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Climate Smart Agriculture: Lessons from a Six-Year Old Kid

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By Mark Lubell - Posted on 20 March 2013

We're in the middle of the climate-smart agriculture conference here at UC Davis, which is the third of a series of international conferences focused on how agriculture will adapt to climate change. I have met fascinating people from all over the world involved in important research and on-the-ground actions. It has been gratifying to see lots of people mentioning the importance of social science analysis of decision-making, policy and governance. In the spirit of the conference, I thought I might ask my six-year old son about water and farming. The conversation was enlightening to some of the themes of the conference:

Me: If you were a farmer growing crops with rain, what would you do if the rain stopped?

Son: I would take a bunch of watering cans and fill them up and use them on the plants.

Me: Where would you get the water for the watering cans?

Son: I would just go to the sink and fill them up. When you turn on the faucet, the water never stops. That's all I can say (shrugs).

Me: Where do you think the water from the faucet comes from?

Son: Rain (silence ensues,as he puzzles over the implications...)

Wow, now that was the response of a kid from a Western developed country. It highlights the fact that a lack of knowledge about the link between water and climate is a major barrier to action. There are all kinds of uncertainties in the context of climate-smart agriculture that will limit adaptive capacity. But the conversation also reminds us that these uncertainties are experienced in different ways around the world. I'm pretty sure that many of the women in rural areas of developed countries, who walk miles to get water from rudimentary wells and springs, are more aware of the link between water availability and rainfall patterns (i.e.; when it rains, there is water to drink and irrigate with). Instead, the uncertainty is many developing countries is related to where the faucet will come from, or other important infrastructure. Regardless of these asymmetries, science and policy play key roles in addressing the uncertainties and lack of knowledge that constrain climate-smart agriculture.