Climate risks pose unprecedented threats to agricultural food production. While farmers cope by making adjustments to farm management practices and by adopting new Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices, resulting transformations in agricultural landscapes are likely to affect agricultural biodiversity, food system sustainability and resilience.
Held on 27 May, Biodiversity, Crop Yields & Climate Change unpacked GCRF AFRICAP research aimed at identifying the trade-offs and synergies among food production, biodiversity, and food system sustainability under climate change, key knowledge to inform a more sustainable and resilient food system of the future.
Following introductions made by event chair Dr Susannah Sallu, the seminar dove straight into AFRICAP research led by University of Leeds researcher Dr Hemant Tripathi.
Tripathi began by setting the scene with a broad background on food production, biodiversity, and global change process that drive food production and biodiversity.
After briefly introducing climate-smart agriculture and why it is proposed as a framework to build climate resilience, Tripathi provided a detailed explanation of AFRICAP’s agroecology research work in Tanzania. Conducted from September 2019 to August 2020 in the East Usambara Mountains, the year-long study involved sampling of invertebrate communities using pitfall, pan and sticky traps; identification of sampled specimens to operational taxonomic units; visual assays of crop damage; and a survey of annual crop yields from maize and cassava. Study activities took place in 82 fields throughout the region, including a mix of CSA and non-CSA fields.
Tripathi left audience members with four main messages:
- CSA and other activities need to be frequently evaluated for their effects on biodiversity and associated ecosystem services.
- CSA evaluations must look beyond productivity.
- AFRICAP’s case study in Tanzania highlights the importance of local management and landscape characteristics.
- More local-scale case studies and syntheses are needed to understand the combined and interactive effects of global change process and drivers of agricultural transformation across different geographies and production models.
Following Tripathi’s research presentation, seminar discussant Sina Luchen (FAO Regional Emergency Agronomist and Lead Technical Officer for the FAO Sub-Regional Office for Southern Africa Resilience Hub) provided a response, contextualising AFRICAP research within the broader context in sub-Saharan Africa.
Want to learn more? View or download Dr Tripathi’s slides for Biodiversity, Crop Yields & Climate Change.
The event ended with a facilitated Q&A. As we were unable to respond to all questions during the webinar, our speakers took the time to share insights for the top five unanswered audience questions.
How do we convince farmers they must look beyond productivity when evaluating CSA?
Most farmers realise the importance of other benefits they get from low-input, diverse farming practices. As evaluators of CSA success, scientists or policymakers must look beyond productivity as a measure of CSA success. We must consider biodiversity and ecosystem services as an indicator of resilience. Also, we need to communicate the benefits derived through diversity via reduction yield losses due to biocontrol or yield stability due to crop or farm diversification.
In addition, scientists seeking a change of mindset in farmer understanding of their production environment should use participatory approaches in working with farmers to achieve desired outcomes. There should be joint learning between scientists and farmers to understand and unbundle how CSA intersects with ecosystem services, benefits, enablers and trade-offs. The evidence from this will empower farmers with the knowledge that they need to have an informed perspective.
How is the carbon sequestration measured/estimated from the soil perspective of CSA? Does CSA consider agroforestry systems also?
Yes, CSA does comprise agroforestry too. Farmers traditionally evaluate soil components based on morphological indicators or features that involve assessing the soil’s structure, colour, and texture. Soil can also be assessed by analysing parameters like organic carbon, nitrogen etc. For information, you may refer to a recent GCRF AFRICAP paper led by Dr Samuel Eze.
What does the term ‘simplified landscapes’ mean in the farmer context? Does this refer to homogenous farming landscapes as opposed to heterogenous landscapes?
Yes, a simplified landscape refers to homogenous monocropping or industry-oriented farming landscapes.
Is there evidence that farmers are unwilling to adopt CSA?
Some farmers are sceptical of investing their limited resources – capital, land and time – into a new set of practices that they are not familiar with. It takes time, feedback, a learning network, and constant improvement in the technology (i.e. CSA) for broader adoption. Farmers are not unwilling to adopt CSA; at this stage, some farmers are simply sceptical due to their perceptions. With time, they will be able to identify the pros and cons of adopting different CSA technologies, determine which ones they are more comfortable with, and the ones that provide optimum benefits. For example, most farmers have adopted spacing between crop plants because it is easy to adopt, while fewer farmers have adopted trenching because it requires a lot of human time to dig trenches.
Are long-standing traditional methods or perceptions one of the reasons why CSA adoption may be low?
Yes, perception may be a reason. In general, it takes some time before a new practice is widely adopted. Farmers will learn, teach, and develop the techniques to suit them and their environment better.