Climate-smart agriculture: Propoganda or paradigm shift for research in development
Development agendas focused on climate-smart agriculture (CSA) assume that changing farming practices can simultaneously improve food security, adaptation and mitigation outcomes. So far, however, there has been a lack of comprehensive information to evaluate this conventional wisdom. Here we report results from an appraisal of CSA’s scientific evidence base. We conducted a meta-analysis of the effects of 65 farm management practices (e.g., leguminous intercropped agroforestry, increased protein content of livestock diets, etc) on 22 indicators consistent with CSA goals (e.g., yield, water use efficiency, carbon sequestration, etc). Our search of peer-reviewed articles in Web of Science produced 144,567 candidate papers. We screened titles, abstracts and full-text against predetermined inclusion criteria, for example that the investigation took place in a tropical developing country and contains primary data on how both a CSA practice and non-CSA control affect a preselected CSA indicator.
Mapping the location of the 6,000 studies that met our criteria shows geographic and topical clustering in relatively few locations and around relatively few measures of CSA, indicating potential for bias and highlighting gaps in the evidence for desired CSA objectives (e.g., gender inclusiveness). Furthermore, outcomes vary widely among studies and locations and are far from clearly positive or negative, suggesting the ‘climate-smartness’ of practices needs to be considered for local conditions and objectives to be meaningful. Co-located, cross-outcome research tends to be sparse except for a few outcome-by-practice combinations. Thus, grand conclusions about synergies and trade-offs among CSA components may be unsupported. This meta-analysis provides a useful benchmark of CSA’s scientific basis and can be used support the transition from hype to meaningful impact on the ground.