Innovative ways to climate change adaptation in the agricultural sectors

Dr Zhijun Chen1



Despite rapid social and economic development in the past decades, Asia and the Pacific region has both the greatest concentration of food insecure households and incidence of poverty globally. Figures show that some 63 percent of the world’s undernourished population is located in the region as well as two thirds of the world’s poor. Faced with increased competition for natural resource use and accelerated degradation of the environment and ecosystems – in a context where the population in the region is expected to grow by another 1.5 billion people by 2050 – food security and sustainable development are and will continue to be major concerns. Climate change has compounded these challenges. The Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) released in April 2007 (IPCC, 2007) concluded that most of the observed increase in global average temperatures since the mid-twentieth century is very likely a result of the observed increase in anthropogenic greenhouse gas (GHG) concentrations, mainly in the forms of carbon dioxide (CO2), methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O). The impacts of climate change in this region have been observed in the past decades and further projected under different scenarios, including: increase of temperature and rainfall variability across the region; retreat of glaciers and permafrost in snow mountains; decrease of freshwater availability in most of the region; increase of extreme weather events in many countries; and sea water intrusion and flood risks in small island countries and coastal areas. Although some specific areas may gain benefits,


Water Resources Development and Conservation Officer, FAO Regional Officer for Asia and the Pacific.

most of the region will be negatively impacted, especially the small island countries of the Pacific subregion. The agricultural sectors, including crop and livestock production, forestry and fisheries, are vulnerable to climate change. Climate change affects the basic elements of food production - soil, water and biodiversity and as such has impacts on all dimensions of food security. Under the IPCC’s A2 scenario, it is projected that an additional 49 million people in Asia will be at risk of hunger by 2020. The A2 Asian hunger-risk projection for 2050 is 132 million, and for 2080 it is 266 million (IPCC, 2007). The region’s agricultural sectors will have to respond effectively to the impact of climate change to ensure regional food security. Action is needed now. Inaction will significantly increase future costs.


Issues to be addressed

Various initiatives in climate change adaptation in the agricultural sectors have been taken by the international community, government departments, academic institutions, NGOs, rural communities and farmers in this region. The lessons learnt and experiences generated so far suggest that a number of issues need to be specifically addressed and these are identified below.


Complexity of regional context and climate change impacts

The region presents a diversified agro-ecosystem and socio-economic context. The impact of climate change will vary across geographic areas as follows: • • • • the Himalayas will suffer from increased freshwater variations and flash floods because of glacier melting; low-lying coastal areas and deltas will see more frequent and intensified floods, land losses and saline water intrusion because of extreme weather events and sea level rise; arid zones will be highly exposed to intensified droughts and water scarcity because of reduced rainfall and increased evapotranspiration; and small islands will face sea level rises and storm surges.

According to a recent Asian Development Bank (ADB) assessment (ADB, 2009), in the Asian subregion, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Nepal are the most vulnerable to climate change. Bhutan, China, Pakistan, Thailand, Timor-Leste, Uzbekistan, and Viet Nam are significantly vulnerable. Smallholder farmers, forest dwellers, herders and fishers who live in fragile areas with limited access to natural resources and adaptation capacity will be the most affected. There is no “one size fits all” solution. Tailor-made options are needed for different areas based on local contexts.


Multiple requirements of agricultural sectors

The agricultural sectors contribute to GHG emissions and offer high potential to mitigate them. Agriculture contributes 13.5 percent of present-day global GHG emissions; land-use change and forestry represent another 17.4 percent. About three-fourths of these emissions originate in developing countries. The agricultural sectors’ mitigation potential arises from their possibility to reduce GHG 2

emissions and the ability to provide carbon sinks. It is estimated that the technical mitigation potential (TMP) of forests is equivalent to about 64 percent of the forestry sector’s emissions by 2050. The TMP of agriculture is estimated at 83 to 91 percent of the agriculture sectors’ emissions by 2030. Without a significant contribution from the agricultural sectors, it is not likely that the target of cutting the global GHG emissions by 50 percent from 1990s levels will be met. Asia accounts for 37 percent of global GHG emissions from agricultural production. South Asia and East Asia contribute 43 percent of global N2O emissions from soils and 47 percent of global methane emissions from enteric fermentation. China and Southeast Asia contribute more than 90 percent of methane emissions that come from the world’s rice production. Considering other challenges related to land and water scarcity, environment degradation and demographic change, the agricultural sectors need to meet the multiple requirements of climate change adaptation, mitigation, food security and sustainable development.


Data and information generation

Countries need a sound understanding of climate change impacts and their implications for their food systems, ecosystems, societies and national economies. They need this so as to be in a position to take pro-active and anticipatory adaptation actions to address the short-term climate variations and to prepare for the long-term impacts resulting from changes in mean temperatures, rainfall, salinity and sea levels. However, because of the uncertainties of CO2 fertilization effects, socio-economic pathways, and countries’ adaptive capacity, reliable impact scenarios are often not available at national and subnational levels. It is crucial to develop climate change scenarios and models further in order to make them more area-specific. At the same time, developing countries will need to conduct comprehensive climate change monitoring and forecasting and develop stronger capacity in climate change analysis and research, in order to enable scientific planning and informed decision-making for climate change adaptation and mitigation.


Science and technology development

Local knowledge and practices exist in many areas for coping with seasonal and annual climate variability. Today, the need to increase production coupled with the speed and magnitude of the expected changes in climate mean new challenges for farmers. Traditional coping mechanisms often will not be sufficient for dealing with expected medium- to long-term impacts of climate change. To adapt agricultural sectors to the expected impacts of climate change, further science and technology development is needed to: • breed new crop varieties and animal breeds; • improve adaptive capacity of production and management systems; • promote efficient use of agricultural inputs and wastes; and • integrate them under the context of typical farming systems and agro-ecological zones. To realize the mitigation potential of the agricultural sectors, further research on mitigation technologies relevant to Asian and the Pacific farming systems is needed. Suitable monitoring, reporting and verification (MRV) systems for both national and smallholder implementation need to be developed for monitoring commitments and developing carbon financing mechanisms.



National and local capacity building

In view of the limited national and local capacity in developing countries, continuous capacity building is needed at different levels to: • • • upscale indigenous climate-proofing practices; disseminate updated information and technologies; and strengthen local capacity on climate change monitoring and analysis, vulnerability assessment, strategy and policy formulation, institutional innovation, integrated planning, proper mainstreaming and implementation, as well as MRV of mitigation activities.


Innovative ways and good practices
Picking-up the “lower-hanging fruits”

A wide range of adaptation options is available in the agricultural sectors. Integrated planning, embodying all concerned sectors, combining all suitable and necessary options and following an agroecosystem approach will enable effective responses to specific local needs in different areas. Many successful practices derived from sustainable agriculture, forestry, fishery and natural resource management and rural development are readily available, locally appropriate and cost-effective. These “lower-hanging fruits” can be picked first. Good examples include changing crop and livestock varieties, changing cropping patterns, changing agriculture land and inputs use, improving agricultural water management, and diversifying agricultural activities among crops, within agricultural sectors and beyond. Change of crop varieties As drought conditions emerged in traditional rice fields in some parts of Bangladesh, rice varieties with shorter growing seasons and fruit and vegetable crops with relatively low water requirements were introduced. As a result, farmers harvested high value cash crops to sell at the market. To avoid the impact of floods, farmers in some other areas of Bangladesh plant early or late varieties of transplanted aman (a wet season rice variety). The early production of rice encourages the growing of other additional crops which increases farmers’ incomes. Change of livestock variety In the Tibetan Plateau, increasing extreme cold weather conditions affect the survival or productivity of livestock. In Western Sichuan Province of China, livestock breeders select breeding yak (jiulong or valley-type and maiwa or plateau-type), which are tolerant to extreme cold weather. This increases their resilience to cold weather conditions and stabilizes their food supply and income generation. Organic farming In Yasothorn Province of Thailand, prolonged drought and unpredictable flooding were destroying rice crops. Local farmers adopted organic jasmine rice farming through assistance from an NGO. The practice was successful. Soil fertility has been increased and families reported higher rice yields and much higher profits as they do not use chemicals. Furthermore, organic rice proved to be much more resistant to drought and water scarcity than chemically-grown rice crops. Agriculture diversification To cope with consecutive droughts, farmers in the semi-arid Jhalawar district in Rajasthan, India, have shifted from traditional crops, such as sorghum and pearl millet, to soybean, which receives higher market prices and yields quick returns because of its shorter life cycle. 4

To respond to the impacts of sea level rise and sea water intrusion, rice-shrimp farms have been developed in Viet Nam in the Mekong Delta area. These farms are facilitated by flexible water control structures allowing for both freshwater and brackish water control.


Capturing the synergies

Many good adaptation practices in the agricultural sectors can also contribute to climate change mitigation through enhancing or preserving carbon sinks or reducing GHG emissions. These include improving rice cultivation, improving pastures and grazing land management, improving agricultural water management, and practicing no-tillage agriculture and agroforestry. These practices offer good chances for capturing synergies among adaptation, mitigation, food security and sustainable development in the agricultural sectors. They are normally cost-effective and suitable to smallholder farming in developing countries. In view of limited financial resources, the lack of climate change information and the uncertainty of climate change impacts, these practices must be given high priority for scaling up. Improved rice cultivation Rice is a significant contributor to CH4 emissions. Research shows that combined options of high-yielding varieties, improved fertilizer use, shifting to rice-wheat production systems, alternating dry-wet irrigation, and utilizing crop residues for renewable energy can reduce GHG emissions. At the same time it builds resilience by conserving water, reducing land requirements, and reducing fossil fuel use. India and China could each reduce CH4 emissions from rice fields by 26 percent at low cost (less than US$15 per ton of CO2 equivalent) by 2020. Grazing land management Degraded or overgrazed land can be restored to produce more biomass by selectively planting grasses, adding phosphatic fertilizers, and alternating grazing with rest periods for the land. Increased biomass productivity enhances soil cover, increases moisture availability, and increases the overall amounts of stable organic matter in the soil. These will benefit livestock production and herders’ livelihoods while decelerating grazing land desertification. In Asia, large technical potential exists, especially in India, which has one of the world’s largest grazing land areas. Agriculture water management Water is the primary medium through which climate change influences the earth’s ecosystems and therefore people’s livelihoods and well-being. Adaptation to climate change is mainly about better water management. Asia and the Pacific region is currently the region most heavily hit by water disasters. Climate change will worsen the situation. A wide range of good agricultural water management practices are readily available for replication, including modernization of irrigation schemes, water saving irrigation, community level water control, water harvesting and onfarm water management. The main constraint now is lack of investments. Non-tillage agriculture Tillage reduction is an effective mitigation and adaptation strategy, especially in South Asia. In the past decade, farmers in the rice-wheat farming system in the Indo-Gangetic plain of Bangladesh, India, and Pakistan have adopted minimum-tillage practices widely, which conserve resources under climate change. Since being introduced in the late 1990s, zero tillage for wheat has been adopted rapidly by more than 1 million farmers on an estimated million hectares. Farmers’ wheat yields have reportedly improved and production costs have decreased by an average of US$65 per hectare, with additional benefits for water conservation and herbicide reductions.


Agroforestry While increasing farmers’ resilience to climate change, improving food security and rural livelihoods, agroforestry systems increase carbon storage and may also reduce soil carbon losses stemming from erosion. Options include combining crops with trees for timber, firewood, fodder and other products, and establishing shelter belts and riparian zones/buffer strips with woody species. Biogas This is produced through the anaerobic digestion of animal dung. Biogas projects have been implemented at the household and village scale for the production of cooking fuel and electricity. It originated in China, where 15 million households have access to biogas, with plans to expand to 27 million households, or 10 percent of rural households, by 2010. Similar programmes have had success in India, Nepal, and Viet Nam. In India, more than 12 million biogas plants have been installed with a high rate of continued functionality. Since 1992, more than 140 000 biogas plants have been installed in Nepal. Biogas production improves indoor air quality and livelihoods, decreases the strain on scarce resources, saves women’s labour time and provides organic fertilizer.


Managing the risks in an integrated approach

Climate change is creating increased uncertainty about future agricultural production elements, which makes investments in agriculture and other weather-dependent livelihoods inherently more risky. Integrated disaster risk management could be a good approach to adopt. This requires: improved infrastructure systems to protect against assets losses; proper weather and climate monitoring systems and models to provide quality information and advisory services for agricultural communities; reliable and timely early warning systems; rapid emergency response capacity; and effective social safety networks, including innovative risk financing instruments and insurance schemes to spread residual risks. FAO, in cooperation with the Chinese Government, implemented a TCP project on Strengthening Disaster Preparedness of the Agricultural Sector in China during 2007—2009. The project introduced integrated a disaster risk management approach into Juye County, an area with high vulnerability to flood and drought disasters in Shandong province. The project has proved to be successful through: • the improvement of water control infrastructure; • strengthening of an early warning system for water disasters, agricultural production and marketing from provincial to village level; • enhancement of integrated disaster risk management plans for county level; and • establishment and empowerment of farmers’ organizations for participatory disaster risk management at community level.


Mainstreaming adaptation into development plans

Participatory planning under the framework of a National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) can be a good approach to develop strategies and frameworks for climate change adaptation in the agricultural sectors. These can also be employed to outline the objectives and actions for technology development and transfer, capacity building and financing. Based on the local context, they can be used to maximize the synergies and minimize the trade-offs among climate change adaptation, mitigation, food security and sustainable development. This needs to be mainstreamed into national and local agriculture and socio-economic development plans with the strong engagement of all stakeholders and special attention to gender issues. 6

Participatory planning in Viet Nam As a response to recurrent climatic catastrophes, a communitybased adaptation project was implemented in eight villages of Thua Thien Hue province of Viet Nam in 2002. Involved communities worked together with the government in scenario building, adaptation planning and implementation. Through consultations with local social groups and organizations, including those for farmers, fishers, women, youth, and other village political associations, “safer village plans” were developed and implemented. These include livelihood improvements in agriculture and aquaculture, disaster management protocols and other strategies. FAO’s vehicles for mainstreaming FAO has been assisting subregional bodies and member countries in this region in mainstreaming their climate change planning and considerations into national agriculture, food security and development strategies and plans, mainly through the formulation of national programmes for food security (NPFS) and Government-FAO national medium-term priority frameworks (NMTPF). 3.5 Tailor-made capacity building

Capacity building needs to be tailored to different levels in different countries. Although training for rural communities and farmers may focus on practical knowledge and tools, capacity building for national institutes and government departments must be more holistic, covering all policy, institutional and technical aspects based on their needs. Relevant training modules and extension materials need to be carefully prepared, and a participatory approach should be incorporated into all training and capacity building activities. Farmer Field School (FFS) This training methodology is widely applied in various FAO field programmes/projects on agricultural development, natural resource management and food security all over the world. It was developed for training and capacity building at rural community and farmer level. FFS fully involves all the trainees in a step-wise on-the-job training process, from needs assessment to training planning, implementation and evaluation, and has been proved to be effective. Recently, FFS has been used as a means to transfer knowledge on adaptation in agriculture to farmers. UN-REDD The United Nations Collaborative Programme on Reducing Emissions from Deforestation and Forest Degradation in Developing Countries (UN-REDD) is a collaborative initiative of FAO, UNDP and UNEP, launched in September 2008. It is basically a sector capacity building programme, with two overriding objectives, namely assisting developing countries to prepare for participation in a future REDD mechanism and supporting the development of guidance and standardized approaches based on sound science. It mainly addresses issues on MRV, stakeholder engagement, multiple benefits and a strong institutional framework including payment structures.


Actions to be taken

For better replicating and upscaling these innovative ways and good practices, some further actions need to be taken, including those referred to below.



Technical preparation

Technical preparation can serve as the first step for replication and upscaling of climate proofing practices, including: • • • • identification and summarization of good agricultural practices (GAP) following typological classification of agro-ecosystems in this region; development and dissemination of relevant training modules and extension materials; technical and institutional capacity building at regional, national and local levels; and research and development of relevant agriculture science and technologies.


Country programming

Under the framework of the National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA), National Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMA) and National Programme for Food Security (NPFS), a specific action plan and investment framework on climate change adaptation and mitigation in the agricultural sectors needs to be formulated. It must then be implemented in a phased manner, based on country-specific capacities, circumstances and sustainable development processes, starting from a suite of country-led pilot projects to build readiness, confidence and capacity for further replication.


Innovative financing

Although the average adaptation cost in Asia and the Pacific region is higher compared with other regions, many low- or no-cost “win-win” options are available in this region, such as low- or no-tillage farming and reducing CH4 emissions from paddy rice fields. Currently, agriculture has been largely excluded from the main climate change financing mechanisms. The limited financing windows that are available are mainly for mitigation. An innovative financing mechanism is needed that includes agriculture, rewards synergistic actions, and that addresses the specific needs of smallholder farmers.


Better governance

Relevant policy and legislative frameworks need to be established to assign responsibilities within the governance structures. Land tenure and water rights issues need to be better addressed to allow farmers to make necessary changes in land management and farming practices. To ensure the effectiveness of mitigation activities, a comprehensive land-use management approach needs to be adopted to minimize leakage, i.e. displacing emissions between sectors and areas. A proper planning approach and mainstreaming procedure must be adopted to incorporate agricultural adaptation and mitigation into NAPA and NAMA, and mainstream them into agriculture and development plans.


Regional cooperation

It is necessary to strengthen regional cooperation further on a number of issues, such as: • • • climate change modeling and projection; transboundary water, forestry and marine resources management; transboundary crop, plant, and animal diseases control;


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large-scale disaster and emergency control; and biodiversity conservation.

The formulation of a regional strategy and establishment of a regional cooperation network on climate change adaptation and mitigation in the agricultural sectors may better facilitate coordinated action, information sharing, policy dialogue, technical cooperation and capacity building within the region.

References and bibliography
1. 2. 3. 4. 5. 6. ADB. 2009. Building climate resilience in the agriculture sector of Asia and the Pacific. Manila. FAO. 2008. Climate change and food security in Pacific island countries. Bangkok. FAO. 2009. FAO profile for climate change, 2009. Rome. FAO. 2009. Feeding the world in 2050. Rome. FAO. 2009. The state of food insecurity in the world. Rome. FAO. 2010. Food security and agricultural mitigation in developing countries: options for capturing synergies. Rome. 7. IPCC. 2007. Climate change 2007: The physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the fourth assessment report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Solomon, S., D. Qin, M. Manning, Z. Chen, M. Marquis, K.B. Averyt, M. Tignor & H.L. Miller (eds). Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, Cambridge University Press.