Saturday, 3 March 2018

Scaling up Climate Smart Agriculture: who will benefit? - Jan 2018

In January 2018, ESPA invited me to present the results of a report synthesising evidence for the contribution of climate smart agriculture to poverty alleviation. The workshops in Kenya and Malawi involved stakeholders from the country teams of EBAFOSA– the Ecosystem Based Adaptation for Food Security Assembly.

Our synthesis suggests that scaling up climate smart agriculture would probably work best (in terms of larger scale) with commodities that would attract interest of private sector. However, such commodity value chains are often not accessible for the most vulnerable, who lack land, transport and other means to participate in this trade. As such, scaling up climate smart agriculture may fail to ‘leave no one behind’, in the spirit of the Sustainable Development Goals.

The meetings in Kenya and Malawi brought some interesting questions to the fore: there was a shared sense that climate smart technologies exist, but that knowledge has to be synthesised and spread in each country. However, relatively little discussion focussed on how to involve the most vulnerable in it due to the focus on quick success that NGO financing mechanisms force? Or to silos in which governments, experts and NGOs operate? Or the fact that many smallholder farmers are ‘poor’ to begin with? And should (climate-smart) agriculture be inclusive, or should other welfare instruments, such as social benefits, take care of the most vulnerable people?

In both countries, the need to involve agricultural extension officers (in charge of delivering information about agricultural practices to farmers) in raising awareness of climate-smart practices was high on the priority lists. But there are so many changes that go against decades of ‘traditions’ in farming (parentheses added because of the political forces that drove ridging practices). How to change practices from ridging all land for maize cropping, to irrigation in the wet season (insufficient rain) or multi-cropping for resilience and food security? How to adapt prescriptive, rigid methods to flexible, place-based and modern approaches in countries where rural youth may soon create labour shortages?

Finally, the question was posed – should upscaling be based on farmers’ needs, or on where ‘experts’ or ‘leaders’ think that they ought to go in the face of climate change and other social-ecological drivers? Leading by example may be better than just talking, but it is not sufficient – how can one stimulate more widespread adoption, beyond the lead farmer along the road? This ties in with some of the pushback from civil society organisations, trying to empower smallholder farmers.

Dissemination in Malawi - 2017

On the 10th of July 2017, the final dissemination of the Fellowship of Marije and the large ASSETSproject, both funded by ESPA, took place in Zomba, Malawi. Exciting work by Southampton’s PhD students Miriam Joshua on Malawi’s water policy, and Alison and Fiona Simmance on fisheries in relation to food security in Malawi was also presented.

Members of parliament, ministries, national and local NGOs and communities involved in the research attended the meeting, and emphasised the need for ecosystem-based approaches for food security and poverty alleviation. The research by Southampton’s academics demonstrated how people in rural Malawi are highly dependent on ecosystem services, and how the use of these resources varies between men and women and young and old people.

GECEO-researchers are continuing with research in Malawi. Ilda Dreoni is currently doing fieldwork in Namizimu forest, looking at the preferences of community members for different benefit sharing mechanisms under forest co-management. And for the mens sana in corpore sano idea, we hiked up Zomba Mountain!

More projects are in the pipeline, with Marije continuing work (also ESPA funded) on the possibility of including an environmental dimension in multidimensional poverty indices – to inform work of the Poverty-Environment Initiative, together with WCMC and UEA. And thanks to the Faculty’s Interdisciplinary Research Fund, Becks SpakeJane Catford and Marije will join forces to investigate sustainable management of the Elephant Marsh in Southern Malawi, recently granted Ramsar status.

Climate Smart Agriculture in Malawi - 2016 post

Just over 2 months ago (April 2016) I came back from Zomba. This was my third trip to Malawi for my ESPA Fellowship, linked to the ESPAASSETS project and locally hosted by LEAD SEA. After the data collection trip among rural smallholder farmers in 2015, it was time for follow-up: did the respondents of my survey approve of my conclusions? Would stakeholders be interested in my results? And I was also going to organise a scenario workshop on the question: Does climate-smart agriculture support river basin management in Zomba District?

I left the UK with some apprehension, not sure what I would find after the massive El Nino-related dry spell that hit Malawi this planting season. Farmers rely heavily on rainfed agriculture, but the rains came two months late and were intermittent once they finally arrived. Food shortages have led to increased food prices, making it even less accessible to the poorest people. Some people have received cassava and sweet potato vines, which grow relatively fast.

My research assistant and I were met with surprise when we came back. Apparently many researchers fail to report back and disseminate the results of their studies to the very same people that were willing to participate in (yet another!) survey. The most exciting discussions we had were on gender and youth issues. Whilst women own the farm land and do most of the cultivation, husbands usually make the decisions on what to plant, when to sell, and what to do with the money – disappointing for, and disempowering, their wives… Young people are faced with ever smaller land holdings, disappearing forests and rivers that dry up – some are heading to South Africa in search of greener pastures. Younger people complained about the fact that they are usually the last to receive anything when the fertiliser coupons are distributed, when land is distributed, when lucrative jobs are allocated…

Reframing my academic research question (a comparison of methodologies) into a policy relevance question (climate smart agriculture) resulted in interesting conversations with development practitioners, forest and agriculture specialists and policy makers. All are looking for the silver bullet to solve the linked issue of sustainable environmental management and poverty alleviation. My research on the suitability of financial incentives was met with both criticism and support. Criticism – because just injecting money into household systems without training in business skills does not lead to development. Support – because indeed money is needed but hard to come by, and short term benefits of agroforestry, conservation agriculture and other techniques are often negative or minute at best, one of the reasons that their scaling-up and adoption rates are limited.

In the last week of my stay, together with the Forest Research Institute Malawi, I organised a workshop on the suitability of climate smart agriculture for river basin management under different scenarios of climate change and economic growth. A group of more than 20 experts and practitioners from Zomba and national level participated in debates around the trade-offs between different objectives. Poverty specialists emphasised the need for (adult) functional education and empowerment before introducing new techniques; agricultural experts stressed the benefits of drought resistant seeds; foresters argued for the commercial benefits of indigenous trees. It was obvious that the most difficult trade-offs were found when environmental management and poverty alleviation were incompatible. Indeed, the main issue of my research…

Wednesday, 18 November 2015

ESP Conference 2015

On a beautiful wine farm near Stellenbosch, SA, just under 400 ecosystem services researchers, practitioners and other ES folks got together to discuss, present and exchange knowledge and ideas at the ESP Conference 2015. The sessions provided a broad overview of the different fields of study that fall under the ESP header, from urban and agro-ecosystems to marine and forest areas. The plenary sessions demonstrated the leading role of South-African academics in ES policy and management – we are looking forward to the plenary of Belinda Reyers at the next ESPA science conference!

Many ESPA researchers were present, providing stimulating talks on both the supply and demand side of ES. James Bullock argued for the suitability of simple models based on work of the WISER project; ESPA’s project on biofuels in Sub-Saharan Africa demonstrated the impact of biofuels on ecosystem services, stakeholder groups and poverty indices. Simon Willcock got himself ranked as third most active tweeter of the conference, tweet-debating about uncertainty and accuracy. 

We, ESPA FellowCecile Bidaud (p4ges) and Marije Schaafsma (assets/ecolimits), got ourselves in a bit of trouble by organising an Ignite presentation session – a presentation of 20 slides with only 20 seconds per slide. Speed-talking was not sufficient for some of the presenters (“this is horrible!” shouted one of the presenters halfway through). But the format forced us to use focused presentations with only a few key messages. After each series of 3 presentations, also featuring great work by Fellow Anne Nyambane and ESPA researcher Charlie Langan, the attendees formed 3 groups and each group had 8 minutes to question each presenter, allowing for much more interaction than in more standard session formats.

Cecile in discussion with attendees (left), Marije overspending her 20 second budget (right)

The field trips on Wednesday were perhaps best described as a micro-cosmos of the good, bad and ugly of pro-poor work for ES. Biodiversity and ecosystem services were enjoyed (in alcoholic and non-alcoholic forms), lunches shared, trees planted, but in the end happiness impacts were unequally distributed. Yet, as the sign in the Kirstenbosch Botanical Garden said,
Photo by M.Schaafsma

Perhaps my take-home message from the conference was that attention to the social side of the ES remains a challenge. Many ES assessment efforts seem to stop at the level of functions, sometimes goods, and supply rather than demand. Why do so many ES presentations still start with the ecological problem, trying to work towards, but never really reaching, the right of the ES cascade? Why don’t we change perspectives and start from the right, with wellbeing problems of people?

Fortunately, the grand finale of a very enjoyable and relevant conference was a superb presentation by Lorenzo Fioramonti on the nonsense of GDP growth, which kept hopes for a world focused on wellbeing alive.