SDG series - Climate Smart Agriculture in Eastern Africa – perceptions and practices


After the millennium development goals that were to be attained in 2015, the UN member states agreed on the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) that were to act as a blueprint to achieve a better and more sustainable future for all. MSM highly values the SDGs within its capacity-building projects as well as our degree and executive programs. With the importance of the SDGs in mind, we have started the SDG series – ‘Exploring Pathways and Innovation Towards Meeting the SDG’s.’ In this article, we dive into the topic of Climate Smart Agriculture which contributes to SDG 1, 2, 6, 8, 12, 13, 14 and 15.

A survey was administered to key stakeholders involved in implementing CSA. The survey was collected using a structured questionnaire. The targeted stakeholders were Development Partners/Actors, Policymakers, Private sectors, and Academics/ Researchers within the MSM network. The survey was administered by Maastricht School of Management’s (MSM) teams in Kenya, Ethiopia, Tanzania and Mozambique. Data collection was done in March 2021. A survey of literature also complemented the survey to gather more insights on policies and actions being pursued by various countries. A total of 29 respondents. Of the respondents majority, 39.3% were development actors while 10.7% were from the private sector.

The importance of Agriculture

Agriculture and its productivity are at the heart of feeding and sustaining the ever-growing world's population. The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates a 9.7 billion world population by 2050, which will require a 70% increase in agriculture production to feed. At the same time, the world is faced with the challenges of climate change. The Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has shown that global climate change is already damaging crops and undermining food production capacity, particularly in poorer countries (IPCC, 2014).

For Africa agriculture plays a particularly crucial role as a significant contributor to GDP and also the biggest employer (ACET, 2017). Agriculture also plays a crucial role in supporting other sectors of the economy, for example, in Kenya, where agriculture directly contributes 32.6 per cent of national GDP and it further contributes about 27.0 per cent indirectly through linkages with other sectors (KER, 2017).  The prospect for transforming African economies largely hinges on how well agriculture is upgraded and leverage to support other sectors of the economy (ACET 2017). However, this prospect is at significant risk. African countries are particularly vulnerable to climate change due to strong dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources; high levels of poverty; low levels of human capital; low levels of preparedness for climate events; and poor infrastructure in rural areas, indeed impacts of climate change are already being felt across Eastern and Southern Africa (FANRPAN, 2017). As such, agriculture and food systems must undergo a substantial transformation to meet the challenges of climate change and food security.

A key adaption and mitigation mechanism is Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA). CSA is defined as agricultural practices that sustainably increase productivity and system resilience while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is not a single specific agricultural technology or practise that can be universally applied; it is a combination of policy, technology, and finance options that involves the direct incorporation of climate change adaptation and mitigation into agricultural development planning and implementation (FAO, 2010). CSA seeks to answer what steps can be taken now to move towards a more sustainable future in agriculture under climate change.

CSA and SDG's

Given that CSA is about sustainable farming, it dovetails well with the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) as it addresses many of the SDG goals. The SDGs addressed by CSA include: No poverty goal number 1; Zero hunger goal number 2; Clean water goal number 6; Decent work and economic growth goal number 8; Responsible consumption and production goal number 12; Climate action goal number 13; Life below water goal number 14; Life on Land goal number 15.

Given that CSA has a very broad definition that encompasses many sets of actions, there is bound to be a difference in what the term means to various stakeholders and also the fact that agriculture takes place in very diverse ecosystems, CSA practices are like to vary. The potential for confusion or sub-optimal action is also huge. Therefore, there is a need to assess how different stakeholders perceive CSA, the potential gaps they see and what is happening in the ground. This can then provide insights into how to craft support for better CSA policies and practices. This report seeks to do that through a survey of key stakeholders involved in implementing CSA such as Development Partners/Actors, Policymakers, Private Sector and Academics/Researchers within the MSM network.

Definition and Perception of understanding of CSA
In terms of CSA definition, very few of the respondents could capture all the dimensions of the CSA definition. An increase in productivity and adaption to climate change were the most captured aspects of CSA. An increase in incomes received little attention, yet farmers are unlikely to adopt CSA without impact on incomes.

Regarding the understanding of the CSA concept. On average, most of the respondents rated their self-knowledge as High, and the development sectors were most highly rated while the policymakers were rates as low to moderate knowledge.

The fact that the concept of CSA is not yet fully appreciated and that policymakers are perceived as the most lacking in understanding means that the potential of missing the range of opportunities offered is high as policies might not address the range of issues and uptake likely to be low due to low levels of knowledge. More crucially, if the economic aspects of CSA are not addressed, farmers are not likely to take up CSA. The implication here is that more efforts are needed to increase awareness of what CSA is and build the capacity of policymakers to put the right policies in place.

Figure 1: Definition and Perception of other understanding

Rating 1 -5 where: 1 = Very Low, 2= Low; 3= Moderate; 4= High; 5= Very high

CSA Enabling Environment
Achieving CSA will require policies, Institutions, coordination and support and dissemination of practices, and catalyzing innovations. Supportive policies, institutions, and financing together create an enabling environment for climate-smart agriculture. To understand the CSA enabling environment, we looked at four main policies that affect CSA namely climate adaptation, climate mitigation, agriculture policy and climate smart specific policy. Basically, the policies to support CSA are there; however, the adequacy of the policy was rated between low to moderate. The mitigation policy is seen as least adequate and the agriculture policy was rated more adequate than the others.

While policies are there, they need strengthening. As we saw policymaking are seen as least informed on CSA and this might explain the weakness of policies. This calls for capacity building of policymakers. This can be through training programs, attaching them to other development actors well versed in CSA practices.

CSA Supportive Environment
CSA needs inputs and knowhow. To understand the status of these key ingredients, we explored CSA extension services, availability of affordable CSA technologies, the availability of knowledge and knowledge brokers and also the inputs that are specific to CSA practices.  The needed inputs were largely available though the extension was somewhat less available. Adequacy, however, tended to be mostly moderate, with CSA inputs less adequate than the other inputs.

Figure 2: CSA inputs

Beyond inputs, supportive services are crucial to supporting uptake. These include access to markets, access to credits, access to insurance and CSA coordinating. The survey found that support services were generally available; however, the adequacy was low to moderate. Access to financing and insurance was especially rated low.

Figure 3: CSA Support Services

The CSA supportive environment can be strengthened. Access to insurance is particularly key given the risk that climate change has posed in agriculture. Financing is also crucial and has been a challenge to agriculture for a long time due to lack of understanding of the risk by financiers. An approach that combines financing and insurance in one product can help improve the CSA uptake. This will need to be incorporated with greater efforts to increase CSA knowledge to farmers and other actors, including researchers, to increase the supply of innovative inputs, financing actors to increase their understanding, and support CSA financial product development. Government and other development actors should also enhance efforts to build extension workers' capacity to boost CSA extension services.

Current Practises of CSA
Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) encompasses many practices.  Given the range of agroecological conditions and many diverse livelihoods, we would expect many practices to be implemented. Therefore we sought to explore the knowledge on a range of CSA practices being implemented to get further insights on CSA knowledge but, more importantly, to  understand to what extent the practices are being used to the fullest potential.

The widely used CSA practices are intercropping, planting short-season crops, crop rotation, and drought-tolerant crops, respectively. The practices of intercropping and planting short-season crops were also among the highest-rated in their potential and integrated soil fertility management (ISFM), income diversification and water efficiency management.

There was a significant gap between the current use and potential of the CSA practices, with the most significant gaps seen in conservation agriculture, water efficiency, livestock supplementation and diversification to new energy sources.

We found that most CSA practices are implemented, underscoring that awareness of CSA is somewhat high. However, in-line with the previous observation, there is a significant potential of CSA that is yet to be unlocked, thus reinforcing the previous observation of the need for capacity building and increase supporting services

Prioritizing CSA Actions
While many actions are needed to improve CSA uptake, not all can be taken together, and prioritization is necessary.  Also, it is important to understand what aspects of CSA stakeholders consider essential so that we craft strategies that are more likely to be taken up. From the stakeholder perspectives, their prioritization is shown in figure 4.

Figure 4: Priority actions for CSA

Increasing farmers' incomes and productivity are seen as areas that should be given the highest priority followed by increasing awareness of CSA, mechanism to help farmers access CSA extension. This shows the importance of putting farmers at the centre of CSA has been appreciated. Without helping farmers increase incomes, there is no likely uptake. Increase awareness and extension are the first steps in helping make CSA worthwhile for farmers. Equally important is having the innovations needed for CSA.

CSA is an evolving area and requires innovative thinking and solutions. To get an insight on the innovation needed to enhance CSA further, we asked the stakeholders to list innovations needed. Some of the innovations proposed are shown in table 1.

Table 1: Innovations

Innovations Needed
Use of drones to survey soil fertility, water stress, diseases and pests, crop health and enable precision advisory as well as variable rate fertilization
Use of innovative virtual platforms e.e. eGranary to give services to the farmers, such as increase access to financial services (credit and insurance), access to extension and advisory services, access to inputs and output markets etc.
Breeding for short life cycle crop varieties that suit different environments
Improved seeds, disseminating drought-resistant seeds to farmers at lower price
Rainwater harvesting technologies for ASAL regions
Use of internet apps to forecast/predict possible cases of invasion by certain migratory pests
Farmer-To-Farmer Extension, Farmer Field Schools
Use of crop models such as Decision Support Systems for Agrotechnology Transfer (DSSAT)
Use of meteorological information for decision making and planning and using ICT to pass weather information on a daily bases
Index based insurance
Micro-insurance targeting crops that have good resilience and have lucrative markets
Linking small holder farmers with agribusiness firms to increase access to CSA and improve productivity
Biogas technology and usage of manure for fertilization

Catalyzing and scaling CSA innovations will be critical. Subsidizing innovations of CSA inputs (through, say, having an R&D fund to support a CSA innovation platform). A triple helix platform that brings policymakers, academics, and the private sector together to co-create solutions and implement many of the innovations proposed by stakeholders can also help

Increasing CSA uptake – Way Forward and Conclusion
The case study points to the need for enhancing CSA to capture the potential it offers fully. The significant potential of CSA remains unlocked. This can be attributed to many things, with a lack of adequate policies and a supportive environment being the key culprits. Unlocking the potential of CSA will require a multi-pronged effort that will include:

  • Increasing the understanding of what CSA is across stakeholders and especially among the policymakers.
  • Improving the adequacy of policies needed to support CSA.  This will require effective advocacy of the right policies and also building the capacity of policymakers to make the right policies.
  • Improving supply of CSA inputs. This will require increased awareness, improving the market for CSA products to stimulate farmers to adopt CSA practices. Incentives that could help include subsidizing credit for farmers to help them purchase and enhance the private sector's capacity to supply the needed CSA inputs. Building their capacity and also supporting access to financing can help.
  • Improving the supportive services. This will need to build the capacity of value chain actors, especially finance actors, to build CSA target financial products. One way to support this is subsidizing risk so that they can participate and thus improve their understanding of the sector. Over time this understanding will help enhance Perception of risk and also how the sector works and thus help them innovate product and services targeting CSA.
  • Building innovation platforms to support CSA will also be key. Effort should be made to help catalyze a localized triple helix platform to support innovations that respond to specific contexts.

CSA promotion and adoption will require concerted action from multiple actors to allow for context-specific approaches to be designed, implemented, and monitored. Ideally, climate-smart technologies should provide the farmers with essential clean air, water, and food essential materials, ideally, maintain the ecosystem, be individualized to the location, be context-specific, and importantly, be gender inclusive.

Applying CSA in our projects

CSA is a prominent topic in several of MSM’s capacity building projects. For example in Egypt, MSM together with its consortium partners intends to enhance water efficiency and food security by means of efficient water management for CSA. In South Africa MSM manages a project named “Strengthening skills of TVET staff and students for optimizing water usage & climate smart agriculture”. This project combines the promotion of agriculture growth and sustainable & equitable water use and concentrates on educating young people in the field of optimizing water usage & climate smart agriculture.

Recently MSM also organized an internal research workshop on CSA where the emphasis was on CSA & water efficiency in agriculture. MSM staff as well as project partners presented their research papers which covered CSA topics in Ghana, Georgia, Egypt, Palestine and as well as research on CSA innovation diffusion: the relation between farm owners and farm managers and ecosystems among small scale farmers in Tanzania and horticulture farmers in South Africa, Tanzania and Jordan.

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Contributing partners
We like to thank our contributing partners who made this article possible

Country Organization
Ethiopia Shayashone Trading PLC
Mozambique Instituto Superior Politécnico de Manica  
Tanzania SACGOT, SNV, USAID and Agri Info

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