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The three pillars of climate smart agriculture

In this article, Dr Marie Dittmann outlines the three pillars of climate smart agriculture.
A photo of green fields that consists of legume, Lucerne
© Marie Dittmann

As you saw, in the previous Step, CSA is based on three principles: mitigation of GHG emissions from agriculture, adaptation of agricultural practices to climate change, and sustainable maintenance or increase of agricultural productivity. You might wonder how this concept translates into real life? Let’s take a closer look at each of these principles, sometimes referred to as a ‘triple win’.

Sustainably maintain and increase productivity

The world population is expected to reach 9 billion people by 2050, and the need to provide enough nutritious food in the future will be crucial. Diets need to be balanced with nutrients such as: vitamins, trace elements and amino acids. Diet must also take into account factors such as energy requirements, age and pregnancy. An additional challenge for the future is the growing demand for animal products such as milk, dairy, and meat, particularly in developing countries. Food security is not only a matter of increasing production, but also avoiding spoilage or waste of food along the value chain, ie, the range of activities that are necessary to deliver the product to the customer. The amount of food produced only counts – if it reaches the individual consuming it. Ensuring food security for future generations relies in increasing productivity in a sustainable manner.

Adaptation and resilience

Agriculture is affected by numerous challenges in a changing climate including extreme weather events such as: severe rainfalls, storms, high temperatures, droughts and floods. Rising sea levels are a challenge for agriculture in coastal areas. Globally there are changes in seasonality and average temperatures. In some countries climate change might favour agriculture, for example, by longer growing seasons or higher temperatures. In many countries however, the effects of climate change on agriculture will be negative. There is an inevitable need to adapt farming in order to ensure the resilience of agricultural systems to the changing climate. Adaptation can involve changes in practice such as: changing the crops or livestock that are farmed, use of new technologies and, applying climate or weather data to make decisions for the future.


Adapting agriculture to climate change and maintaining food production could help to solve the current problems. However, with rising levels of GHGs, climate change and its consequences will continue to impact our lives and pose new challenges. Currently agriculture (and related sectors) contribute about a quarter of human-induced GHG emissions, so there is a lot of potential to reduce these emissions, and to mitigate other detrimental effects of agriculture on the environment.

Very often, mitigating resource input and increasing efficiency goes hand in hand with mitigating emissions. The more the concentration of GHGs in our atmosphere can be reduced, the less likely the extreme climate scenarios will be for the future, and the easier it will be to adapt to climate change. Another important aspect of mitigation is the uptake of carbon in plants and soils, which can help to reduce the concentration of CO2 in our atmosphere.

Which of the three pillars do you think has the highest priority and why? Share your thoughts in the comment area below

You’ll be looking at these three pillars again, in the context of dairy farming in Week 2 and viticulture in Week 3 of the course.

References and further reading:

You can find out more about CSA by watching this Youtube video created by the Food and Agricultural Organisation and reading the Climate-Smart Agriculture sourcebook.

© University of Reading
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The Future of Farming: Exploring Climate Smart Agriculture

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