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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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