Graduation Year


Document Type

Campus Only Senior Thesis

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts


Politics and International Relations

Reader 1

Nancy Neiman

Reader 2

William Ascher


Leading global climate science illustrates a future where agricultural lands lie at the nexus of harmful climate impacts and critical opportunities to both improve global climate resilience and reduce greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Slow-onset climate changes and short term extreme weather events disproportionately harm agricultural systems by increasing food insecurity, threatening farm-based livelihoods and prompting global migration away from areas of desertification and natural disasters towards regions with more climate stability (IPCC, 2019). The dominant global farming paradigm today, Conventional Agriculture, exacerbates these impacts by promoting strategies such as mono-cropping and fertilizer use that degrade soils and contribute to GHG emissions. Though agricultural lands are net emitters of GHGs, a global paradigm shift toward alternative sustainable farming practices that improve soil health can improve the resilience of food systems and sequester carbon. As global governance forums began to give special attention to soil-based carbon storage strategies, two sustainable farming paradigms emerged as competing frameworks, Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) and Regenerative Agriculture (RA), also referred to as Agroecology (Codur 2018). The two frameworks seek to define the best management practices for agricultural projects that receive funding from global development entities (Karlsson et al. 2017). Notably, the UN’s Green Climate Fund (GCF) provides the preeminent arena where each framework fights for paradigm implementation, as the GCF shoulders primary global responsibility for funding smallholder agricultural climate projects in economically developing countries. As early as 2010, the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, as well as the World Bank, first defined CSA as “agricultural practices that sustainably increase productivity and system resilience while reducing greenhouse gas emissions” (FAO 2010). Many CSA projects have historically tended to support single-practice interventions in a way that minimally disrupts modern farming systems, prioritizing productivity and profit over farm resilience and carbon sequestration (Codur 2018). Regenerative Agriculture, however, focuses on the reform of conventional farming practices at the global level, improving soil health by converting practices that degrade soils to those that holistically embellish the natural microbial capacity of soils to sequester carbon and nitrogen. Regenerative practices include a wide spectrum of strategies, yet the paradigm only defines best strategies for a project based on existing soil health, localized weather conditions, and localized knowledge of farmer needs at specific project sites. The RA approach provides a better means to improve soil health, reduce farm vulnerability to climate impacts, and decrease global GHGs, yet CSA saturates global policy discourse for agricultural projects, receives more funding, and stands as the dominant prescription for future projects (Newell & Taylor 2017, 9) (FAO 2013, 27). Given the superiority of the RA paradigm for addressing climate change, this report seeks to explain why CSA outpaced RA strategies, emerging as the paradigm du jour for projects related to agriculture and climate change.

This paper will argue that Agroecology offers the more effective paradigm to improve global climate resiliency for the world’s most vulnerable, and reduce global GHGs. Nevertheless, CSA dominates agricultural development projects due to the explicit advocacy campaigns by private agribusiness interests and public global governance institutions in favor of CSA to maintain the prevailing market liberalization of the global food regime. Part one of this report breaks down the science behind sustainable farming approaches, the contribution Conventional Agriculture has towards global GHGs, and the need for a paradigm shift towards context-based farming practices to demonstrate the superiority of Agroecology. Following with a comparative case study analysis of both paradigm demonstrates the failure of CSA to provide such a paradigm shift and the advantages of the RA model. Part two of this paper incorporates institutional and discourse-based power analysis of global development institutions, the Green Climate Fund and the regime complex producing CSA legitimacy. Such analysis illustrates the active role global development powers, climate financing entities, and private interests play in advocating for the CSA paradigm.

This thesis is restricted to the Claremont Colleges current faculty, students, and staff.