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A field full of tractors
Figure 1: Tractors

Why is adopting CSA complicated?

As we will explore later in this week, there are a number of technical solutions and practices to make farming more sustainable and climate smart. But first of all, you might wonder - if solutions are available - why are they not more widely adopted in farming and food production?

There are a number of constraints regarding the adoption of climate smart solutions such as limited resources (both human and financial), limited integration or coordination of governance, uncertainties about the impacts of solutions, different perceptions of risks, competing values, absence of key adaptation leaders, limited tools to monitor adaptation effectiveness and insufficient research on solutions.

To discover the main barriers for the adoption of CSA solutions in Europe, members of the University of Wageningen and CSA Booster interviewed key groups on the supply and the demand side of CSA solutions. The supply side included people or businesses that provided climate smart solutions or technologies. The demand side included people or organisations that might use CSA solutions including farmers, cooperatives, and other value chain members. The main barriers identified were:

Demand Supply
1. Low awareness of climate smart technologies and inaccessible language 1. Difficulty in proving the value of the technology and demonstrating its impact
2. High costs and long ROI (return of investment) periods involved with the technologies 2. The lack of knowledge of, and access to capital or investment
3. Lack of verified impact of technologies 3. An unsympathetically regulatory landscape
4. Regulatory and policy issues 4. The products are too expensive for the customer or the ROI periods are too long
5. The difficulty to reach and train farmers 5. Access to and reaching customers
6. Research and development and policies do not match the ‘on-the-ground’ reality  
7. There is low demand for CS solutions from the consumer of the agricultural product  
8. Unequal distribution of costs and benefits across the supply chain  
Figure 2: Table to show the main barriers from a supply and demand perspective.

The suppliers

Thanks to research at universities, independent institutes and a number of companies, there are a vast amount of studies and scientific data on which climate smart solutions are based. Without research, we would neither understand climate change, nor be able to predict its effects in the future. Research and innovation continues to identify alternative solutions for sustainable farming. A lot of basic research has been translated into practice by companies who build technologies on a larger scale, or has been developed into agricultural policies and principles. Science plays a significant role in exploring possibilities to adapt farming.

There are specific products that can help a farm to become more climate smart, including renewable energy, energy efficient systems, technologies using weather and climate data. These technologies are created and sold by companies who need to ensure their own profitability. Adopting technologies for the farmer often means financial investment, but who should pay for this?

On the supply side, improvements could include a change in the business model. For example, in some cases it might be better to lease a specific climate smart product than selling it. Also, tax breaks or other benefits for businesses providing climate smart solutions could be a way of overcoming certain barriers.

The farmers

Changing practices on a farm can be expensive. Although many farmers are keen to adopt sustainable practices, they often lack the means – and sometimes the motivation – to make the initial investment in new technologies such as: an anaerobic digestion plant, a more efficient tractor, solar panels or a new variety of crops. Across the world there are different systems to support agriculture but also to regulate it such as: national policies (for example, the Common Agricultural Policy in the UK), subsidy payments, taxes, and emission limits. So while some systems provide a positive motivation to adopt sustainable practices such as subsidy payments or other forms of private and public investment, others put more pressure on the farmer by prohibiting certain practices through imposing fines, taxing or setting emissions limits. On a national and international level, there are recent demands for a carbon tax, which would put a price on emitting CO2 and other GHGs.

There are already agreements in place for emission limits: the Kyoto Protocol, Emission Trading and the COP 21 Paris Agreement, for example. So although these means are not specifically tailored toward regulating agriculture, they influence it. Farmers can be restricted by such policies and regulations, but they can also be motivated by them; for example, receiving payments for adopting sustainable practices.

What options do those on the demand side have for overcoming the main barriers (as outlined in figure 2)?

One example could be to support farmers in making informed decisions or offering initial investments as an incentive. This could include micro financing schemes, as well as private and public investments. Other possibilities could include setting up a positive system to reward or subsidise farmers that use CSA solutions, or a negative system that taxes farmers for the use of practices or methods resulting in high GHG emissions. However, as you will explore in the next Step, there is an economic perspective that should be considered too, as the food production system also involves parties that buy the products, such as retailers and consumers.

What are your ideas for overcoming the barriers to CSA? Share your thoughts in the comment area below.

References and further reading:

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This article is from the free online course:

The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture

University of Reading