Monday, 18 January 2010

Agriculture & Climate Change: Aligning Small Farmers

Last week I spoke on this topic at the Global Forum on Food & Agriculture, Berlin. These were the broad talking points I had jotted down for myself:

A. All of us know the three dimensions of agriculture vis-à-vis climate change

1. That agriculture is a part of the problem, causing climate change through Green House Gas emissions (methane from flooded paddy fields & ruminants like cows, nitrous oxide from the soils, CO2 from fossil fuels used in farm equipment etc)

2. That agriculture is also one of the most vulnerable sectors impacted by climate change (fall in productivity due to changing weather patterns)

3. And, that agriculture can be an important part of the solution to climate change (through emission reductions, carbon sequestration, increasing soil organic matter etc)

B. At a macro level, what needs to be done to produce abundant food that is safe, healthy and climate friendly also seems to be reasonably well known!

But, unlike in other sectors, the key actors that need to implement these solutions are hundreds of millions of small farmers spread around the world.

C. The challenge of aligning the small farmers to climate change issues is four fold!

1. Bringing relevant information to farmers living in dispersed geographies, especially where the supporting infrastructure is weak

2. Personalising the sustainable crop & livestock management practices to individual farmer circumstances, and then transferring that knowledge

3. Coordinating availability of all inputs like credit, water, seeds, risk management instruments etc, so that the new knowledge is actually adopted by everyone

4. And, most importantly, providing a financial incentive to the individual farmer when he has a difficult trade-off between today’s cost and tomorrow’s benefit, or between individual effort and common good

D. There is a solution to this apparently complex challenge. In fact, it is practically demonstrated through our company’s innovative business model named ITC eChoupal; that reaches four million small farmers in India today.

Although Information Technology is the most known face of ITC eChoupal, the model has three equally important components.

1. Firstly, leveraging Internet and increasingly Mobile phones so that real time information and personalized knowledge can reach the small farmers in an audio visual mode

2. Secondly, co-opting social capital through user groups that can help equitable distribution of common resources like water; also helps in accessing indeigenous knowledge and in conducting participative research

3. Thirdly, a collaborative network of organizations working together to bring a complete end-to-end solution to the farmer through a meta-market approach

E. With this approach, I am confident that we can align small farmers in the war against climate change. This alignment will happen faster, if the international community creates a fair reward system for farmers recognizing their contributions to climate change mitigation (eg carbon sequestration activities and bio-based energy services)


  1. While on one hand, we want our Agriculture to progress, our farmer to get richer (with more disposable income at BoP), more investments in technology, eco-friendly practises & so on.. It obviously come at a cost...
    On the other hand, when it comes to Food (essentially agri commodities)prices, we raise hue and cry at the slightest of the price increases!!
    As long as customers are not willing to pay more, govt.wants to control food prices & import-export-trading (giving ample opportunity to black-marketers), how will farmer realize the fair return to his produce? & in turn will have money to invest into technology/best practises?
    Isn't that a major paradox?!!

  2. Agree on the need for reward system.
    Thanks to leaders like you and Scott Cook that the farmers are getting access to better information. Hope they utilize this access and educate themselves.

  3. @Parampreet: Yes, we need some reform to re-farm. Do read

  4. Life saver blogs enroute to Davos ! Thanks

  5. @Nazeeb: Will know on Monday, whether these will save lives or create more trouble :-)

  6. This is BIG one......."most importantly, providing a financial incentive to the individual farmer when he has a difficult trade-off between today’s cost and tomorrow’s benefit, or between individual effort and common good". I think this is very complex issue. questions like how to quantify it and who has got authority to do that are really tough...

  7. Yes Rajesh, it is tough. But doable. It has to be on similar lines as the UN Framework on Carbon under Kyoto Protocol...

  8. It is very importent and critical issue for the food security prospective to our Country. You have rightly raised that colaborative network of various organization for the end to end solution would be one of right answer. The scientic lobby has been doing some good work to fight with climate changes and we need to buid up strong extension agencies to creat the awareness amoung small farmers in order to follow these measures. ITC eChoupal is doing wonderful job in this direction but we need more such agency and thier proactive approach to tacke this problem.

  9. Thanks SP :) Look forward to your inputs on more effective extension strategies.