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Fitting climate smart agriculture interventions to size: New study reveals success factors

CIAT field visit at Kayonza District

Photo credit: CIAT Rwanda

Which farm management strategies lead to more climate-smart outcomes for different types of farmers?
By analysing the links between agricultural management strategies and farm household performance, a study has established that a ‘strategy that works so well on one type of farm, might not work so well on another’.

The fundamentals of climate smart agriculture (CSA) and importance in transforming agricultural production in the face of a changing climate have been well documented. In many rural farming areas where climate change is expected to have serious detrimental impacts because of their high dependence on agriculture, farming households are heterogeneous and in most cases have very distinct needs and characteristics. As such, they require tailored interventions based on scale and ability to implement.

Researchers have presented that ‘achieving climate smart agriculture depends on understanding the links between farming and livelihood practices, other possible adaptation options, and the effects on farm performance’. However, these links have not been adequately established to characterize different households and identify patterns of behavior which hold true in multiple locations, and subsequently provide insights that can then be used to improve the strategy and designs of development efforts related to climate smart interventions.

Against this backdrop, a recent study sought characterize farm practices and performance to:

  1. Assess the ‘CSA-ness’ of different farm practices and strategies,
  2. Assess how the achievement of ‘CSA-ness’ is associated with the achievement of other household development objectives
  3. To identify which strategies are more effective for which groups of farmers.

The recently published study has revealed that ‘the climate smartness of different farm strategies, or interventions not only depends on the strategy or intervention itself, but is also determined by an interaction between the characteristics of the farm household and the farm strategy.’

Accurate characterization of households is key
Using an indicator-based approach for rapid household-level characterization, the rural household multi-indicator survey (RHoMIS), the study selected several performance indicators: Measured potential food availability, farm productivity, dietary diversity, food insecurity, progress out of poverty, off-farm and on-farm income and equity, household greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and calculated emissions per unit of food produced. The study also considered three farm management strategies including intensification, crop diversification and market orientation

Key findings:

  • The climate smartness of different farm strategies is clearly determined by an interaction between the characteristics of the farm household and the farm strategy. For example, access to off-farm income is a necessary condition to enable small farms to invest in intensification
  • Size and scale of farm activities significantly influence the success of interventions. For example, the study established that strategies that enabled production intensification contributed more towards the goals of climate smart agriculture on smaller farms, whereas increased market orientation was more successful on larger farms.
  • Farming households are not a homogeneous community: As such, detailed farm household based analyses are fundamental, to assess for which groups certain strategies will achieve the intended objectives and for which households the strategies will fail.

The study emphasizes that it is important to conduct ‘more fine-grained farm household based analyses to assess for which groups certain strategies or interventions are ‘smart’, and for which households they are less ‘smart’ (or even ‘stupid’)’.

Obinju Smart Farm -Nyando

Photo credit: CCAFS/T. Muchaba

Why the RHoMIS tool for such analyses?
The RHoMIS tool is constructed from a set of standardized performance indicators that run across the three pillars of CSA and is designed to provide rapid characterizations of both farm practices and farm performance. As such, the authors in this paper describe its most important use as ‘helping actors to avoid strategies that are inappropriate from the outset, while identifying truly smart strategies’.

The authors emphasize that the ‘real value of this survey is not in comparing locations, but in identifying processes or patterns of behavior which hold true in multiple locations, and subsequently provide insights that can then be used to improve the strategy and designs of development efforts related to climate smart interventions’. They have applied the survey to 6000 households in more than 15 countries, in more than 10 different agricultural development projects, and are set to double these numbers in the coming months, with uptake by NGOs and governmental organizations in the near future.

The authors include researchers from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), the School of the Environment, Natural Resources and Geography at Bangor University, the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), Bioversity International, Centro Agronómico Tropical de Investigación y Enseñanza (CATIE), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), and Wageningen University (WUR)

Access the paper here

Watch a video relating to the paper here and visit the RHoMIS website here

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