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While so-called "Climate Smart Agriculture" is designed to expand carbon markets and serve the interests of agribusiness and the financial industry, the practice of agroecology boasts a scientifically valid response to climate change and is designed for the purpose of rebuilding decentralized, just, and sustainable agricultural systems. (Photo: UCSC farm rows / Flickr / cc )

"Climate Smart Agriculture" Isn’t. Agroecology is.

As the science and practice of agroecology provides a way forward to address food insecurity, rural poverty, climate change, drought and water scarcity it is encountering an intentionally misleading campaign called "Climate Smart Agriculture," being promoted by the World Bank, FAO, and newly launched corporate-dominated Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture. Do not be fooled by the title. Climate Smart Agriculture incentivizes destructive industrial agricultural practices by tying it to carbon market offsets based on unreliable and non-permanent emissions reduction protocols.

While Climate Smart Agriculture is designed to expand carbon markets and serve the interests of agribusiness and the financial industry, the practice of agroecology boasts a scientifically valid response to climate change and is designed for the purpose of rebuilding decentralized, just, and sustainable agricultural systems. This differentiation is extremely important as we anticipate further erroneous claims that Climate Smart Agriculture and agroecology are interchangeable concepts. They are not.

Below are a few significant new developments and emerging opportunities:

  • The FAO’s Symposium on Agroecology last month helped solidify the scientific legitimacy of agroecology, as well as growing support within the FAO. In his closing comments, FAO DG Da Silva quoted directly from a letter signed by 70 scholars and organized by IATP, which openly opposed the “Climate Smart Agriculture” model and promoted the scientific and social legitimacy of agroecology. The letter was also recognized by several country governments and in media reports. The FAO is now exploring a series of regional meetings on agroecology in the coming year. Despite this new level of support, there are clearly conflicting views within FAO about agroecology, which speaks to the need for intensified and targeted campaigning to take advantage of the opening provided by Da Silva’s recent comment and upcoming meetings. Sign on to support a U.N.-wide agroecology initiative.
  • The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA), launched in New York in late September, has refueled opposition by civil society organizations (CSOs) critical of its vague governance structure; the tying of agriculture to carbon markets;  and the power of corporate members to drive and profit from CSA objectives. The undefined approach of CSA has no scientific backing and further, will intentionally repeat the worst mistakes of green revolution agricultural practices. Vociferous opposition to the GACSA is legitimate and necessary, and a range of CSOs including IATP are calling for a rejection of GACSA.
  • The FAO Committee on Food Security meeting in mid-October 2014 presents another opportunity to advance agroecology. The CFS is a rare international process in which civil society has a place at the table. It provides critical space for the inclusion of agroecology and food sovereignty in formal negotiated texts related to myriad policy rules, including guidelines for land tenure and responsible agricultural investment. IATP staff serve on the CFS High Level Panel of Experts and actively engage in the civil society mechanism to influence CFS emerging priorities.

Because it is embraced by multiple movements, groups and actors—scientists, NGOs, social movements, consumers, and scholars—agroecology is the epitome of “simultaneously bottom-up and top-down” solutions. Scientists, farmers and activists agree that agroecology is the way to go. 

IATP is working hard in an expanding network of people and organizations to actively promote agroecology and expose the myths of the Climate Smart Agriculture model. 


© 2021 Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy

M. Jahi Chappell

Dr. M. Jahi Chappell is director of agroecology and agriculture policy at the Institute for Agricultural and Trade Policy (IATP). He has worked with and consulted for groups like Via Campesina, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), and the urban agriculture nonprofits Growing Hope (Ypsilanti, Mich.) and Growing Gardens (Portland, Ore.).

Juliette Majot

Juliette Majot is the president of the Institute for Agriculture and Trade Policy (IATP).

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