ASAP: Small-scale farmers have no time to lose in adapting to climate change

Irrigating a string bean field in the Republic of the Congo. ©Baudouin Mouanda

ROME, Italy, 30 October 2012 – Farming has always been a risky enterprise, but climate change is magnifying the risks, especially for smallholder farmers living on the precarious margins of the earth's productive lands.

Over the centuries, smallholders have drawn on traditional knowledge and historical observations to manage the effects of a variable climate. Today, the speed and intensity of environmental change is outpacing their capacity to do so. Historical averages are no longer a reliable guide for the future. Losses and damages from extreme weather keep increasing, as the pattern of droughts, floods and tropical storms becomes ever more unpredictable.

As a result, crop failures and livestock deaths are causing economic losses, raising food prices and undermining food security with ever-greater frequency in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, Asia and other regions. At the same time, rural livelihoods are being undermined by the creeping effects of water stress, land degradation and loss of biodiversity.

To build resilience against these hazards, smallholders need technologies and financing that help them improve production while, at the same time, reducing climate risks.

That's where IFAD's newly operational Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) comes in. ASAP aims to help 8 million rural people become more resilient to the impacts of climate change. The programme is a tool to scale up and integrate climate risk resilience across IFAD's approximately US$1billion per year in new investments.

The village well in Nakikarhi, North Aguie, Niger. ©IFAD/David Rose

Building smallholders' resilience
While IFAD has long invested in projects promoting sustainable agriculture, ASAP represents a renewed, concerted effort to tackle climate risk issues in rural development. Through the programme, IFAD is putting the reduction of risks and shocks at the centre of a new agenda for rural poverty reduction. In the coming years, ASAP will channel grant cofinancing into climate-smart investments in poor smallholder communities around the world.

At the 2012 session of IFAD's Governing Council, President Kanayo F. Nwanze underscored the organization's commitment to helping smallholders feed a growing global population even as they adapt to a changing climate. Ground-breaking approaches such as ASAP, he said, "will make IFAD a leader in climate-smart funding for smallholders."

With a world population projected to top 9 billion by 2050, Nwanze called for "perseverance, patience and determination" to reduce rural poverty and help smallholders build their resilience." Citing the ASAP model, he said IFAD has a critical role to play in enabling smallholders to become more productive while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions and safeguarding precious natural resources.

A range of interventions
Through ASAP, IFAD will drive a major expansion of successful ‘multiple-benefit' approaches that can both improve agricultural production and reduce  climate risks.

For example, mixed crop and livestock systems use drought-tolerant crops and manure to increase productivity while diversifying risks across different products. Crop rotation comprising both food and fodder crops can reduce exposure to climate threats while improving family nutrition. And a combination of agroforestry systems and communal ponds can improve the quality of soils, increase water availability during dry periods and provide additional sources of household income.

Along with advancing such environmentally sustainable approaches, ASAP will empower community-based organizations to make use of new and relevant climate risk management skills, information and technologies.

Improved networks of weather stations, for instance, can provide farmers with more reliable seasonal forecasts and cropping calendars. Satellite imagery and Geographic Information Systems can improve understanding and monitoring of land use in a changing environment. And economic valuation of the impacts of climate change can promote more informed policy decisions.

A smallholder returns from a women's meeting in Narianpur, Bangladesh. ©IFAD/G.M.B.Akash

ASAP goes live
The first ASAP grant, recently approved by IFAD's Executive Board, reflects this results-oriented approach. The US$4.9 million grant to the Republic of Mozambique will finance smallholder adaptation to climate change in the southern provinces of Gaza, Inhambane and Maputo, where rural poverty is particularly high. The grant is part of the Pro-poor Value Chain Project in the Maputo and Limpopo Corridors, a US$45 million effort cofinanced by IFAD, the Spanish Food Security Cofinancing Facility Trust Fund and the United Nations Capital Development Fund.

The project, known as PROSUL, supports pro-poor and climate-resilient improvements in three value chains: irrigated horticulture, cassava and red meat. Since agricultural production in the arid and semi-arid target area is highly sensitive to scarce and irregular rainfall, PROSUL integrates a range of interventions that protect rural value chains from the adverse effects of dry spells and drought.

Project activities financed by ASAP in southern Mozambique include:

  • Installation of robust, efficient water management infrastructure
  • Improvement of the network of local weather stations
  • Strengthened capacity of local farmers' organizations
  • Introduction of agricultural techniques that are more resilient to climate shocks – such as intensified cassava production systems that use mixed cropping – and community-based natural resource management plans.

In the long term, investing in such measures will bolster the ability of small-scale farmers to deal with new and emerging climate risks. They will also enhance household food security while reducing soil degradation, as well as crop and livestock losses, in drought-prone regions.

Although no one can eliminate all the environmental risks that poor rural people face, ASAP is an important, timely step toward climate resilience in agriculture. For vulnerable smallholders, it's not a moment too soon.