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Innovation in climate-smart agriculture

By Tshering Lhamtshok

The Case for Scaling climate-smart agriculture

The case for climate-smart agriculture is both in the effects of climate change on the agriculture sector and food security with the need for adaptation approaches; and in the sector’s contribution to greenhouse gas affecting climate change and need for mitigation measures to reduce emissions.

Increased floods and droughts, together with heat stress, will have adverse impact on food availability and prices of food resulting in increased undernourishment in South and Southeast Asia (IPCC, Sixth Assessment Report). Climate change in general has a major impact on the farming systems and crop areas and therefore the food security in the region with the largest numbers of food-insecure people in South Asia region (SAR). Meanwhile, the food and water security nexus in the region is highly sensitive to climate change with the farming system highly dependent on water resources such as groundwater, river flow, and seasonal in one of the most highly populated regions of the world. Driven by temperature and precipitation changes, food production and food security in the SAR are most vulnerable to rising air temperatures that decrease yields of major crops such as rice, wheat, and maize. Climate change is also affecting other aspects of crop production such as increased pests and disease leading to lower yields and even losses in biodiversity in some ecosystems of the coastal regions of Sri Lanka and Maldives. In addition, there is growing evidence on loss of arable land due to sea level rise and saltwater intrusion as a key issue for many coastal areas such as in the case of Bangladesh’s Deltaic region. Extreme weather events are also negatively affecting crop production with decrease in yields attributed to droughts and floods related to rainfall patterns as in the case of Afghanistan.

Meanwhile, the agriculture sector is responsible for non-CO2 emissions generated within the farm gate by crops and livestock activities, as well as for CO2 emissions caused by the conversion of natural ecosystems, mostly forest land and natural peatlands, to agricultural land use. In Asia in 2018, emissions due to agriculture were 3.3 Gt CO2eq (FAO, 2018). The main direct sources of GHG emissions in the agricultural sector are not only carbon dioxide (CO2). Agriculture is a source of nitrous oxide (N2O), mostly by soils and through the application of fertilizers, and of methane (CH4), essentially from livestock and rice cultivation. As agricultural production is projected to increase in developing countries, so are agricultural emissions.

Pathways for enabling CSA to scale

While climate-smart agriculture presents opportunities for climate-resilient development pathways, and the role of innovation in the area is high on the global agenda, a key concern in this course of development is successfully taking  to scale the knowledge and technologies. On 21 March 2022, ADPC organized its second webinar on iCARE titled “Scaling Innovations in Climate-smart agriculture,” one in a series of webinars highlighting innovations in advancing climate resilience initiatives in South Asia. The webinars bring together global experts and practitioners to share their perspective on climate adaptation and resilience through partnership, applicability and sustainability of innovations with lessons from around the world. The following observation is based on the second webinar and its discussions among the experts in the field.


Scaling innovations in climate-smart agriculture in South Asia, to practically respond to the collective challenges of the agriculture sector is a critical question on how the region can maximize the impact of agriculture interventions through a balance in both a horizontal approach, i.e. replication of impact at the farming level, and a vertical approach, i.e. catalyzing financial, institutional and policy level changes.  In doing this, at least five critical components necessary to enable scaling CSA were highlighted:


  1. In addition to the social and environmental dimensions, integrating a value chain-based approach for commercially viable business development is critical, taking into account the value-chain actors and service providers.
  2. Securing and enhancing public-private partnership and investment for demand driven agriculture to make the impacts at scale is needed.
  3. Efficient and affordable technology to reduce emissions as well as enhance resilience and adaptation.
  4. Innovative financing mechanisms and instruments are required to especially overcome the barriers to adopt the CSA practices and support the last mile practitioners.
  5. Capacity building both at the human capacity in adopting technologies and financial instruments as well as enhance institutional mechanism linking to other parameters of CSA.

Scaling innovation in Climate-smart Agriculture – Cases in Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

ADOPT model in Bangladesh: Adopting climate-smart agriculture techniques or technologies is not merely based on the financial capacity of the farming communities. It is rather more of a measure of the willingness to move away from the traditional ways of farming to the myriad evolving technologies. According to Curtin University’s CSA experiences in Bangladesh, the innate nature of resistance to change may be a major cause of the slow rate of technology adoption despite policies that center around enhancing the affordability of technologies in the agriculture sector. The ADOPT model is experimenting the use of nudging tools (advocacy, demonstration, peer influence and peer pressure) to observe and encourage the solar based irrigation behaviors of the farming communities. At the center of the pilot model however, is low-carbon technology use and green public policy initiative with the prospects of scaling up across solar irrigation systems, climate-smart agriculture technologies, and human and institutional behavioral change in adopting smart technologies across all sectors.


Smart Vertical Farming in Sri Lanka (SVFM): In response to low food and nutritional security, the Smart Vertical Farming is an automated module offering an intensive and climate smart agricultural practice in the urban and semi urban communities in Sri Lanka. This is done in conjunction with adopting rainwater harvesting and solar modules, both considered low-cost technologies. Meanwhile, supported by the National Agricultural Policy (2021) of Sri Lanka, the SVFM aims to go to scale through modification for commercial farming with a business model based on cost benefit analysis, return on investments, cost recovery period and value for money. Critical to successful implementation and scaling of the low-cost technology is building capacity as well as traction among the end users and public sector partners with a stake in building food and nutritional security.