On 19 June 2019, 20 representatives from international organisations, donors, private foundations and knowledge institutes met in Zurich to discuss different adaptation pathways that will be needed for different types of farmers amid the pressure to feed a growing world population under rising world temperatures. The meeting was co-organised by the Donor Platform, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and the Swiss Agency for Development Cooperation (SDC). It sought to provide feedback to a draft proposal by CCAFS on the transformation of global food systems, as well as to promote exchange amongst Platform members and partners on the latest developments on the cross-roads between agriculture and climate change.

Five pathways in and out of agriculture
Bruce Campbell (CIAT/CCAFS) started his presentation on the CCAFS proposal by arguing that the food system is broken since progress in sustainably achieving food security for all has been very limited. To address the current challenges, it becomes crucial to use a transformative approach whereby the rural population is recognised in all its diversity, hence, requiring multiple adaptation pathways, with significant private sector involvement and being realistic about what agriculture can (and cannot) achieve.

The proposal suggests five specific adaptation pathways according to farm types (see picture). For example, large scale commercial agriculture should increase focus on environmental outcomes. Smallholder/subsistence farmers should be supported in consolidating their land by means of having secured tenure and market access for their products. Those operating in extensive farming systems should be supported in diversifying their income, thus, exiting agriculture.

In designing policies, decision makers should pay special attention to those who will remain “hanging in” and food insecure as they may be left behind due to quicker adaptation progress by other rural groups.

Exit is finally an option
The presentation was firstly discussed in a panel of selected speakers, followed by a structured feedback by other participants. Dalma Somogyi, from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD) praised the proposal for its frankness. “We finally talk about exiting agriculture as an option. Some farmers just can’t do agriculture on a micro plot of land, so why try to keep farmers farming if they are barely scraping by?”

Following this logic, Sanna-Liisa Taivalmaa, from Finland’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, raised the urgent need to create jobs for smallholder farmers, tapping the potential of a closer rural-urban link. Simon Winter, from Syngenta Foundation, called for pragmatism while also caution for not over-simplifying solutions or getting stuck in a duality of large versus small farmers. “If we need to increase food production and security, we must have future farmers – those who need healthy soils, and more secure access to finances, to technology, to land. For those leaving agriculture, we need to understand where they are going and support these options.

What was missing and how to get there?
With this framing question, participants raised several areas where the proposal could be strengthened. Firstly, the need to consider different domains and angles in designing and implementing the different adaptation pathways beyond the focus on agricultural productivity. For example, importance of governance systems and the political economy, which can foster but also undermine the diversification of farmers’ livelihoods. Understanding how these pathways can build and impact on education, health and nutrition is also an angle to be considered.

Other points raised included:

  • Often due to lacking enabling conditions, agriculture is a costly business for small farmers. There is need to make consumers pay more for agricultural products and services
  • It was not clear how certain groups of farmers will leave agriculture. What needs to be done, when? What happens first?
  • Territorial approaches are helpful in the diversification of farmers’ livelihoods as it promotes solutions embedded in the local context
  • Digital technologies are a real opportunity to make the change/adaptation pathways flexible and attractive
  • Rapid urbanisation can be a driver of positive change and it will be crucial to involve the youth in pathways out of agriculture
  • Empowerment and capacity building are a pre-condition for policies to work
  • Regulating the private sector is also important to avoid that gap between large and small scale farming is deepened

Key areas suggested for (more) donor collaboration
In taking the discussion beyond the CCAFS proposal, participants suggested a few areas where donors and other actors can help build more climate-resilient agricultural systems. They could engage in:

  • Partnerships around the Nationally Determined Contributions, such as the Thematic Working Group on Agriculture, Food Security and Land Use managed by FAO. They provide space for multiple groups to coordinate in national adaptation plans
  • Developing indicators on climate adaptation for agriculture (e.g. by supporting the development and implementation of the Koronivia joint work on agriculture – see link below)
  • Strengthening the link between adaptation and disaster management
  • Supporting evidence base for the work of the Global Alliance on Climate Smart Agriculture (GACSA)
  • Better knowledge and management of food loss and waste



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