Adaptation decision-making in agriculture

The CGIAR Research Programme on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) has recently completed a study that maps out ways for farmers to adapt to climate change, even in the face of uncertainty about what exactly that change will look like.

The main message: uncertainty is not a rationale for inaction, and there are actions that farmers can take that are ‘best-bet’ pathways to build on capacities they already have. Decision-makers can examine degrees of scientific uncertainty to decipher where there is some consensus, as a basis for action.

The report encourages a view that approaches agriculture adaptation with socioeconomic conditions in mind. The socioeconomic realities on the ground are what will help determine what a farmer or a community is able to do to make important farming changes, and so are crucial to deciding what adaptation strategy is most practicable and most likely to succeed – regardless of scientific (un)certainties. For instance, some climate models predict more rain, and others predict less. Sri Lankan farmers and government are working together to look back at traditional water storage strategies, so that whatever does happen to precipitation levels, they will have prepared some form of insurance.

Another example: different climate models offer different predictions of climate changes in Central America, but they agree that long-term temperature increases mean cropping Arabica coffee at lower altitudes will become useless. Rather than moving coffee cropland, which would be disruptive to ecosystems, the Nicaraguan government is encouraging farmers to consider switching to growing cocoa, which has similar cash value but is better suited to future warmer conditions.