The University of Arizona

The relevance of political ecology perspectives for smallholder Climate-Smart Agriculture: a review

Alvin Chandra, Karen E. McNamara, Paul Dargusch


Abstract Climate-smart agriculture has emerged as a way of increasing food productivity, building resiliency to climate change and reducing carbon emissions. Despite rapid technical advances, research on climate-smart agriculture has arguably under-theorized the socio-political processes that continue to marginalize vulnerable groups such as smallholder farmers. This review discusses the potential usefulness of political ecology perspectives for improving climate-smart agriculture. Political ecology theory elucidates how three interrelated socio-political processes that perpetuate smallholder farmer vulnerability significantly influence climate-smart responses: inequality, unequal power relations and social injustice. The article discusses these three inter-connected political ecology factors using a number of examples from the Green Revolution, smallholder farming communities, and indigenous farmers. In comparison to conventional technical approaches, our article argues that Climate-Smart Agriculture needs to consider political ecology perspectives at different levels to explore the vulnerability of smallholder farmers to current and future climate change impacts. Interventions to support climate-smart agriculture should examine local risks, specificities and priorities of smallholder farmers. The article concludes with a renewed call for concepts of inequality, unequal power relations and social injustice to be embedded into both the policy and practice of climate smart agriculture. Keywords: climate-smart agriculture, equality, political ecology, power, smallholder, social justice

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