Friday, 2 September 2016

Leading Australian agricultural scientists brought together at Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop in Canberra

With an expanding population and a changing climate how can we begin to unravel some of the world’s greatest production problems? Growing more food on less land with an increasingly variable climate will present a suite of challenges to both urban and rural populations worldwide. It’s clear that farmers are already adapting to what is a shifting climate both here in Australia and abroad, but there is more to be done. Science has a critical role to play in brokering knowledge on past trends, future predictions and possible tools for mitigating and adapting to this scenario.

Participants introduce themselves at the Climate Smart Agriculture Workshop in Canberra. Photo: ACIAR
Such was the foundation of a day long workshop hosted at the Australian Centre for International Agricultural Research (ACIAR) in Canberra, which focused on Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA). The workshop was supported by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFs), a collaborative program set up to tackle declining global food security in the face of a changing climate between the CGIAR and Future Earth.

Attendees at the workshop traveled from around Australia and Canberra to discuss CSA and the innovation possibilities for farming systems. The workshop took place on 2 August 2016 and was opened by ACIAR’s new CEO Andrew Campbell.

ACIAR CEO, Andrew Campbell, welcomes participants to the workshop. Photo: ACIAR

Three major challenges had been mapped out to guide the focus of the day:

1.    Positioning CSA research in an evolving institutional and policy landscape
2.    Priorities for next generation CSA research, including climate smart villages
3.    Going to scale with CSA research products

Whilst the workshop did not seek to define or re-define CSA in any way, participants were involved in discussions around what is a CSA innovation process? What is the best delivery mechanism of one? And who is best placed to take on these innovations at any given point in a value chain? It is here that the ever present yet elusive ‘context’ comes in. Each situation is different and thus what is ‘climate-smart’ in one scenario may not be in another. The science community can carefully design, package and test as many innovations as we like but without considering the operating conditions we will not deliver anything of value.

Not one of us is immune to the conundrum of context. We are all Homo sapiens existing on the same planet with relatively similar needs and desires. Agreed, and yet the space in which each of us goes about our daily lives is inextricably coloured by the social, cultural and economic environment into which we are thrust. It is the lens through which we view the world.

Farming is no different, across the globe there are countless micro-climates, a myriad of soil combinations and host of vegetative diversity that all interact to produce varying outcomes.
Possible tools for the kit of mitigation and adaptation were offered up in the form of an increasingly multi-disciplinary approach to macro issues such as these.

A highlight of the day was a video presentation prepared by Dennis Garrity from the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF). Dennis presented a strong case for the integration of trees into productive landscapes. This would not only provide farmers with an agroforestry enterprise but also a mechanism to sequester carbon and reduce the contribution of agricultural activity to global carbon emissions. This idea of a move to increasingly ‘perennial agriculture’ termed by Dennis as the ‘EverGreen movement’ points to a more diversified landscape where farms mimic ecosystems with multiple layers of organisms functioning in symbiosis. Such a landscape has been largely neglected in the Australian context since the industrial revolution in favour of more efficient, mechanised alternatives. However, many of our closest neighbours still practice farming with more than one crop species per season, sometimes referred to as a ‘polyculture’ and as such both contexts offer up ideas to the climate adaptation debate.
Small group break out sessions were effective in promoting discussion. Photo: ACIAR
ACIAR is well placed to engage in cross-contextual work. As a long term broker of partnerships, we have many longstanding relationships in Australia and overseas which give key insight into local conditions in which people work. This facilitates effective knowledge and technology sharing that benefits both Australia and our global neighbours and provides a platform for collaborative innovation. As we enter an age of increasing uncertainty, working together will be more important than ever to ensure the best possible outcomes for all. 

Participating organisations:

By Miriam McCormack, Graduate Officer Crops Cluster, ACIAR

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