The threat of Climate-Smart Agriculture: Agribusiness’s new strategy to destroy Nepal’s small peasants

Those who advocate Climate Smart Agriculture tell lies to create confusion. Some claim ‘smart agriculture’ means the digitalization of agriculture. Others claim that ‘smart agriculture’ means the use of corporate seeds, fertilizers, and other chemicals. Some CSA advocates want it to mean the modernization, mechanization, and industrialization of agriculture, while others more blatantly admit that ‘smart agriculture’ means large landholdings, agribusiness, and mono-cropping.

This confusion is the reason why the progressive government in Nepal and the Nepalese peasant movement are not clear on what climate-smart agriculture means. This is why, one can find agricultural scientists, bureaucrats, and even some peasant leaders talking about the need for climate-smart agriculture in Nepal. They believe that the only way to increase productivity, develop agriculture and adapt to the climate crisis is to adopt the mantra of climate-smart agriculture. This is false hope. Despite Nepal’s left-wing government, the Ministry of Agriculture has continued to advocate climate-smart agriculture as part of its policies and programs to tackle climate change. Not only on a federal level, but a number of provinces have begun to implement climate-smart agriculture projects.

CSA in Nepal

Nepal’s peasant movement has safeguarded the country’s agriculture from profit-making and the plunder of natural and human resources by stopping the entry of agribusiness and GMOs. It is due to the strength of this movement that Nepal became one of the first country’s to adopt the principle of food sovereignty in its constitution.

However, the World Bank, UN agencies and agribusiness have been pushing climate-smart agriculture to the Nepal government to weaken our food sovereignty. Instead of strengthening peasant agriculture, these international power brokers are pushing the commercialization of Nepal’s agriculture. The kind of approach being advocated includes carbon trading and carbon debt under the global REDD+ project. The World Bank claims this is a triple-win for Nepal, which enhances climate mitigation, agricultural productivity, and carbon sequestration. Nepal has adopted its own REDD Strategy 2018. Other ongoing CSA programs include the Hariyo Ban Project, ASHA Adaptation Action, Pilot Project for Climate Resilience (PPCR) and the Beautiful Nepal projects run by local NGOs, the Agriculture and Forestry University and the Ministry of Agriculture.

Even agricultural scientists at the National Agriculture Research Centre (NARC) are advocating climate-smart agricultural practices. These practices are not local solutions to local problems. Instead, these have been adopted from the CSA approach developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and Climate-Smart Villages (CSV). These are pushed by an international consortium, which includes the World Bank, FAO, the UK Government’s Department for International Development (DFID), the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), and Local Initiatives for Biodiversity Research and Development (LI-BIRD). These international organizations have been involved to identify country-specific CSA baselines in Nepal.

In only a decade, the influence of these international actors has changed the vision for the agriculture of the Nepal government. Many recent policies, the new Agriculture Development Strategy (ADS) speak about the need for climate-smart agriculture. The country has moved from a strategy that wanted an organic Nepal, it has moved to an idea of promoting industrial agriculture and reducing the population dependent on farming. This is where it begins to become clear that climate-smart agriculture is a strategy to promote agribusiness at the expense of Nepal’s peasantry. It is a cause for alarm that all CSA programs in Nepal have been negotiated secretly. There has been no attempt to consult peasants in the process.

What actually is Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA)?

The FAO Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) approach is supposed to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support the development and ensure food security in a changing climate. The World Bank claims CSA is an integrated approach to managing landscapes—cropland, livestock, forests, and fisheries–that address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate change. This all looks good, but a closer examination of the FAO’s Strategic Objectives shows that CSA is one of the eleven Corporate Areas for Resource Mobilization. Similarly, the WB definition makes it clear that it is international agri-business and MNCs that will bring these so-called CSA technologies. It is clear that CSA is designed to bring new technologies and corporate actors in agriculture. It is a new mantra for the corporatization of agriculture.

What is Climate Crisis and how is it impacting Rural Peasants?

The reality is that the current climate crisis is a result of the greed of capitalist and imperialist governments, their corporations, haphazard industrial and business activities plundering the world’s resources to amass more wealth. The same actors talking about CSA are the ones who have destroyed nature, which has produced the current crisis in agriculture and climate. It is a universal truth that capitalism is plundering the natural resources and polluting the environment. The emission of greenhouse gases from industrialization and industrial agriculture have contributed to global warming. The crisis has already resulted in the melting of the polar ice caps, the rise in sea levels, depletion of the ozone layer, loss of different species, as well as a serious impact on livelihoods. The climate crisis is threatening the livelihood of millions of poor farmers around the world. There is no alternative but to take greed out of the system. Without stopping corporate greed, without finding alternatives to monocultures, without taking multinational corporations and the WTO out of agriculture, it is not possible to combat the climate crisis. CSA is an attempt to profiteer from the climate crisis at the expense of poor rural producers and agricultural laborers. CSA is not an attempt to solve the climate crisis, it is an attempt to make profits by allowing agribusiness to enter Nepal’s agricultural landscape.

Myths and Reality

The reality is that it is not a big farm or national and multinational companies who produce most of the world’s food. It is peasants, small and marginal farmers, who are in harmony with nature, use diverse seeds and breeds and produce more than 70% of the world’s food. For those peasants, their source of income and employment and livelihood is agriculture. That is one reason why capitalism is always trying to displace them and take over their lands. Wherever there are peasant producers, global agribusiness sees space to make profits through mono-cropping, selling agri-inputs as well as creating a labor reserve through displacing them from their land. Realizing that peasants are the worst hit by the environmental and climate crisis, they are offering CSA as a false solution to wipe out the rural peasantry and peasant agriculture. These groups are even influencing policymakers, agricultural scientists and technocrats talk about GMOs and new seed varieties which they claim can adapt to climate change. They not only advocate the use of chemicals, mono-cropping, industrialization, and commercialization of agriculture but also talk about bio-fertilizer, bio-pest and high-tech farming.

It is clear, we can not expect anything from those who are responsible for the crisis. These institutions which are advocating the issue most are the tools of neo-colonialism and imperialism have only one objective: profit at any cost. The adoption of CSA will open the field for global agri-business corporations, such as Monsanto (now Bayer), to produce organic compost, bio-fertilizer, and bio-pesticides and start growing organic food. They will be talking about new climate-resilient varieties of GMOs, which already have devastating impacts on the health of people and genetic diversity.

MNCs and agribusiness cannot understand the worth of rural agriculture in harmony with nature and how it protects biodiversity. All they know is how to grab resources, displace communities and sell agri-inputs. CSA is not driven by peasants, it is driven by the same agribusiness that promotes synthetic fertilizers, industrial meat production, and large-scale industrial agriculture. These are the same corporations that are widely recognized as contributing to climate change and undermining the resilience of natural farming systems. How can these organizations label themselves ‘climate-smart’? Soon they will tell us that peasant agriculture is not climate-smart. The story will be simple. Small farmers mostly are monsoon dependent and don’t have climate-resilient technologies, knowledge or seeds. The logic will be that small peasant agriculture should be replaced by mono-cropping, big farms, and MNCs.

Solution – Small scale peasant led Agroecology cools the planet!

Nepal’s planners and agricultural scientists should not advocate any technology and approach that is against the peasantry. It should not undermine peasant knowledge and farming techniques. Science and technology should be accessible to smallholders. The best thing that can be done to help the peasants to deal with the climate crisis is to promote agro-ecology and empower rural peasants. Climate change solutions will require changing the global food system. La Via Campesina, the largest global movement of peasants and along with the International Forum for Agroecology, has put forward, agroecology as the solution and resilience to climate change, which both cools the planet and feeds the world. CSA is criticized by the peasants and people’s movements and sections of civil society organizations worldwide with the slogan “Don‟t be fooled! We say no to climate-smart agriculture, and yes to agroecology.” CSA joins the list of GMOs, agrofuels, and REDD+ in the list of false solutions. The solutions for climate change should be holistic and should address the root cause of the problem and not its symptoms. Agroecology is such a locally practiced, eco-friendly and pro-peasant approach that ensures food sovereignty and helps to deal with the changing climate in the short run. In the long run, let’s not talk about climate change, let’s talk about system change.

This article is written by Pramesh Pokharel and edited by Hashim Bin Rashid.