Climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. CSA aims to tackle three main objectives: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity and incomes; adapting and building resilience to climate change; and reducing and/or removing greenhouse gas emissions, where possible.[1]


CSA is an approach for developing agricultural strategies to secure sustainable food security under climate change. CSA provides the means to help stakeholders from local to national and international levels identify agricultural strategies suitable to their local conditions. CSA is one of the 11 Corporate Areas for Resource Mobilization under the FAO’s Strategic Objectives. It is in line with FAO’s vision for Sustainable Food and Agriculture and supports FAO’s goal to make agriculture, forestry and fisheries more productive and more sustainable".

The majority of the world’s poor live in rural areas and agriculture is their most important income source. Developing the potential to increase the productivity and incomes from smallholder crop, livestock, fish and forest production systems will be the key to achieving global food security over the next twenty years. Climate change is expected to hit developing countries the hardest. Its effects include higher temperatures, changes in precipitation patterns, rising sea levels and more frequent extreme weather events. All of these pose risks for agriculture, food and water supplies. Resilience is therefore a predominant concern. Agriculture is a major source of greenhouse gas emissions. Mitigation can often be a significant co-benefit of actions to strengthen adaptation and enhance food security, and thus mitigation action compatible with national development priorities for agriculture is an important aspect of CSA.

The CSA Approach

CSA is not a set of practices that can be universally applied, but rather an approach that involves different elements embedded in local contexts. CSA relates to actions both on-farm and beyond the farm, and incorporates technologies, policies, institutions and investment.

Different elements of climate-smart agricultural systems include:

  • Management of farms, crops, livestock, aquaculture and capture fisheries to balance near-term food security and livelihoods needs with priorities for adaptation and mitigation.
  • Ecosystem and landscape management to conserve ecosystem services that are important for food security, agricultural development, adaptation and mitigation.
  • Services for farmers and land managers to enable better management of climate risks/impacts and mitigation actions.
  • Changes in the wider food system including demand-side measures and value chain interventions that enhance the benefits of CSA.

Actions to implement a CSA approach

These actions include:

Expanding the evidence base

The evidence base is made up of the current and projected effects of climate change in a country, identifying key vulnerabilities in the agricultural sector and for food security, agriculture and the identification of effective adaptation options. It includes estimates of the potential reduction in greenhouse gas emissions (or increased carbon sequestration) generated by adaptation strategies, information on costs and barriers to the adoption of different practices, issues related to the sustainability of production systems and the required policy and institutional responses to overcome them.

Supporting enabling policy frameworks

The approach supports the development of relevant policies, plans, investments and coordination across processes and institutions responsible for agriculture, climate change, food security and land use.

Strengthening national and local institutions

Strong local institutions to empower, enable and motivate farmers are essential. In some cases, efforts also need to be made in building the capacity of national policy makers to participate in international policy fora on climate change and agriculture, and reinforce their engagement with local government authorities.

Enhancing financing options

Innovative financing mechanisms that link and blend climate and agricultural finance and investments from public and private sectors are a key means of implementing CSA. New climate financing instruments such as the Green Climate Fund are currently under development and could be a way of spurring sustainable agricultural development. Strong and all-encompassing Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs) are key national policy instruments important in creating links to national and international sources of finance. National sector budgets and ODA will continue to be the main sources of funding, climate integration into sector planning and budgeting is therefore a prerequisite for successfully addressing climate change.

Implementing practices at field level

Farmers are the primary custodians of knowledge about their environment, agro-ecosystems, crops, livestock, and local climatic patterns. Adapting to CSA must be related to local farmers’ knowledge, requirements and priorities. Local projects and institutions support farmers to identify suitable climate-smart options that can be easily adopted and implemented.

Advocating for the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) on a wide scale in Zimbabwe

Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) identified climate change as one of the major challenges impacting on the development of farmers in Zimbabwe and has been directly involved in the implementation of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) initiatives. With support from Norad through SACAU, ZFU has successfully implemented a Conservation Agriculture (CA) program in six of the country’s districts.

Adoption of CSA practices involves drastic adjustments of the current farming systems and farmers are always cautious of the implication of such changes. In some cases, the yield in the first years of transition from conventional to CSA systems are low and without adequate financial support provided during that period, farmers justifiably are reluctant to adopt the technology. Farming systems are also very complex to the extent that changing one aspect will result into unintended consequences elsewhere. For instance, farmers who have been practicing conventional systems of farming find it difficult to change to farming that entails minimum or zero tillage or practices that promote crop rotation and ground cover because these might have negative impact on raising livestock. In addition, some farming systems are embedded into the cultural practices of the society, making it difficult for farmers to change. CSA practices require relatively high levels of initial investments for inputs and equipment, thus, the poor smallholder farmers may not afford such investments, hence low rates of adoption.

Limitations in public policies and programmes also have an effect in the low adoption levels of CSA conservation methods. Without a favourable policy and investment environment to promote the private sector as well as farmers to invest in the technologies, it is difficult for farmers to adopt the technology.

This project will focus on addressing policy related bottlenecks that contribute to the challenges outlined above. It is envisaged that addressing policy bottlenecks will enable governments and other players to create an environment that will enable farmers to adopt CSA. Policy is critical in providing a framework within which people make investment decisions and allocate resources and can trigger widespread changes in a cost-effective way.

The intention at the end of the project is that Zimbabwe has appropriate policies and support mechanisms for the application of CSA technologies by most farmers. It is anticipated that through the adoption of CSA practices, farmers will be able to produce, increase food production and income generate.[2]

Case Study of CSA in Zimbabwe

Approaching the homestead of Joseph Maravire and his wife, Reason, on a warm late August afternoon in Bvukururu, Zaka district, Zimbabwe, heaps of dry straw in their farmyard are prominent. "This is for mulching for the forthcoming cropping season," explains Reason. Maize stalk residues from last harvest are also stored to feed their livestock and to mix into the manure or for bedding the herd of cattle. These practices have become the norm for the Maravire family as they prepare for the next maize planting season in Zaka, one of the hottest areas of southern Zimbabwe.

“We never knew of mulching until we interacted with CIMMYT scientists in 2009. Now I cannot imagine working in my field without applying mulch,” says Reason. As one of five families selected in their village to participate in the scaling out of climate-smart agricultural technologies since 2009, the Maravire family demonstrates the evident transformative power of climate-smart agriculture.

Climate-smart agriculture involves farming practices that improve farm productivity and profitability, help farmers adapt to the negative effects of climate change and mitigate climate change effects, e.g. by soil carbon sequestration or reductions in greenhouse gas emissions. Climate-smart practices, such as the locally practiced conservation agriculture, aim at conserving soil moisture, retaining crop residues for soil fertility, disturbing the soil as minimally as possible and diversifying through rotation or intercropping.

As CIMMYT research shows, these practices can boost production and make farmers more food secure. This is good news for Zimbabwean farmers such as the Maravires. During an episode of El Niño in the 2015-16 and 2018-19 cropping seasons, large parts of southern Africa experienced prolonged dry spells, erratic rainfall and high temperatures initially with floods towards the end of the cropping season. A recent humanitarian appeal indicated that at least 2.9 million people in Zimbabwe were severely food insecure due to poor or no harvests that year.[3]

Mastering climate-smart techniques, season by season

On their 0.4-hectare plot dedicated to the project activities, Joseph and Reason practiced four different planting techniques: direct seeding (sowing directly into crop residue), ripline seeding (sowing in lines created by animal draft-powered rippers), basin planting (sowing manually into planting basins created by hand hoes), and the traditional ox drawn plowing and seeding. They then planted one traditional and three drought-tolerant maize varieties.

“It soon became clear to us that using a direct seeder or ripper tine, combined with mulching, was the best option, as these sections of the field retained more moisture and produced more maize than the conventional system,” explained Joseph Maravire. Beginning in 2013, the family also started rotating maize and cowpeas and observed a significant increase in their yields. They decided to apply climate-smart agriculture practices on the rest of their 2.5-hectare farm.

“We learned that cowpeas leave nitrogen in the soil and by the time of harvesting, the leaves from the cowpeas also fall to the ground as residue and add to the mulch for the soil. The shade of cowpea also reduces weed pressure and manual weeding,” said Maravire.

Yields and food security

With these practices, the family has harvested remarkably, even during the dry seasons. In 2015-16, the worst El Niño on record, they harvested 2 tons of maize, despite the severe drought, while other households barely got anything from their fields. In good years, like the last cropping season, the family harvests 3.5 to 4 tons of maize from their entire field, three times more than their annual family food needs of approximately 1.3 tons. The additional cowpea yields of both grain and leaves provide protein-rich complementary food, which improves the family’s nutrition. To share some of these benefits with their community, the Maravire family donates up to 10% of their produce to poor elderly households in their village.

Launch of Climate Smart Agriculture Investment Plan (CSAIP)

The launch was expected between September and October 2020 and the plan was supported by the Zimbabwe Reconstruction Fund (ZIMREF), identified and prioritised investment packages for CSA investment policy and actions for the country that would support the three key CSA pillars, namely the achievement of a more productive, resilient and low emissions agriculture sector.

The CSAIP Investment Package encompasses water harvesting for resilient crop and livestock production and points to investment in soil and water conservation techniques as part of an integrated catchment management that incorporates water, land and environmental sectors, which the World Bank senior agriculture specialist, Dr Esther Chigumira said aligned with the Government’s Pvumvudza concept.[4]


  1. [1], Food and Agriculture Organisation of the United Nations, Accessed: 30 October, 2020
  2. [2], Zimbabwe Farmers Union Newsletter, Accessed: 30 October, 2020
  3. Shiela Chikulo, [3], CIMMYT, Published: 20 September, 2019, Accessed: 30 October, 2020
  4. Elita Chikwati and Tanyaradzwa Mutizwa, [4], The Herald, Published: 24 August, 2020, Accessed: 30 October, 2020