August 10, 2016

Climate action through agricultural landscape management

Sara ScherrEcoAgriculture Partners

Climate change is one of the most powerful forces affecting agricultural landscapes today and will only be more so in the future.

Changes in temperatures, precipitation and extreme weather events like floods and droughts affect crop productivity, livestock health, pest and disease incidence and generally increases farming risks. A new study in Global Food Security finds global average yield declines for rice, maize and wheat will likely decrease between 3% and 10% per degree of warming above historical levels.

Adapting to climate change requires action across the landscape

Climate adaptation calls not only for modifications in crop varieties and even species, and better plot-level water, soil and input management, but also landscape-scale interventions for water harvesting and storage, pest management, flood control and community risk management systems like pasture reserves and ensuring ‘hungry season’ foods are available in fallows, natural grasslands and forests. A study by EcoAgriculture’s Seth Shames, Krista Heiner and others published this month in Agriculture and Food Security helps us understand how to help farmers take on these challenges. Beyond shifting farming practices, strong local institutions for planning, training, and monitoring are needed, and strengthening them remains a challenge. EcoAgriculture Partners is working with local communities and landscape initiatives in East Africa to overcome that challenge.

Climate-smart landscapes also fight climate change

While agriculture may be the sector most affected by climate change, agriculture and land use also offer the most promising opportunities globally for slowing climate change. Many types of farm and landscape management practices can contribute to reducing greenhouse gases from fertilizer use, livestock wastes, irrigation energy use, and land degradation. Moreover, many land use practices actually pull carbon out of the  atmosphere and store it in land and plants: soil carbon enrichment;  farming systems featuring more agricultural products from perennial grasses, shrubs and trees; and maintaining or restoring forests and natural habitat networks in farming areas. Thus agricultural landscape management can be a powerful and integrated strategy to achieve both climate adaptation and mitigation.

Indeed, surveys of more than 350 agricultural landscape initiatives in sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean and South and Southeast Asia (forthcoming)—by partners of the Landscapes for People, Food and Nature Initiative—found a strong focus on climate. Climate issues were the primary motivation of 12.3% of landscape partnerships; in 64.7% climate mitigation was one of the objectives of collaborative action; and in 67.5% reducing vulnerability to extreme weather events was a stated goal.

After the historic signing of the Paris Climate Accord in 2015 attention is now focused on translating this international agreement into a concrete Action Agenda supporting countries own voluntary commitments. Remarkably—given serious resistance to including agriculture and land use  (other than avoided deforestation) in previous climate negotiations—119 of the 162 intended nationally determined contributions (INDCs) to achieving the Paris Climate Accord submitted by country governments (and the EU on behalf of 28 member states) specified emissions reductions from agriculture, and 127 list agriculture as a priority for adaptation efforts.

Participatory Action Research to scale climate-smart landscapes

At EcoAgriculture Partners, we have been working on landscape approaches to climate action for many years; our 2011 analyses for Worldwatch of climate-smart practices and our 2013 journal article in Agriculture and Food Security are scholarly examples. A new study in Agriculture and Food Security published the results of a 4-year participatory action research project with Vi Agroforestry in Kenya and EcoTrust in Uganda, supported by the CGIAR’s Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security research program, on how to improve local institutional capacity for implementing and managing smallholder agricultural carbon projects through soil improvements and agroforestry.

Most notably, the study found that agricultural production and income benefits from adopting climate-friendly practices are much more important for participating farmers than the carbon payments they received. It demonstrated also that community-based intermediaries can play a leading role in land-management trainings and supportive roles in carbon measurement and marketing, while local NGOs and private-sector actors can play central roles in training, providing agricultural inputs and linking farmers to markets.

Catalyzing climate-smart landscapes through international agenda-setting

Our research has also shown us that national policy support is needed to scale climate-smart landscapes in time to meet global greenhouse gas emissions targets and prevent tens of millions of farmers from falling into poverty. EcoAgriculture Partners is engaged in a variety of partnerships, processes and events specifically to advance strategies for advancing climate-smart landscapes at the international and national levels.

At the Climate Action Summit 2016 held May 5-6 in Washington, D.C., leading international practitioners in land use for climate adaptation and mitigation, including EcoAgriculture, collaborated to produce a framework for action: “Catalyzing Climate-Smart Land Use for a Sustainable Future: Strengthening Coalitions and Mobilizing Action to Scale-up Climate-smart Land Use.” The report highlighted integrated landscape management as a major strategy. We helped further advanced the approach at the Annual Forum of the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA), June 14-17. EcoAgriculture serves on the GACSA Steering Committee and the Investment Working Group. In June and July, EcoAgriculture’s Director of Policy and Markets Seth Shames and Fellow John Recha visited Malawi, Mozambique, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe to identify strategies for accelerating the development of climate-smart agriculture through a regional program funded by the UK Department for International Development.

Climate as a central element of all sustainable development efforts

Climate action will not succeed if organized as a sector of its own. Rather, it requires making fundamental adjustments to the way things are done in every sector to anticipate climate changes and to shift greenhouse gas balances. Agricultural landscape management has the powerful advantage of incorporating climate goals into large, multi-stakeholder partnerships that also are pursuing other priority goals for local stakeholders. Thus for EcoAgriculture, climate is a central element in all aspects of our work: analysis, leadership training, field implementation and policy dialogue. Stay tuned for more…

 

Update: An earlier version of this post cited statistics from two 2009 studies on climate change impacts on yields, one on the United States, and another assessing Sub-Saharan Africa. We elected to update the post with much more recent data:
B.M. Campbell, S.J. Vermeulen, P.K. Aggarwal, C. Corner-Dolloff, E. Girvetz, A.M. Loboguerrero, J. Ramirez-Villegas, T. Rosenstock, L. Sebastian, P. Thornton, E. Wollenberg, Reducing risks to food security from climate change, Global Food Security, Available online 29 June 2016, ISSN 2211-9124, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.gfs.2016.06.002.

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