Five-nation study sheds light on costs of adapting agriculture to climate change

Research in Africa and Asia has shown that efforts to assess the costs of adapting agriculture to a changing climate often fail to reflect the diversity of the sector.

News, 25 November 2011

The studies, in Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania, were led by Dr Muyeye Chambwera at the International Institute for Environment and Development in collaboration with the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Global Climate Adaptation Partnership (GCAP). They are summarised in a briefing paper published today (25 November).

They sought to identify ways to assess the cost of adapting different agricultural systems from the local level, as each will respond in a different way to climate change.

The results revealed vast differences. The cost of adapting a integrated farming system in a village in Nepal could be US$20,000 per year, that of a rain-fed maize system in a district of Malawi’s US$55 million, and protecting the entire livestock sector of Tanzania could cost up to US$280 million — with all costs likely to treble by 2030.

Dr Tom Downing of GCAP says the research shows that adaptation to climate change must be better coordinated, with local and district level input into national processes and plans, and greater alignment of funding earmarked for ‘climate change adaptation’ with budgets for agricultural development.

“To adapt agriculture to a climate change, policymakers need to follow pathways of social, economic and institutional change from the bottom up, rather than rely on isolated top-down interventions,” says Dr Downing. “Policymakers must align adaptation with existing development plans that aim to address inefficiencies in the sector. It is also critical that adaptation plans can themselves respond to new information and as-yet unknown directions that climate change could take.”

According to Dr Chambwera, adaptation means many different things in different contexts. In Rwanda’s smallholder coffee sector, for instance, the focus is on building the capacity of institutions and researchers, while in Bangladesh the government aims to develop and distribute salt-tolerant rice varieties in areas at risk of rising seas and storm surges. In Nepal, emphasis is at the local level. Investments are therefore needed at the local, district and national level for adaptation to be effective, and the distribution of this investment is also highly variable.

“Research must shift beyond simple modelling of crop-climate interactions to assessments of what decisions and actions in real contexts can enable agriculture and food systems to travel a pathway to greater resilience,” he says. “At the same time, economic models need to move beyond simply estimating a global price tag and instead focus on the decisions made by households, the private sector and governments.”

Chambwera says climate vulnerable countries need to combine better information about the costs of damage and investments in adaptation at the farm level with improved climate data. This would inform investment decisions across multi-year budgeting periods and would support early warning systems of climatic threats and help farmers and pastoralists to plan, to prevent losses and to shift to other activities if necessary.

Download the paper

Download the individual country reports and read more about the project:

Please also see WeAdapt and the Global Climate Adaptation Partnership


For interviews contact Dr Muyeye Chambwera ( +44 (0)20 3463 7399

Notes to editors

The International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) is an independent, non-profit research institute. Set up in 1971 and based in London, IIED provides expertise and leadership in researching and achieving sustainable development (see: