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Climate-Smart Agriculture: An Integrated Approach to Address Climate and Food Security Challenges

Farmer irrigating his field in Ngoma District, Rwanda with solar-powered irrigation pumps.

By Margaret Anderson and Daniel Gies

Like all farmers today, smallholder farmers in food-insecure regions of the world are finding themselves caught at the intersection of climate change and the growing demand for food. Rising temperatures and changes in precipitation levels threaten food production and nutrition in countless rural communities that already struggle to satisfy their most basic food requirements.

And they are losing ground. A 2020 report found that nearly 690 million people — or 8.9 percent of the global population — are hungry, an increase of nearly 60 million in five years. Worse yet, food security will only become more difficult to attain in the future. Thirty years from now, the world’s farmers will need to produce about 70 percent more food to feed an estimated 9 billion people.

Enter climate-smart agriculture — an integrated approach to agriculture that addresses the interlinked challenges of accelerating climate change and growing food insecurity. Climate-smart agriculture leverages sustainable agricultural technologies and techniques to adapt farming approaches to the new requirements of a changing climate in order to build resilience to climate-related risks, increase production and reduce agriculture-related greenhouse gas emissions.

The Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze Activity, a five-year USAID-funded activity implemented by Cultivating New Frontiers in Agriculture (CNFA), is successfully putting this approach into action to improve the nutritional status of Rwandan women and children, strengthen Rwandan food systems’ resilience to a changing climate and increase the incomes of smallholder farmers.

Hinga Weze’s climate-smart approach starts at the local level. The Activity’s poultry distribution pilot, for example, sources its chickens from a local supplier, which trains recipients on how to create feed from locally sourced products. This makes chicken-rearing less expensive and limits emissions that result from importing chickens and feed. Hinga Weze also encourages chicken-raising families to share new chicks with their communities to increase the supply of local chicken and further reduce or eliminate the costs and carbon emissions associated with imported chicken. To date, the Activity has distributed 206,652 chickens to 27,572 households. The chickens also produce eggs that can be sold at markets, improve nutrition and increase producer incomes to purchase additional nutritious foods.

Local sourcing of inputs also contributes to the climate-smart production of plant-based food. By using locally available seeds that are suited to local diets, climate and soil conditions, farmers can reduce the financial and environmental costs associated with seed imports, increase their production of nutritious plants and boost profits. Hinga Weze, for example, supports farmers in their efforts to obtain and cultivate 246,147 metric tons of drought-tolerant high-iron beans — particularly in Rwanda’s most arid districts, where the beans are able to produce high yields amid environmental conditions that have decreased the nutritional benefits of other bean varieties. Because beans are a popular dish in Rwanda, communities readily adopt them into their diets, both improving their own nutritional outcomes and increasing farmers’ profitability. The Activity often engages with private agro-input suppliers to strengthen seed systems and boost the availability and distribution of high-iron bean seeds.

At the household level, the Activity also helps 51,927 families grow sustainable and nutritious foods in home gardens. It does this by facilitating families’ access to appropriate seed varieties, providing tailored advice on crop selection and soil health and offering instruction to 68,854 couples and 800 gender role models on how to prepare nutritious meals with the plant-based foods they produce. In this regard, the Activity trained 195,690 individuals and 55,105 home gardens have been established and maintained to support the availability of vegetables all year round, with the overall objective of ensuring adequate calories, protein and micronutrient intake.

As part of its efforts to advance climate-smart agriculture, Hinga Weze also encourages the adoption of earth-friendly technology such as solar pumps, which are powered by the sun rather than by diesel fuel. The pumps not only decrease carbon emissions, but also provide reliable watering capability, add extra seasons of productivity and improve the quality and nutritional value of farmers’ products. The technology has also helped producers in arid areas like Bugesera grow high-quality horticultural crops year-round, export surplus to the European Union and thereby earn additional income they can use to purchase more nutrient-rich foods.

Farmers are also learning to use farm waste to produce compost or fertilizers, building soil health and increasing productivity. Hinga Weze’s poultry pilot, for example, trains beneficiaries to use chicken and other animal waste as organic fertilizer. This not only supports healthy nitrogen levels in the soil, but also mitigates the environmental impact of livestock.

Hinga Weze clearly demonstrates that — with the right inputs, tools and knowledge — well-designed, climate-smart development programs can serve an important role in helping meet the ever-growing challenges of climate change and ensure the food security of populations around the world.

And daily headlines make it clear that we will need many more activities like Hinga Weze in the years ahead to ensure that we meet the needs of feeding the world in a safe and sustainable manner.

The authors are Margaret Anderson and Daniel Gies. Margaret Anderson is senior director, programs at CNFA. Daniel Gies is chief of party of the USAID-funded Feed the Future Rwanda Hinga Weze Activity, implemented by CNFA.