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Decision and Policy Analysis Research Area – DAPA

Climate-smartness seen through farmers’ eyes

Marcelina and Mauricio own less than one hectare of land in Poblazón, the indigenous reserve located in Colombia’s Popayan Municipality (Cauca Department). At this time of the year, the family’s orchard is full of onions, salad, carrots, and squash. At the back of the house, they own a small maize field. For years now, Marcelina and Mauricio have successfully combined maize varieties with different maturity dates – late and short-season. They have created and then carefully followed cropping calendars, which have helped them track the time each variety takes from planting to harvest. Crop successions have improved yields, boost food reserves, and reduce risk of crop failure. In a context where prolonged droughts and intense floods have put the family’s food basket, climate-smart planting – they say – is key to adapting to the unknown.  

Marcelina, Mauricio and their climate-smart story. Photo: A. Nowak (CIAT)

Marcelina, Mauricio and their climate-smart story. Photo: A. Nowak (CIAT)

Marcelina and Mauricio shared their story during a participatory workshop (conversatorio) held on May 12, in Popayan. This is part of an initiative to identify and prioritize Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA) interventions in the Upper Cauca River Basin, supported by CIAT, CCAFS and the local NGO Fundacion Rio Piedras. 

CIAT and CCAFS were also interested in identifying participants concerns, criteria, and methods for prioritizing CSA practices in their villages, and how to adjust the CSA Prioritization Framework (CSA-PF) methodology accordingly, for improved use by local community actors.


Discussing local measurements for soil quality

Discussing local measurements for soil quality. Photo: A. Nowak (CIAT)

The conversatorio brought together smallholder farmers (campesinos), indigenous groups, and community leaders to exchange views on how to best assess the effects of their agricultural traditions on livelihoods and the external environment. They discussed a list of CSA practices, indicators, descriptions, and suggested metrics initially put together by researchers at CIAT-CCAFS in consultation with local experts. 

They did so by answering two simple questions, based on the information provided on the lists:


(i) Do I understand this indicator and the way it’s measured?

(ii) What other metric would be more adequate for the context of my community?

The purpose of this exercise was to ensure that metrics are adjusted to the units used locally, and to have farmers and indigenous groups engaged early in the methodology development process, offering credit to their knowledge of the local context.

Participants preferred to use “labor” (mano de obra) instead of “employment” when measuring the effects of CSA practices on productivity, arguing that the later would most likely be confused with “formal work contracts”, which is not the case in the region. Apart from terminology that fits to local vocabulary, time units were also discussed. Farmers would most relate to shorter, more precise intervals of time, such as “days”, “months”, or “crop cycle” (depending on what is being measured), rather than to “years” when tracking their agricultural activities and their outcomes.        


Role-play to build capacity on survey implementation. Photo: A. Nowak (CIAT)

Once the concepts (indicators) and metrics clarified, participants of the conversatorio engaged into a role-play exercise, where community leaders took the role of researchers and farmers the role of the researched. The exercise was aimed at building capacity among community leaders to implement the CSA survey in their own community. Marcelina and Mauricio was one of them.

The survey, called “community dialogues”, will be implemented as a next step after the conversatorio. The community dialogues, carried out by  communities, instead of using external enumerators, are aimed at builduing local ownership over information and address community fatigue vis-à-vis long, detailed, research processes, a phenomenon that had been observed early in the process.

The processes described above are meant to shed light on how climate-smart agriculture is viewed and prioritized through farmers’ eyes. The story that Marcelina and Mauricio tell is just a minuscule piece of the climate-smart narratives that have existed for years in the Basin. Small-scale farmers in the region have developed a local early warning system, with the support of experts and community-based organizations. They have used mulching and irrigation techniques (drip irrigation, sprinkler irrigation, etc.) to maintain and even increase productivity under changing climates long before CSA emerged into our vocabulary. For many of these farmers, doing climate-smart agriculture has long been a way of life. For many of us still, we are struggling to understand how this happens and why. One thing becomes clear though: 

Offer farmers the investigator’s hat and you’ll be able to see with more clarity the detailed understanding they have of their surroundings. Give farmers a chance to document their story, and they wouldn’t rewrite history, but would make you see history with different eyes.


For more information on how we’re implementing the CSA-PF in the Upper Cauca River Basin, contact Miguel Lizarazo (m.lizarazo@cgiar.org) and Andreea Nowak (a.c.nowak@cgiar.org). For more general questions regarding the CSA-PF and its use in Africa and Asia, you can contact Caitlin Corner-Dolloff (c.corner-dolloff@cgiar.org)

Written by Andreea Nowak

Andreea Nowak is an Environmental Policy Specialist at CIAT (Colombia)

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