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Policy Briefs

Agricultural Innovation: Options for Appropriate Technologies in Responding to Climate Change
SEARCA-APAN Policy Brief

Agriculture is a key sector providing economic and social development in Southeast Asian countries, where a majority of the region’s population depend on agricultural production as a main source of household income. The implication of global environmental change has extended the agricultural agenda to respond to the drivers of climate change—in the context where agriculture is both a contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and a possible mitigating factor through the adjustment of practices and the adoption of new technologies.

The role of agriculture in climate change is better appreciated in relation to the value agriculture contributes to the global economy. The 2010 World Development Report, drawing on analysis from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, calculates that agriculture directly accounts for 14 percent of global GHG emissions in CO2 equivalent and indirectly accounts for another 17 percent of emissions from land use and conversion for crops and pasture. In contrast, the contribution of agriculture to the global GDP at four percent suggests that worldwide agricultural activity is highly GHG intensive (Lybbert and Sumner 2010).

Improvements in agricultural production are directly related to poverty reduction in all sectors of society (e.g., farmer-peasant, artisanal fisherfolk, workers in the formal sector and migrant workers, workers in the informal sector, IP and cultural communities, women, among others), being twice more effective in growing GDP than any other sector (UNEP 2011).

As agriculture is highly sensitive to climate change—depending on both biodiversity and environmental conditions—maintaining the right balance is critical to a stable and productive agricultural activity, which is the foundation for food security and by extension the alleviation of poverty (UNEP 2011). In the Southeast Asian region, climate change is expected to bring about increased vulnerability in the agricultural sector from sea-level rise, greater rainfall variability, higher temperature, and decreased freshwater availability (Turral et al. 2011).

As part of a broad strategy of solutions, climate-smart agriculture addresses the wider issues faced by agriculture in the face of global environmental change—the need to increase global food production by 60 percent by 2050 and to meet GHG emission reductions (Meybeck et al. 2012). Climate-smart agriculture is anchored on three pillars in the context of local stakeholders and focusing on sustainably increasing farm productivity and income, strengthening resilience to climate change and variability, and mitigating the contribution of agricultural practices to climate change—targeting the global objectives of ‘carbon’ (UNFCCC), ‘species’ (UNCBD), and ‘calories’ (WSFS) (Meybeck et al. 2012).

In line with the push towards climate-smart agriculture is the growing alignment of research investments into innovations in agricultural technologies and their subsequent adoption in developing countries to enable them to adapt their agricultural systems to changing climate. Adaptation goes beyond the adoption of technologies but includes decision making over which technologies and strategies are appropriate for each local agricultural context. Appropriate technologies can help ensure that farmers are able to sustainably adapt to climate change by managing and maintaining themselves technologies which are wholly integrated into their local environmental, economic, and social context (UNEP 2011).

Appropriate Technologies

Technologies used in agriculture can be broadly classified into three types: hardware, software, and orgware. Hardware are tangible objects such as manufactured equipment, tools, and machinery. Software are processes associated with the production and use of hardware and include the gamut of agricultural practices. Orgware covers the institutional framework or organisation involved in the adoption and diffusion process of a technology.

Adopting technologies in a climate-smart context must result in producing more food, more efficiently, under more unpredictable production conditions, and with net reductions in GHG emissions (Lybbert and Sumner 2010). However, technologies must be appropriately selected for and by farmers to effectively realise their benefits in the long-term.

Technologies that target local stakeholder needs and are globally relevant must address both local legal, political, and cultural barriers to diffusion and global issues on access and benefit sharing, genetic biodiversity, and carbon mitigation. A participatory process of decision making for technological selection and diffusion will allow the full potential of technologies to be realised through ensuring access to these and related support technologies. Equal access and entitlement to agricultural technologies in poor communities are therefore critical in the consideration of what is appropriate for agricultural technological adoption (Meybeck et al. 2012).

With appropriate technologies considered, innovation should be targeted at areas with the largest impact. Some areas identified by the International Centre for Trade and Sustainable Development (ICTSD) and the International Food & Agricultural Trade Policy Council as agricultural technology innovation focus (Lybbert and Sumner 2010) are:

  • New traits, varieties, and crops that increase productivity and are tolerant to a wide range of climate differences;
  • Water management and irrigation systems that are more sensitive to greater rainfall variability and local infrastructure practices;
  • Production, marketing, and supply chains management practices that increase the fertility of soil and decrease GHG emissions through efficient transportation and growing of crops;
  • Information, including the role of information and communication technologies for development (ICT4D) in agriculture, that provides greater flexibility by stakeholders in farm decision making through improved weather forecast using local and timely methods such as SMS; and
  • Insurance innovations which can help offset risks brought about by increased variability, allowing a farmer to increase his capacity to farm productively.

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