. Ultimately, creating win-win partnerships needs to be based on incentives, and it remains to be seen what tangible incentives there are for key parties, be it the United States or South Africa. For now, few concrete details have emerged. The Alliance will be voluntary, but what will its operating structure look like? How will the decision making process look? Who will be the key members?

We hear feedback that the Alliance presents the opportunity to raise the discourse on agriculture internationally and that the more attention raised on these issues, the better.  This early stage of implementing a Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance agenda is an important one. It is imperative that CSA not be pursued as a second Green Revolution. If the input intensive model of agriculture is used, then CSA will fail. The interests of agricultural seed, chemical, and equipment producers to expand their market shares must not trump development goals. Agribusinesses should be a partner in CSA initiatives, but with careful attention to their scope of influence.

Many of the solutions talked about at this conference focus on management solutions, and rightly so. The trouble with management solutions is that they are often less physically tangible than technological approaches. It’s easy to see a new irrigation project or field full of improved varieties of a crop, but changes in human capacity and new approaches to agriculture take time and committed investment. In a world that demands quick results for development dollars, the long-term approaches that are necessary for management development to be successful get left behind. CSA requires a long-term commitment that will require a shift in the conversation with donors. We hope to see this kind of commitment as a central piece to the Alliance.

At present, the Alliance appears well positioned to facilitate shared knowledge with other international processes and bodies, specifically the United Nations. As a voluntary body, it may inform parties, hopefully influencing policy, but the jury is still out on whether it will incite action.

Stay tuned as we continue to publish updates in the lead up to the main event: outlining the timeframe for the Alliance on Thursday afternoon.

December 4th, 2013

Conversation Series: An Interview with Mr. Godfried Agyemang

Interview with Mr. Godfried Agyemang, Vice President of Program Development, Agriculture Cooperative of Ghana

By Easwaran Narassimhan


Q: Good morning Mr. Agyemang, what do you think about CSA (Climate Smart Agriculture) as a scientific concept?

A: I think CSA is not a new concept. The sustainable agricultural practices that CSA recommends have been in practice in Africa for a very long time. At one point, we used to call these sustainable practices as “EcoAgriculture”. But, CSA tries to bring the already existing concepts in to a more structured form.

Q: What do you think about the Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) Alliance that this conference is trying to achieve?

A: I think there is a lot of support and promise in this alliance. But, I strongly believe that this alliance will not succeed without bringing in the voices of farmers. Farmers are crucial for the successful implementation of CSA.

Q: What do you see as crucial for a successful alliance?

A: Inclusion of farmers and a strong financing mechanism. These are the key points that we need to address?

Q: If I may ask, what is your background and your role as the vice president of program development at the Agriculture Cooperative of Ghana?

 A: I am a farmer myself and grew up understanding grass roots level problems in agriculture. As the vice president of program development, I work closely in sustainable agricultural development in Ghana.

Thank you to Mr. Agyemang for your time and insights.


December 3rd, 2013

Introduction – 3rd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change

The 3rd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change is now underway in Johannesburg, South Africa, from December 3-5, 2013. The conference seeks to build on the momentum from previous conferences in The Hague, Netherlands (2010), and Hanoi, Vietnam (2012), to secure agriculture’s integral role in the global climate change agenda. A core conference goal is to design and form a Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, while also providing a forum for knowledge sharing and action-oriented discussions on partnership development and the proliferation of Climate Smart Agriculture practices around the world.

Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) is an approach that seeks to increase agricultural productivity, strengthen farmers’ resilience to climate shocks, reduce agriculture’s greenhouse gas emissions and in some cases increase carbon sequestration. It has been coined a “triple-win” for agriculture, climate, and food and nutrition security.

The importance of CSA is manifest. The world will need to increase food production by 60-70 percent by 2050, with the vagaries of climate change expected to pose significant challenges to meeting this target and ensuring global food security and rural livelihoods. Developing countries are especially vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, particularly in the face of food insecurity and malnutrition.  Population growth and climatic effects (including reduced rainfall, volatility of temperature pattern, and extreme weather events) exacerbate the need for action.

The CSA approach recognizes that farmers are the cornerstone to its success and seeks to find ways to effectively and efficiently provide these primary stakeholders with the appropriate technology, data, and tools to implement agricultural practices in line with CSA goals.

During the conference, delegates will discuss the design and potential launch of a Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance (CSAA). CSAA would bring together governments, private sector, civil society, farmers, research institutions, and other actors to spearhead an action plan for scaling-up CSA, among other objectives. This is crucial because, as evidenced in recent Doha and Warsaw climate change negotiations, agriculture was regrettably side-lined in the multilateral system.

Thanks to the generous support of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and CIERP, there are five Fletcher and Friedman students attending and blogging live at the conference: Tameisha Henry (MALD 2014), Julia Leis (MALD 2014), Easwaran Narassimhan (MALD 2015), Tori Okner (MALD / MS Agriculture, Food and Environment 2013), and Gregory Sixt (Friedman PhD Student Agriculture, Food and Environment/Water Diplomacy Fellow). We are looking forward to keeping you updated on the proceedings of the conference and the progress towards a Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance.

December 2nd, 2013

Johannesburg Conference

The 3rd Global Conference on Agriculture, Food and Nutrition Security and Climate Change will be held from 3 to 5 December 2013 in Johannesburg, South Africa and will include high-level discussions on a Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance. The conference will provide the platform for global leaders; practitioners; scientists; farmers; organized agriculture; civil society; the private sector; and NGOs to discuss and share experiences on successes, and to deliberate the challenges and threats to food and nutrition security under the impact of climate change.

This year, five students and two professors of practice from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy will be participating in the conference. Their daily observations while at the conference will be shared in this blog.

More Information on the conference