Sri Lanka’s Government and the World Bank has signed two new agreements worth $ 150 million to improve climate resilience and agriculture productivity for small farmers and support priority infrastructure through public-private partnerships. Undoubtedly this is an important effort given the country’s vulnerability to climate change, which is most evident in agriculture and food production.
A growing global population and changing diets are driving up the demand for food. Production is struggling to keep up as crop yields level off in many parts of the world, ocean health declines, and natural resources – including soils, water and biodiversity – are stretched dangerously thin.
The absolute number of undernourished people has increased to nearly 821 million in 2017, up from 784 million in 2015.The food security challenge will only become more difficult, as the world will need to produce about 70% more food by 2050 to feed an estimated nine billion people.
The challenge is intensified by agriculture’s extreme vulnerability to climate change. Climate change’s negative impacts are already being felt, in the form of reduced yields and more frequent extreme weather events, affecting crops and livestock alike. Substantial investments in adaptation will be required to maintain current yields and to achieve the required production increases.
Agriculture is also a major part of the climate problem. It currently generates 19-29% of total Green House Gas emissions. Without action, that percentage could rise substantially as other sectors reduce their emissions. Sri Lanka has the additional problem of having low productivity but high employment, which means a great deal of support has to be extended to evolve it into a competitive industry.
Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an integrated approach to managing landscapes – cropland, livestock, forests and fisheries – that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change.
CSA aims to produce more food to improve food and nutrition security and boost the incomes of 75% of the world’s poor who live in rural areas and mainly rely on agriculture for their livelihoods. It can also reduce vulnerability to drought, pests, disease and other shocks; and improve capacity to adapt and grow in the face of longer-term stresses like shortened seasons and erratic weather patterns.
CSA can also pursue lower emissions for each calorie or kilo of food produced, avoid deforestation from agriculture and identify ways to suck carbon out of the atmosphere.
While built on existing knowledge, technologies, and principles of sustainable agriculture, CSA is distinct in several ways. First, it has an explicit focus on addressing climate change. Second, CSA systematically considers the synergies and trade-offs that exist between productivity, adaptation and mitigation. Finally, CSA aims to capture new funding opportunities to close the deficit in investment. But there are big underlying challenges in Sri Lanka. For starters agriculture is fragmented across many ministries and departments and bringing them onto one platform on a long term plant would be challenging.
A large segment of the labour force works at an informal level and most of them are women, which means that the program has to be geared to absorb women and empower them within the industry. There is also a need to provide consistent support, management and oversight for public-private partnerships as these are relatively less known for the agriculture sector.