Climate-Smart Agriculture and Inequalities: Ensuring equal access to sustainable, climate-resilient food production

Climate-Smart Agriculture and Inequalities: Ensuring equal access to sustainable, climate-resilient food production

This article is part of the Forum Network series on Digitalisation and feeds into the 2019 G7 Youth Summit taking place 9-14 June in Paris.

In a world where economic inequalities are rising and the environment is degrading, it is key to ensure that sustainable innovations are accessible to everyone. In the agricultural sector, Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) is generally defined as an approach that enables farmers to adapt to changing climate conditions and mitigate the impacts of food production on the environment. CSA’s sustainable and climate-resilient practices and technologies are thus a core pillar to deliver food security in the future while ensuring environmental sustainability and allowing social and economic stability. However, not everyone can access and adopt these climate-smart innovations: women, smallholders and young farmers in rural areas are essential to their success, and it is of high importance to ensure equal access and uptake of CSA through inclusive, innovative and evidence-based responses. 

Now more than ever, CSA is becoming particularly relevant: the significant contribution of the agricultural sector to man-made climate change has been scientifically proven. However, according to the IPCC Special Report on 1.5 degrees the implementation of land-based solutions, such as agroforestry, will require overcoming socio-economic, technological, financing, and environmental barriers, among others. At the same time, agriculture is affected by the adverse consequences of climate change, although impacts are highly uncertain and vary across regions. 

Climate-resilient agricultural innovations are fundamental to long-term food security and socio-economic stability. Technology and digitalisation can improve agricultural productivity, for example crop varieties resilient to extreme weather events, geographic data allowing precision agriculture and water storage to cope with dry seasons. Further, sustainable practices can help mitigate GHG emissions and reduce pressures on biodiversity: for example, agroecology ensures the sustainability of small-scale food production while optimising species diversity and promoting local knowledge. 

The switch towards a Climate-Smart Agriculture approach raises important questions regarding inequalities: who are they for? And who can afford to sustain their agricultural activity under changing climatic conditions? CSA practices and technologies in fact are not equally accessible to all, not only in the developing world but also in some of the most advanced Western countries. Remarkably, further difficulties to upgrade agricultural activities are faced in those regions that are most impacted by extreme weather events and where key technologies such as water storage are most needed. 

The most significant barriers are the costs that CSA entails, the knowledge and technical capacity required for its uptake and the accessibility to finance. These challenges are particularly relevant for women, smallholders and young farmers, who are disadvantaged in comparison with large agribusinesses. Further, these inequalities can have negative impacts on society, the environment and the economy more widely: increases in wealth and income discrepancies, human migration, rural-urban imbalances and additional environmental pressures are only some of the potential consequences. 

Photo by pixpoetry on Unsplash

The solution to the problem has several elements. First, knowledge is needed for better technical preparation through advisory services on sustainability issues. This would provide all end-users with a general understanding of agricultural innovations as well as increased awareness about the impacts of climate change on agriculture. Second, mitigation and adaptation finance needs to be increased and made accessible to women, smallholders and young farmers. This would ensure that the recurring costs of technological innovations can be sustained by all. Third, the use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) should be promoted, not only concerning access to finance but also to improve knowledge on CSA technologies and practices and deliver key information such as satellite data and market prices. 

Inequalities in terms of accessibility and adoption of climate-smart agricultural innovations still remain an alarming issue in both developed and developing countries, with potential negative consequences for society, the economy and the environment. If food security, environmental quality and the same economic opportunities are to be ensured for future generations, a timely response to make Climate Smart Agriculture equally accessible is urgently needed. 

Continue the conversation and help us co-create the agenda

All of the discussions you have on the Forum Network inform our thinking for the OECD Forum event each year – join to respond to Jacopo's article and comment to help us co-create the agenda

Related Topics

Climate Income Inequality
Sustainable Development Goals

G7 Youth Summit Paris 2019

Banner image: TUAN ANH TRAN on Unsplash


  • Connolly-Boutin Liette and Smit Barry, Climate change, food security, and livelihoods in sub-Saharan Africa, Regional Environmental Change (2016) 16:385–399 DOI 10.1007/s10113-015-0761-x
  • Détang-Dessendre Cécile, Geerling-Eiff Floor, Guyomard Hervé and Poppe Krijn, 2018.  EU Agriculture and innovation: What role for the CAP?, INRA and WUR, 32p.
  • FAO and CARE. 2019. Good Practices for Integrating Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment in Climate-Smart Agriculture Programmes. Atlanta. 108 pp. Licence: CC BY-NC-SA 3.0 IGO
  • FAO, The 10 Elements of Agroecology: Guiding the Transition to Sustainable Food and Agricultural Systems, FAO (2018), retrieved 9/10/2019 at
  • IPCC, 2014: Climate Change 2014: Synthesis Report. Contribution of Working Groups I, II and III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, pp. 47-69-88-96 [Core Writing Team, R.K. Pachauri and L.A. Meyer (eds.)]. IPCC, Geneva, Switzerland, 151 pp.
  • IPCC, 2018: Summary for Policymakers. In: Global warming of 1.5°C. An IPCC Special Report on the impacts of global warming of 1.5°C above pre-industrial levels and related global greenhouse gas emission pathways, in the context of strengthening the global response to the threat of climate change, sustainable development, and efforts to eradicate poverty [V. Masson-Delmotte, P. Zhai, H. O. Pörtner, D. Roberts, J. Skea, P. R. Shukla, A. Pirani, W. Moufouma-Okia, C. Péan, R. Pidcock, S. Connors, J. B. R. Matthews, Y. Chen, X. Zhou, M. I. Gomis, E. Lonnoy, T. Maycock, M. Tignor, T. Waterfield (eds.)]. World Meteorological Organization, Geneva, Switzerland, 32 pp
  • L. Lipper et al. (eds.), 2018. Climate Smart Agriculture, Natural Resource Management and Policy 52, 2018, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-61194-5_1
  • Long B. Thomas, Blok Vincent, Coninx Ingrid, 2016. Barriers to the adoption and diffusion of technological innovations for climate-smart agriculture in Europe: evidence from the Netherlands, France, Switzerland and Italy, Journal of Cleaner Production, 112 (2016) 9-21.
  • Wong Sam. 2016. Can Climate Finance Contribute to Gender Equity in Developing Countries?, Journal of International Development, 28, 428–444 (2016), DOI: 10.1002/jid.3212
  • Zilberman David, Liu Xuemei, Roland-Holst David, Sunding David, 2004, The Economics of Climate Change in Agriculture, Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change 9: 365–382, 2004.

Please sign in

If you are a registered user on The OECD Forum Network, please sign in