Making Climate-Smart Agriculture Profitable for Smallholders

As the world grapples with the immense question of how to slow climate change and limit its effects, part of the answer can be found on small farms.

Editor’s Note: This blog post was developed in partnership with the Kellogg Company.

Globally, agriculture generates about 13 percent of the greenhouse gasses that are responsible for climate change. With the global population growing, however, we cannot afford to cut back on agricultural production in an effort to slow climate change. We have to grow more, and we have to grow it smarter.

At the same time, farmers – and especially smallholder farmers – are among those most vulnerable to the effects of climate change. Changes in rainfall patterns, the expanding range of crop diseases and pests, and soil erosion conspire to drive down yields and farm incomes. However, smallholders often have difficulty adopting more environmentally friendly practices, either because they represent an extra expense –which the farmers cannot bear, as they already operate on very thin margins of profitability – or because the farmers don’t have access to the necessary materials and services.

To encourage smallholders to adopt sustainable practices, it is therefore important to identify and promote approaches that are not just green, but are easy to adopt and provide an immediate financial benefit to the farmers.

Creating Win-Win Scenarios for Farmers and the Environment

This is very important in India, which is the fourth-largest producer of agricultural greenhouse gas emissions, and where most farmers already earn little, due to low yields and low prices. These farmers cannot afford costly new technologies or techniques to reduce their environmental impact or adapt to changing conditions.

To address that challenge, a partnership between Kellogg and TechnoServe is helping more than 12,000 farmers in corn, wheat, soy and legume-growing regions of Madhya Pradesh adopt profitable, environmentally friendly and easily accessible techniques.

For example, the project encourages farmers to plant trees on farm bunds – landscaping features designed to hold the flow of groundwater during the monsoon season – to help absorb carbon, combat soil erosion, and provide shade for crops, while also yielding potential income from the trees’ fruit and timber in the future. Farmers are also supported in adopting traditional Indian soil-enhancement practices, such as use of amrit khadh and amrit pani (traditional Indian bio-fertilizers) and more sustainable pest management practices that reduce costs while improving soil quality and agricultural yields. At the same time, a group of village entrepreneurs ensures that low-cost supportive services are available to farmers at their doorstep, thus making it a sustainable model.

After training with TechnoServe, Leela learned how to make organic fertilizer and pesticides using local leaves and herbs. She has started a small business selling this environmentally friendly product.

A Green Business Opportunity

The shift to climate-smart agriculture is creating new business opportunities in Madhya Pradesh. Leela Bai and her husband own no land, so it was difficult for them to earn a decent living in their rural village and support their two children. Leela worked as a day laborer on others’ farms, but she earned little.

After participating in the program, Leela learned how to make organic fertilizer and pesticides using local leaves and herbs. She has started a small business selling this environmentally friendly product, which helps farmers boost their productivity. It has been a success in her community, and she sold 600 liters of her organic products last season. “Now I am able to feed my family and fulfill needs round the year,” she said.

There are millions of smallholder farmers around the world, and many of them face the same challenges that Leela and her neighbors do. By helping these farmers to adopt practical, climate-smart approaches, we can help to create a more sustainable food system that protects the environment and improves smallholder livelihoods.