New Agriculturist - Focus on... 09/5
Focus on... Coping with climate change
Over millennia, farmers have coped with changes in their environment and learnt to
adapt. But with global warming, weather patterns are becoming more erratic and
unpredictable than ever, and farming livelihoods increasingly under threat from
weather-related disasters such as drought and floods. Over the next few decades the
situation seems certain to become worse, as rising temperatures result in greater food
insecurity, disease, and loss of biodiversity. All this, while farmers are asked to grow
more food for an expanding population.
In this issue, we focus on some of the challenges and costs of coping with climate
change. From the coffee slopes of Colombia to the pastoral lands of the Horn of Africa
and the river deltas of Bangladesh, we review just a small selection of the technologies,
practices and policies that are helping, as well as hindering, adaptation and mitigation
Farmers' perspectives on a changing climate
Around the world farmers are reporting that the seasons are changing. Seasons are
becoming hotter and drier, rainy seasons shorter, more violent and increasingly erratic,
and some temperate seasons are disappearing altogether. These observations are
detailed by a study involving famers from across East and South East Asia, Southern
and Eastern Africa and Latin America in a new Oxfam report titled What happened to
the seasons? "The results are striking because of the extraordinary consistency they
show across the world," explains John Magrath, Oxfam programme researcher and one
of the authors.
"Changing seasonality may be one of the most significant impacts of climate change for
poor farmers, and that is happening now," Magrath warns. Leaders at the recent G8
summit in L'Aquila, Italy, agreed that average global temperatures should not be
allowed to rise more than 2°C. But according to Oxfam even a rise of 2°C
entails "death, suffering and devastation" for at least 660 million people by 2030. Oxfam
warns that due to the threats posed by climate change and changing seasons, chronic
hunger will become more prevalent: "The true cost of climate change will not be
measured in dollars, but in millions or billions of lives."
Farmers are observing increasingly unreliable precipitation during the long rains. In
Uganda and Malawi for instance, rains are tending to come in short and localised
downpours, interspersed with dry spells instead of falling consistently throughout the
season. "Rains no longer have a particular pattern," Wilson Chiphale from Malawi
observes. "Sometimes they come early when people have not prepared, sometimes
they end too soon and the maize wilts, sometimes we experience very, very heavy rains
that last up to four days, which washes away all the nutrients."
Similar observations have been made by farmers elsewhere. "We used to get three
good rains. Now we don't even get two," Gary Novamn from Haiti revealed. "There's no
more rainy season, just the hurricane season." Increasing temperatures throughout the
year, drier winters and more intense but less predictable monsoons have been reported
by Bangladeshi farmers. "In my younger days, the rain, the winters and summers all had
specific times," Radhika Devbarman recalls. "Now I am afraid of prolonged summer and
Gambling with the weather
With shortening growing seasons and erratic weather, it is increasingly difficult for many
farmers to plan their cropping cycles. "We've stopped adopting seasonal planting
because it's so useless," says an exasperated Florence Madamu from Uganda. "Now
we just try all the time. We waste a lot of seed that way, and our time and energy." Paul
Thiao, a Senegalese cereal farmer concurs: "Farmers have become gamblers. The
system has been disturbed and now they must take a gamble on when the rain will
come. But they are gambling with their livelihoods."
Crop choice is also being affected, with many reports indicating that staple crops, such
as wheat, maize, rice and beans are suffering the most from seasonal changes. "Due to
irregular rainfall and random floods, growing rice has become a big risk," Afazuddin
Akhand from Bangladesh reveals. "Many farmers switch to fish farming or sell their land
to industrialists, which is more profitable."
Adapting for survival
With predictions that seasonal changes are likely to get worse due to climate change,
the authors insist that farmers need assistance to adapt. Many are already
experimenting with new crop varieties, but diversification requires resources and, with
limited access to water, land, capital and expertise, the poorest are increasingly
disadvantaged. Women are particularly affected, as in Nepal, where frequent crop
failure has seen more men migrating, leaving women to look after their families and
produce a harvest, despite having the least access to resources.
"Communities - especially women - see adaptation as difficult because there are limited
alternative livelihoods, and creating these livelihoods needs to be part of long-term
plans to deal with climate change," Magrath explains. In addition, the report calls for
wide-ranging support to enable farmers to deal with unpredictability. This includes
access to reliable and appropriate weather forecasts and food storage facilities to help
smooth out fluctuations in supply and protect food against pests and diseases. At the
same time, water management options such as water harvesting and flood defences
would help farmers cope with increasingly unpredictable rainfall.
Greater access to crops and varieties, particularly drought-tolerant and fast-maturing
crops, would also help farmers to cope. "After testing the soil and getting advice we
think we can get more money from planting ginger and turmeric - they don't need much
water, unlike rice and wheat," Karna Bahadur from Nepal remarks, "but we need
support to do so."
A matter of justice
Many poor countries are already suffering from the impacts of climate change, despite
being amongst the least responsible for the changes. In Bolivia the Civil Society
Platform Against Climate Change, a citizen pressure group, is arguing that money for
adaptation is a matter of global climate justice. One of their demands is for an
international compensation fund for those who are suffering from climate change.
Similar calls are coming from civil society in Bangladesh and elsewhere. "Certain
changes - such as the continuing melting of glaciers - are inevitable even with
emissions cuts," says Magrath, "so adaptation is essential, not just desirable. Yet rich
countries continue to drag their feet about creating finance mechanisms to help poor
countries to adapt."
Climate change: a high price to pay
Drought, flooding, increasing storms and widespread crop failures are just some of the
predicted consequences of climate change. In 2007 the United Nations Framework
Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) estimated that the annual global cost of
adapting to our changing environment by 2030 would be between US$40 - 170 billion.
But, according to a newly published report, Assessing the Costs of Adaptation to
Climate Change, the real costs of adaptation are likely to be at least two-to-three times
"Previous estimates of adaptation costs have substantially misjudged the scale of funds
needed. We should be planning for US$200 to 300 billion a year just for adaptation,"
states Professor Martin Parry, former co-chair of the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change and lead author of the study. "Finance is the key that will unlock the
negotiations in Copenhagen," adds Camilla Toulmin, director of the International
Institute for Environment and Development, publishers of the report. "But if governments
are working with the wrong numbers, we could end up with a false deal that fails to
cover the real costs of adaptation to climate change," she says.
A substantial underestimation
The authors also highlight that many of the sectors studied by the UNFCCC were
incomplete. The estimate for water, for example, excluded the costs of adapting to
flooding and made no allowance for costs for transporting water within countries.
UNFCC estimates were also too low for sea level rise and, by assessing only three
major diseases, included less than half of the total disease burden likely to emerge as a
result of climate change.
Not only were UNFCC estimates too low but, warn the authors, key sectors including
ecosystems, energy, manufacturing, retailing, mining and tourism were not taken into
account. "The adaptation costs for ecosystems alone could amount to over US$350
billion a year, including both protected and non-protected areas," explains Dr Pam
Berry, senior research fellow at the University of Oxford.
Assumptions on continuing low levels of development in Africa were also assumed in
the UN's calculations; applying a 'climate mark-up' to low levels of infrastructure in
developing countries produces low estimations of future costs because there is less to
protect. But, warn the authors of the new report, if this 'adaptation deficit' is not resolved
and infrastructure is not upgraded to an adequate level, "the enhanced investment for
adaptation will not be sufficient to avoid serious damage from climate impacts."
With the number of people at risk from hunger likely to exceed one billion in 2010, the
adaptation deficit in agriculture is particularly high. The Millennium Development Goals,
if achieved, could make good this adaptation deficit, but this 'non-climate' investment is
not considered in the UN's study. "If there aren't higher levels of development, people
will continue to go hungry," cautions Parry. "US$100 billion will be a sticking plaster over
The 11 British scientists involved in writing the new report call for more detailed case
studies to be undertaken, but warn that when 'bottom-up' case studies are combined,
the total level of funding required is likely to be significant. One of the few examples
already available for adapting a single watershed in China gives costs at US$1 billion a
year. Another study concludes that adapting crop irrigation systems could cost US$8
billion per year by 2030.
In addition, the report highlights that the UNFCCC estimates do not include the costs of
'residual damage' that will occur where adaption is not possible or too expensive. "Some
of the effects of climate change will be so adverse that we will see desertification of
some areas of agricultural land and it will just be impossible to grow food," explains
Professor Richard Tiffin, Head of the Agricultural and Food Economics department at
the University of Reading. "We are already seeing this happening in areas of Africa and
Australia." Up to 20 percent of the potential impacts of climate change for the
agriculture, forestry and fisheries sectors might not be avoided, even with adequate
levels of adaptation.
Negotiating a deal at Copenhagen
"Developing countries have a high expectation that there will be sufficient money at
Copenhagen to finance adaptation either in technology transfers or in hard cash to
invest in new development," Parry remarks. "This is in addition to covering their costs of
reducing emissions." A draft climate proposal recently released by the African Union in
the run up to Copenhagen suggests they will be asking for US$67 billion a year for
adaptation in Africa. But as yet developed countries have only committed to around
US$100 billion in total.
"The amount of money on the table at Copenhagen is one of the key factors that will
determine whether we achieve a climate change agreement," Parry adds. "Poorer
countries are unlikely to agree to anything until they are confident the world will provide
enough money for adaptation." He concludes, "Yes, US$300 billion is a significant cost.
But it frankly wouldn't dent the income of developed countries significantly. As often with
these things, it's a matter of political will."
Pastoralists: moving with the times?
With children severely malnourished, animals weak or dying, and people struggling to
find water, exceptionally dry conditions in the Horn of Africa have added to the
cumulative effect of three to four consecutive seasons of poor or failed rains. Severe
shortages of pasture and water, combined with high food prices, have left an estimated
24 million people in the region currently food insecure. For the many pastoralists
affected, the drought is the worst in living memory.
The situation in northern Kenya and beyond is evidence to some that pastoralists will be
among the most vulnerable groups affected by climate change as rangelands and water
sources dry up. But others ascertain that, as pastoralists have traditionally evolved to
cope with scarce resources and uncertain agro-ecological conditions, they are
well-suited to adapt to their changing environment.
A fixed abode
The Tuareg nomads, for example, are well adapted to the dry marginal land of the
Sahel but as rainfall becomes increasingly unpredictable, many are losing their livestock
and traditional lands are becoming progressively more degraded. Rather than lose their
way of life, however, pastoralist communities in Niger are being supported by
TEARFUND and its partner JEMED* to establish 'fixation' points. These sites provide a
settlement area where schools, health centres, water dykes and grain banks are
established. Pasture management associations to protect and improve pastureland are
Over 20 fixation sites now exist across the Sahel. Access to services allow families to
survive the toughest periods in the year and, increasingly, women and children stay at
the camps, whilst the men continue a nomadic lifestyle with their livestock. During
drought periods, communities are advised to sell their animals, retaining only the best
breeding stock. Consequently, families have lost a third less livestock than others in
Adapting to change
In the Ethiopian Borana rangelands, pastoralists have retained their nomadic ways but
are replacing their cattle herds with camels, which feed on trees as well as grasses and
can survive longer periods without water. For other pastoralist groups, adapting involves
adopting alternative livelihood options, although income-generating opportunities are
often limited in remote dryland areas. Lack of market access for adding value to
livestock products is a common constraint.
In the long-term it is possible that pastoralists may even benefit by climate change. A
substantial increase in rainfall, as predicted by some climate models for East Africa after
2020, would provide more dry-season pasture and longer access to wet-season
pasture. However, negative impacts are still likely with higher temperatures resulting in
greater heat and disease stress for livestock, and the possibility that as land becomes
more favourable for agriculture, pastoralists will face even greater competition for their
The benefits of pastoralism
Looking ahead to the UN summit at Copenhagen, it is timely to consider the role of
pastoralism in limiting the extent of global climate change. If adequately supported,
good rangeland management helps to restore degraded lands and improve carbon
sequestration. Rangelands also provide valuable ecosystem services by sustaining vital
biodiversity and providing opportunities for income from wildlife tourism.
In East Africa, 90 percent of meat consumed comes from pastoral herds and, in Kenya
alone, the sector is estimated to be worth US$800 million. However, years of
inappropriate development policies and political marginalisation have hindered
pastoralists' ability to build resilience against climate change. The potential of
pastoralism to contribute to economic growth and provide sustainable stewardship of
drylands continues to be overlooked by policymakers.
Planning for change
But if the political will is to be mobilised, much more needs to be done to recognise
pastoralist's rights over their land, and to allow pastoralists to be heard. For example, a
pioneering climate-change related initiative in Kenya and Mali, led by SOS Sahel, aims
to help pastoral communities communicate their ideas more effectively to those in
power and to put local people in control of planning for changes in their environment.
In addition, early warning systems for drought and floods need to be strengthened.
Kenya reportedly has one of the strongest early warning systems in sub-Saharan Africa.
And yet the current failure in Kenya's drought management system is partly blamed on
the slow response of government and donor agencies to early alerts.
Worldwide, two-fifths of the earth's land is categorised as drylands and pastoralism is
evidently crucial to the wellbeing of millions of people who depend on these arid lands.
However, it is clear that the full implications of climate change on pastoralists are not yet
well understood and much remains to be done if pastoralists are build resilience and
adapt or be given a choice to settle for something other than an increasingly precarious
*JEMED - Jeunesse En Mission Entraide et Développement
Biochar - putting carbon back
If burning fossil fuels has caused global warming, trapping atmospheric carbon dioxide
in a stable, solid form and putting it back in the ground could be part of the solution.
Made from organic wastes such as crop residues, rather than cut timber, 'green
charcoal' is more eco-friendly than traditional charcoal. Moreover, when a finely
chopped form of green charcoal known as 'biochar' is used as a soil improver, it not only
sequesters carbon dioxide, but retains water, nutrients and growth-promoting
microorganisms in the root zone, resulting in much improved crop yields.
The making of green charcoal for fuel gained international recognition in 2002, with the
development of the 'Pyro' kiln. Pioneered by a Paris-based NGO, Pro-Natura, the
charcoal-making machine has been used in Senegal since late 2007, producing fuel
briquettes from flakes of green charcoal mixed with a binding agent such as starch,
molasses or clay.
Unlike an ordinary kiln, organic matter can be continuously fed into the French-made
Pyro, and charcoal extracted, with no need for repeated cooling and reheating. Its
efficient design means that it requires little external fuelling, and can produce up to five
tons of charcoal each day. Gases released by the heating process are burned in a
second, post-combustion chamber, maintaining the temperature of the oxygen-free kiln
at 550°C. Excess gas may also be put to other uses, such as drying the organic
feedstock, or heating greenhouses.
Recently, Pro-Natura has been trialling an agronomic use of biochar, incorporating it as
a soil improver and replicating a farming method used for millennia in the Amazon
rainforests of Brazil. Terra Preta, literally 'black land', is the name given to the
dark-coloured soils farmed by Amazonian Indians up to 7,000 years ago. For
generations these farmers increased their yields by adding charcoal and manure to their
soil; research suggests that carbon particles improve the uptake of nutrients and water
by plants, and support a rich population of fungi and bacteria, which contribute to
improved growth and disease resistance.
The method is now under trial in some arid parts of West Africa. In 2008 a pilot project
was launched at Ross Bethio in north-west Senegal, Pro-Natura's main green charcoal
and biochar production site. Local farmers have been given biochar, together with
training and financial incentives to encourage adoption and facilitate research on the
impact of biochar on yields of vegetables, maize and rice. Results suggest that adding
one kilogramme of biochar to a square metre of soil can double yields; beyond that, the
porous material holds water and nutrients in the root zone, thereby increasing the
benefits from other inputs, such as irrigation and composting.
As a domestic fuel, the use of green charcoal briquettes has been approved as a source
of carbon credits, available on the voluntary market. Pro-Natura is now working to get a
carbon credit rating for the CO2sequestered in soil through the use of biochar as a soil
improver. Preliminary calculations estimate that at least 30 tons of CO2per hectare are
sequestered given a 1 kg/m2rate of biochar application. If validated, voluntary purchase
of such carbon credits could help to fund the scaling up of the technology. Laurens
Rademakers, who promoted biochar in the UK's Manchester Report for 2009, argues
that biochar could ultimately have a global role in reducing atmospheric CO 2whilst
increasing food production.
That suggestion has fuelled a heated debate in the UK press, with environmental
columnist George Monbiot particularly sceptical that biochar could be a silver bullet to
fight global warming and food insecurity. He attacks the concept of vast plantations
being created to grow feedstock for biochar, given the ecological damage this would
cause. However, biochar advocates have responded by dismissing this as useful to
Monbiot in creating a debate, but not a part of mainstream biochar thinking.
Maintaining the green credentials of biochar is vital to its future success, not least in
attracting carbon credit payments. This is likely to mean that the use of green charcoal,
whether as a fuel or soil improver, remains a locally-focussed activity. Biochar
feedstock, such as maize stalks, cotton plants or wood shavings, tends to be low
density, so transporting it large distances to a centralised production unit would soon
offset its value as a renewable energy.
Family-based production of biochar is also possible, although current designs of
domestic kiln do not recycle gases and are therefore less environmentally friendly than
the Pyro kiln. And, while home-made green charcoal could help families increase their
crop yields and potentially reduce their energy or fertiliser bills, organising a system for
households to earn carbon credit payments would be challenging.
Building resilience in the city
Urban farmers have dealt with changing climates for as long as there have been cities.
In fact, the world's first cities in Mesopotamia probably developed for the purpose of
practising agriculture around a central irrigation system during an earlier period of
volatile climate. Urban agriculture can be a valuable response to climate uncertainty and
a crucial part of a resilient city. However, city-dwelling farmers in the developing and
developed world alike face their own challenges from climate change. If urban
agriculturists are to enable their cities to be resilient they also must find resilience for
their own farms.
Seeking water in Beijing
While not quite as ancient as the first cities of Mesopotamia, Beijing has been a major
centre for millennia, and the Chinese capital has probably never been without a large
agricultural fringe. Today, however, the city is in the ninth year of a drought that climate
experts suspect may represent a new trend. As rainfall and the water table decline,
agriculture, which represents about one third of the city's water use, is facing
uncertainty: the groundwater used for almost all irrigation is becoming unavailable in
some areas and in 2007 the city instituted a fee for excessive agricultural use.
To remain resilient, Beijing's farmers are looking for ways to diversify their water
sources, and two approaches have been borrowed from Chinese agriculture's long
history. Beijing's wastewater was often reused for irrigation in the distant past, and the
practice has revived since 2000 with the municipal government distributing water from
the central treatment plant: in 2007, 20 per cent of irrigation requirement was met with
wastewater, but only in areas near the plant. The other technique, rainwater harvesting,
is being introduced by the NGO SWITCH, which has been helping farmers modify
greenhouse roofs to gather rain for the past four years. "Rainwater harvesting
technologies have been applied for many years in the northwest of China," explains Ji
Wenhua of SWITCH, "but most of the systems in Beijing have been built since 2005.
There are now hundreds of sites with rainwater harvesting and most of them are in
Coping in Quito
A world away, Quito, Ecuador provides an example of the challenges facing urban
farmers with little municipal integration or recognition. Located high in the Andes, Quito
is surrounded by communities growing crops in small plots across some 64 hillsides
encircling the city. The region is facing higher temperatures and droughts, and when
rain does come it is increasingly as heavy storms causing landslides on the steep
While in Beijing urban agriculture has achieved recognition as a major part of the
economy and food supply, in Quito it is the domain of the poor and marginalized,
growing to support their households and maintain food security. While the city is a
leader in climate change planning, says Isabelle Anguelovski, a researcher from the
Massachusetts Institute of Technology, "Agriculture has been quite independent, up to
now, of the climate discourse in Quito. The priorities of the climate discourse have really
been water provision, risk management, and biodiversity protection."
With limited official support*, farmers have nevertheless begun to adapt. In many plots,
corn and potatoes have given way to indigenous Andean crops such as quinoa, which
require less water and hold the soil against erosion. Farmers along the streams flowing
from the shrinking Antisana Glacier are also adopting more conservation measures for
water use and protecting key ecosystems in the watershed. Such measures build
resilience at the grassroots, but greater support from the city is needed.
A new urban tomato
In every city around the world, urban farmers depend on vegetables. These high value
crops can be the most profitable use of small urban plots, and being difficult to
transport, resilient cities need vegetable farms near at hand. Foremost among these
urban staples is the tomato. Unfortunately tomatoes, being 95 per cent water, are hard
hit by heat and drought, and AVRDC, the World Vegetable Center, is now seeking to
breed tomatoes that can handle harsher climates in urban situations.
The breeding project is global in scope, crossing tomatoes with their wild relatives. One,
Solanum chilense, from the deserts of Chile, grows a much larger root system and does
not wilt in the heat. Another, Solanum pennellii, is an efficient water user, and can even
absorb dew through its leaves. The research team, led by Dr. Robert de la Peña,
is tapping into these natural sources of resilience. The new varieties are already
allowing farmers in the tropical lowlands to grow tomatoes during the hot-wet season for
the first time ever, and should prove valuable to urban agriculturists facing the sorts of
challenges seen in Beijing and Quito. Along with water, land, and recognition in urban
planning, the plants available to urban farmers are keys to their resilience in a changing
*The city has begun supporting urban farmers through a dedicated office, AGRUPAR
(Agricultura Urbana Participativa), but its function is limited to technical assistance; it is
not integrated into larger municipal functions or planning.
Bangladesh - farming the flood
As one of the largest deltas in the world, Bangladesh has always suffered from floods,
cyclones, and storm surges during the monsoon season. But with changes in the global
climate, flooding and riverbank erosion are becoming more severe as rainfall rates
change and the sea level rises. With lives and livelihoods increasingly under threat,
adaptation is essential if vulnerable communities are to cope with their changing
Bangladesh is one of the most densely-populated countries in the world, forcing many
of the poorest to live on unstable riverbanks and flood-prone areas: more than 100,000
people are forced to move each year as their villages and livelihoods are washed away.
In 2004, flooding across two-fifths of the country destroyed almost four-fifths of the
crops leaving ten million homeless.
Located at the meeting point of the Brahmaputra and Tista Rivers, Gaibandha District,
in the north of Bangladesh, is particularly susceptible to flooding and riverbank erosion
during the annual monsoon season. "The communities I work with are keen to find a
way to adapt to their changing environment," says Nazmul Chowdhury, Practical
Action's project officer in Bangladesh. Despite their precarious situation, he adds "they
are not sitting back and waiting for help." Floating gardens and pumpkin cultivation are
just two innovative projects that Practical Action, an international NGO, has developed
in partnership with local communities to help them adapt to riverbank erosion and
flooding by strengthening their livelihoods.
The floating garden, for example, allows farmers to grow food on flooded land, as well
as ponds, canals and other water courses. Simple and relatively inexpensive, an eight
by one meter raft is constructed from water hyacinth, a common weed found in many
parts of Bangladesh. A layer of soil, compost and manure is then placed on the surface
of the raft, in which vegetables such as gourd and okra are planted. The rafts only last
one year, but old ones are often used as compost for growing crops in the following dry
Tare Begum lives on a flood embankment on the Brahmaputra river and, in the past,
has struggled to grow enough food for her family on the infertile and flood-prone land.
But, after receiving training on vegetable production and floating garden construction,
enough food was produced to feed her family and the surplus sold at market to provide
a profit. "This has made a great difference to my life," she explains. "Now I have enough
food during the wet season and I can give some to help my relatives as well."
When the waters subside, silted sand plains are left behind. These 'char' lands are
infertile, but 'sandbar cropping' is a simple, innovative and very low-cost option: four
vegetable seeds are planted into a deep pit in the sand, which is filled with compost.
Pumpkins have proved to be particularly suited to these conditions; not only do they
yield well but they can also be stored, providing food and income throughout the year.
In 2008, over 1,300 families benefitted from adopting sandbar cropping and more than
160,000 pumpkins were harvested, generating a market value of about US$2 million.
And yet each pit costs just 40 cents (32 taka) to prepare, including labour, seeds,
manure and compost. "The opportunities and the technology are a blessing for us,"
Saiful Islam remarks. "It has opened our eyes to see a better life and a new hope to
live." Initially, Islam cultivated 50 pits after receiving training and seeds, but then
increased this to 433, growing almost 4,000 pumpkins worth more than US$2,000. Now
he is passing on this knowledge to support other landless farmers in his area.
Building on success
In order to maximise the impacts of these projects, people are shown how to store and
market their excess produce, enabling them to maximise return on investment. Islam,
for example, used the profit he made to lease land and invest in fish production and
beef fattening. Like Islam, selected people are trained to pass on their new skills to
other members of their communities, enabling them to benefit from the technologies and
circulate them to a wider area.
Floating gardens and pumpkin growing have directly benefitted more than 100,000
people so far. But this has not been easy: at first, many men were wary about women
becoming involved with these projects but, after holding focus groups and working with
communities and local authorities to demonstrate the benefits, almost 70 per cent of the
beneficiaries are now women.
While these initiatives are helping people to cope with the changing environment,
"adaptation alone is not the answer," Chowdhury warns. "The stark reality is if the
world's poor are not put at the heart of the debate at Copenhagen, those contributing
least to the problem will continue to suffer from the devastating effects of climate
Trouble brewing for Colombian coffee
The countryside in Colombia's western Risaralda department is breathtakingly beautiful.
But to the expert eye, the signs of climate strife are clear: steep-sided slopes that used
to be hillsides of coffee are now grazed by livestock, and there are large tracts of
plantain where coffee bushes once stood. These are worrying sights in the zona
cafetera, a region renowned for its distinctive, high quality Arabica coffee beans.
Obscured by morning mist, the small hilltop town of Balboa is one of many in the region
facing an uncertain future. Around 90 per cent of the local economy depends on the
coffee trade but in the past few years rising temperatures, excessive rainfall during
flowering and increasing disease pressure have meant all the coffee farmers in these,
the foothills of the western Andes, are feeling the pinch. Some 2,000 hectares of coffee
around Balboa have already been pulled up and converted to lower-value pastures or
Bean there, done that
Moving a small herd of cattle through a plantain field, Leonardo Palacio is one of the
farmers to have abandoned coffee. "Where we now stand, there used to be coffee," he
says, motioning around us. "Over there, where the paddock is, there was also coffee. I
can't plant coffee any longer; it's just too hot."
An hour's drive from Balboa, in the town of Apía, smallscale coffee farmer Javier Román
is also feeling the heat. "We noticed the climate beginning to change about five years
ago," he says, clinging to a tree branch on the edge of a slippery coffee slope. "Now it's
either too hot or there's too much rain. The climate has changed so much you can no
longer make forecasts."
Despite being only 30-years-old, Román has made some difficult decisions to protect
his income and his family. "I've grown coffee all my life but I've had to plant other crops:
vegetables, fruit trees, and now I also raise chickens. You learn and risk it all so there is
always food on the table."
But Román is one of the lucky ones. Much of his coffee is grown using the traditional
system of interplanting taller plantain trees as shade crops. As well as moderating the
temperature and sheltering the coffee bushes from heavy rain, shade also provides the
habitat for natural predators of the coffee pest Broca, or coffee berry borer
(Hypothenemus hampei), which can devastate yields.
At around 1,700m above sea level, Roman's crop has also managed to avoid coffee
rust (Hemileia vastatrix). Higher temperatures mean that this virulent fungus, which
strikes fear into the hearts of coffee producers worldwide, has been resurgent on the
lower altitude slopes of Risaralda, and is a major cause of the coffee exodus. The
farmers who have chosen to stand and fight must either plant rust resistant varieties or
invest in expensive chemical fungicides. The odds are stacked against them.
No time to lose
For Andy Jarvis, a climate change expert at the International Center for Tropical
Agriculture (CIAT), the experiences of coffee producers in Risaralda only confirm what
the climate models are showing. Using GIS technology and models of crop adaptation,
CIAT's Decision and Policy Analysis (DAPA) program has been getting glimpses into
the future of coffee in several Latin American countries: without adaptation, the
prospects are bleak.
"According to our models, climate change is going to force coffee production across
Latin America to even higher altitudes," he says. "But as you move up a mountain you
lose more and more land area, which can cause major social, economic and cultural
upheaval. Coffee is a major employer in rural Colombia, and switching to less labour
intensive crops, or livestock, could be a major blow to local economies."
Farmers therefore need to start adapting coffee production to the new challenges, and
quickly. "The pace and scale of climate change in Risaralda is frightening," Jarvis
continues. "But what is of greater concern is that there is still not enough work being
done on adaptation. This needs to be happening now, not just in Risaralda, but across
Latin America. For example, planting shade trees today can buffer the impacts of
climate change and buy a farmer a couple of extra decades to diversify production."
But, according to Jarvis, farm-level adaptation is only part of the solution: it's time for the
world powers to show strong support for vulnerable farmers. "We've spent the last ten
years trying to cut greenhouse gas emissions, but it's not enough on its own," he says.
"At the United Nations climate change conference in Copenhagen in October, our
politicians need to do two things: make historic commitments to reduce emissions
significantly, and find the money to support urgent adaptation."
For some coffee farmers in Risaralda, whatever is decided in Copenhagen will come too
late. But for many, the right support could help protect an industry with both regional
and international significance.
Green light for Ethiopia's REDD project
The Bale Mountains of south eastern Ethiopia are a water tower for millions in East
Africa. In recent years, however, agricultural expansion has lead to substantial and
continuing deforestation, threatening the watershed functions of the mountain region.
Immigration has accentuated the problem, with settlers from other parts of Ethiopia
carving farmland from government-owned forest. Yet, given the right incentives, many
forest products could be harvested without threatening the forest or its great
biodiversity. In addition, a new scheme currently under development could make the
Bale Mountains one of the largest Reduced Emissions from Deforestation and
Degradation (REDD) projects in the world.
The development of such a REDD project is not simple, with issues of land tenure a
particular problem. In Ethiopia, a largely rural population is dependent on resources that
do not legally belong to them; uncertain of state forest authority plans, they have little
incentive for sustainable harvesting. Over the last ten years, however, two NGOs -
FARM-Africa and SOS Sahel - have successfully promoted participatory forest
management (PFM) in the area, and this has now been included in regional and federal
forest planning (see Putting people before trees). PFM enables communities to earn
money from their forest and encourages more sustainable, longer-term management.
But PFM cannot succeed without investment and training. Hence, if large areas of forest
are to be managed sustainably and continue providing environmental services,
long-term finance is needed. The Bale REDD project aims to meet this need. By
avoiding deforestation that would have occurred in the project's absence, carbon credits
are generated and can be sold to individuals or organisations in voluntary carbon
The amount of carbon credits available is estimated from the difference between a
business-as-usual deforestation scenario - the rate of deforestation across the Bale
region is three to nine per cent - and a REDD project scenario. If the rate of
deforestation could be reduced by just half over the 500,000 hectare area, a 20 year
REDD project could prevent millions of tonnes of greenhouse gases from reaching the
atmosphere. Sale of these emission reductions could generate significant revenues.
In order for the project to be successful the finance generated from carbon credit sales
must reach those who bear the costs of forest conservation. No consensus currently
exists on how the finance from sale of carbon credits should be shared. However,
revenues must cover a wide range of costs, including: project development; forest
conservation activities; third party monitoring, verification and certification of the
emissions reductions; and the marketing and sale of emissions reductions, including
design of legal contracts. It might also support national level capacity building for
climate change mitigation and adaptation.
The Bale REDD project is investigating the costs of avoided deforestation to the
livelihoods of communities living in and around the forest. With this information, an
assessment will be made as to whether community needs can be met amongst all other
project costs. There are also plans to establish a trust fund, managed by
representatives of the forestry department, community based organisations, NGOs and
a member of the carbon finance sector. This fund would receive a large proportion of
the carbon revenue and aid in the re-distribution of funds to communities.
Ongoing sale of carbon credits is dependent on communities complying with forest
management plans. To support this, a number of practical measures are being taken.
New plantations and community woodlots are being established, so that households
have legitimate sources of wood for fuel and building material. Fuel efficient stoves are
being promoted and improved fire management systems introduced. Without these
measures it is possible that deforestation is merely shifted outside of the project area,
leading to no actual emission reductions.
Institutional capacity to sustain the REDD project is another concern. Potential buyers
must be confident that carbon in forests will remain protected for the full term of the
contract - a minimum of 20 years - regardless, for example, of changes in commodity
prices or political leadership. In Bale, relevant government bodies have been included in
all stages of the project design process. As a result, the regional government has taken
on responsibility for the ongoing maintenance of the REDD project should the current
state body, Oromia Forest Enterprise, no longer be able to fulfil the role.
The Bale REDD project is in the early stages of project development. By engaging all
relevant stakeholders and receiving input from research institutions, the project has
sought to avoid the common pitfalls that have kept REDD out of carbon markets to date.
As the project evolves, incorporating and meeting the diverse stakeholder needs is seen
as key. If these needs can be met, Bale REDD could bring much needed finance to
conserve the forests of the Bale Mountains and maintain its environmental services that
support the livelihoods of millions.