Climate-smart agriculture has emerged as a solution to address the multiple challenges of climate change and food security by sustainably increasing productivity, enhancing resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. To date, there is limited scholarly evidence on what constitutes climate-smart agriculture, and how it is framed globally and practiced by smallholder farming communities. This research helps to bridge this gap by analysing the international discourse around climate-smart agriculture, and providing local empirical evidence derived from smallholder farming communities in the Philippines and Timor-Leste.
At the broad level, this research aims to identify how climate-smart agriculture within community-based adaptation programs is contributing to the integration of mitigation and adaptation responses to climate change. Drawing from political ecology and climate change (adaptation and mitigation sciences) theories, the research explains how socio-institutional factors – inequality, unequal power relations and social injustice – influence climate-smart agriculture. The theoretical arguments are illustrated with empirical case studies of smallholder farmers and civil society organisations in the two case studies. Using mixed qualitative methods and descriptive analysis of over 150 semi-structured interviews, focus group discussions and participant observation, the research examines climate-smart agriculture practices across three broad categories: vulnerability of smallholder farmers (socioeconomic factors), synergistic relationships (adaptation, mitigation and food security) and governance (socio-institutional determinants). 

This research argues that mitigation and adaptation interventions are climate-smart for smallholder farmers when they directly address local climate risks, support a combination of adaptation, food security and livelihood strategies, and empower at-risk and marginalised populations. Results indicate that climate-smart agriculture in the Philippines and Timor-Leste are characterised and influenced by multiple socio-institutional factors. The increasing burden of loss and damage as a result of extreme climate events subject women to migration, increased discrimination, loss of customary rights to land, resource poverty and food insecurity. In terms of farming practices implemented by smallholder farmers, most adaptation actions were found to have corresponding positive mitigation, food security and livelihood co-benefits. At the community level, climate-smart interventions are highly location-specific, technically rigorous, involve knowledge-intensive processes, and are influenced by the finance and capacities of local farming communities and implementing partners. Furthermore, of relevance at the global level, this research finds that there is a growing divide between how developed and developing countries frame solutions to the impacts of climate change on agriculture despite agriculture featuring prominently in the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change negotiations. Such a divide is limiting the recognition of solutions that integrate mitigation and adaptation opportunities. 

Funding: Australian Postgraduate Award (APA)
Advisors: Dr Paul DarguschDr Karen McNamara

Project members

Alvin Chandra

PhD Graduate 2017