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Climate-smart farming can ease the Earth's environmental deficits

by Stuart Singleton-White | Rainforest Alliance, Inc.
Friday, 19 August 2016 09:24 GMT

A Rainforest Alliance trainer runs a session on climate-smart agriculture in Ghana. PHOTO/Rainforest Alliance

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

A sustainable approach to farming can boost yields while reducing damage to natural resources and the climate

Farmland expansion is responsible for over 90 percent of global deforestation and degradation, while agriculture, forestry and other land uses contribute up to 24 percent of global greenhouse gas emissions. In other words, farming’s use of natural resources is having a major impact on the environment and the Earth’s ability to regenerate and replenish those resources.

Coupled with the effects of climate change, a whole new set of problems arise for the farming industry - including extreme weather events, pest outbreaks, droughts and altered growing seasons.

However, the world still needs food and farmers still need an income, so what’s a farmer to do?

All is not lost. With the introduction of “climate-smart agriculture”, farmers are becoming more resilient to the devastating effects of climate change. At the same time biodiversity is conserved, and gender equity and sustainable development are promoted.

The Rainforest Alliance, an international conservation organisation, is promoting climate-smart agriculture through its certification program. Working closely with farmers, we have seen the benefits of dealing with the challenges of climate change head on.

For example, by incorporating shade trees, a requirement for Rainforest Alliance certification, farmers can buffer vulnerable crops from swings in temperature and rainfall.

 And developing forest carbon projects at the same time can help communities and the environment by generating money through the sale of carbon credits and creating biological corridors vital to ecosystems.

By building cooperatives and engaging leading food companies that make commitments to source climate-smart products, we have found that the number of farmers involved in a particular place can jump from a few hundred to a few thousand and more, developing a climate-smart landscape across the supply chain.

For example, the technical assistance provided to 538 coffee growers in Central America by the Rainforest Alliance recently resulted in 7,413 acres (3,000 hectares) of land coming under climate-smart management, and the capture of more than 218,000 metric tonnes of carbon. That is equivalent to the annual emissions of approximately 43,600 cars.


“Climate-smart agriculture” helps farmers adapt to climate change by sustainably increasing productivity and resilience. It includes practices such as composting and other soil management techniques, and harvesting and retention systems to increase soil fertility and improve water conservation and availability.

It also contributes to global climate change mitigation efforts by reducing and removing greenhouse gas emissions, thanks to less encroachment of farms and ranches into forested areas, encouraging agroforestry systems that plant trees, and more efficient use of fertiliser.

And by diversifying crops and creating new income opportunities for farmers, it helps secure sustainable livelihoods, supporting national food security and development goals.

An estimated 5.2 percent of the world’s coffee, 14.5 percent of cocoa, 14 percent of tea and 20 percent of global banana exports come from Rainforest Alliance-certified farms, representing over 1.1 million farms and 7.5 million hectares of farmland.

This, coupled with certification as a pathway to promoting the implementation of climate-smart agriculture, makes the future sustainability of farmers’ livelihoods and the environment look a little more promising. 

Stuart Singleton-White is External Communications Director for the Rainforest Alliance.