Costing and planning of agriculture's adaptation to climate change

This project looked at how developing countries can best adapt their agricultural systems to climate change.


Farmer standing in a field of crops.

The UK government’s 2009 White Paper on development 'Building our common future' set out the food security and climate change challenge. This challenge was how to double food production to feed 9 billion people by 2050 and decrease poverty through agricultural growth, while minimising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from agriculture in a hotter world with more extremes of weather. This issue would have a major impact on food security in the developing world, and the poorest were likely to be those hardest hit.

The climate change debate had been somewhat removed from the agriculture policy debate, but this was changing. There was agreement that agriculture needed to be included in post 2012 agreements, but questions over how best to do this. Emissions from agriculture and land-use change accounted for 30% of global carbon emissions, with more than two thirds estimated to come from developing countries. Indeed, emissions from agriculture represented a large share of total emissions from low income countries. However, it was not clear to what extent there was scope to reduce emissions from agriculture. There was likely to be scope to decrease the GHG intensity of agricultural output, but it was less certain whether absolute cuts in emissions were either feasible or good value.

Higher temperatures mean crops that poor people depend upon can no longer grow in some areas. Some regions experience less rainfall while others more. The frequency of droughts and floods increase, water flows become more unpredictable, and coastal food-producing areas are inundated. In regions receiving more rainfall, increases in temperature increase water demand from crops because of higher evapo-transpiration. All these changes have major impacts on food security, food prices and malnutrition in the developing world. The poorest of the poor are the hardest hit, especially as agriculture is the main source of living for the majority of these people. Loss of agricultural land and competition for resources, especially water, has the potential to cause large scale migration and conflict.

This meant that major investments in adapting agriculture to climate change were going to be needed to build resilience and protect the poor, alongside measures to mitigate GHG emissions and isolate carbon in agricultural systems. Proposed mechanisms for addressing GHG emissions from agriculture included mitigation financing under NAMAs (Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions) and reforms to the Clean Development Mechanism (CDM). Investments in adaptation needed to avoid 'locking' countries into a high emissions route. An understanding was also needed of optimal adaptation and mitigation points, in order to know when more radical measures may be needed such as migration and/or leaving the agriculture sector when it is no longer a viable livelihood route.

It was expected that there would be potential for win-wins between mitigation and adaptation in agriculture. These included low carbon approaches, such as conservation tillage, that may help reduce the threat of erosion by heavy rainfall, and soil quality improvement to isolate carbon within the agricultural system that should help increase output. This would potentially raise farmers' incomes, giving them more adaptation options.

What did IIED do?

Through case studies in several developing countries, the project looked at how to adapt their agricultural systems to climate change and also how to pursue low-carbon development in the agricultural sector. It focused on:

  • The real costs of agricultural adaptation in developing countries
  • How agricultural adaptation can best use existing information on climate change
  • The options for implementing and financing adaptation, mitigation and agricultural development plans.

Additional resources

Costing agriculture's adaptation to climate change, Muyeye Chambera, Tom Downing, Jillian Dyszynski, Courtenay Cabot Venton (2011), IIED Briefing paper

Better economics: supporting adaptation with stakeholder analysis, Muyeye Chambwera, Ye Zou, Mohamed Boughlala (2011), IIED Briefing paper

Planning and costing for agriculture's adapatation to climate change: Bangladesh  (2011) IIED Report/paper

Planning and costing agricultural adaptation to climate change in the small-scale maize production systems of Malawi (2011) IIED Report/paper

Planning and costing of agricultural adaptation in the integrated hill farming systems of Nepal (2011) IIED Report/paper

Planning and costing agricultural adaptation to cliamte change in the pastoral livestock system of Tanzania (2011) IIED Report/paper

Planning and costing adaptation of perennial crop systems to climate change: Coffee and banana in Rwanda (2011) IIED Report/paper

Planning and costing agriculture's adaptation to climate change - synthesis report, Muyeye Chambwera, Tom Downing, Victoria Crawford, Jillian Dyszynski, Courtenay Cabot Venton, Ruth Butterfield, Tom Birch, Mintewab Bezabih, Denise Loga (2011) IIED Report/paper

Planning and costing agriculture's adaptation to climate change - Policy Perspectives, Tom Downing, Muyeye Chambwera, Courtenay Cabot Venton, Jillian Dyszynski, Victoria Crawford (2011) IIED Report/paper

The interface between forests, agriculture and climate change: understanding the implications for REDD (IIED Project, 2010)

Q&A with George Kisali on adapting agriculture to climate change in Malawi