Trade-offs and synergies associated with climate change adaptation strategies

By: Devinia Princess Akinyi, Stanley Karanja Ng’ang’a

Introduction: Alliance researchers summarize a recent analysis of various climate adaptation practices and recommend further actions to support smallholder farmers.

As climate change’s impacts become increasingly clear, the need for climate adaptive approaches has gained recognition, from the farm (micro) to the community and national (macro) level. However, the process of choosing the most appropriate strategies is complex. For farmers, businesses, and governments to make informed decisions, they need a clear understanding of both the trade-offs (foregoing of one option to achieve benefits of another) and synergies (greater aggregate effect achieved by combining two or more strategies) involved in specific practices.

To facilitate this, we present evidence from the literature related to five broad categories of climate adaptation strategies:

1. Crop management (improved seed varieties, crop rotation, and intercropping)

2. Risk management (index-based crop insurance)

3. Land management (minimum and/or no-tillage, mulching, agroforestry, half-moons, Zai pits, soil, stone, and vegetation bunds, and fertilizer application)

4. Water management (water storage and/or water harvesting)

5. Livestock management (breeding climate-tolerant species, matching stocking rates to pasture production, livestock insurance, improving animal feed, and good animal health and husbandry).

Results from applying the Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis (PRISMA) statement indicate that trade-offs arise from additional costs, increased demand for labour, competing objectives, and competition for limited resources. Synergies arise from implementing two or more adaptation strategies and include increased productivity, increased resilience, yield stability, sustainability, and resource and environmental protection. Table 1 provides a summary of examples of trade-offs and synergies from implementing climate adaptation strategies.

Table 1: Potential trade-offs and synergies of climate adaptation strategies.

Overcoming barriers for smallholder farmers

Our research shows that the costs related to the implementation (initial investment), periodic or annual maintenance, and operation of adaptation strategies are significant factors that constrain uptake and up-scaling, especially among resource-poor farmers. High availability of low-cost innovations would therefore result in major improvements in productivity and resource utilization. Farmers need an amalgamation of knowledge and skills in selecting, operating, and properly maintaining innovations to ensure sustainable development.

The main challenge, however, is that the smallholder farmers in sub-Saharan Africa are currently unable to respond quickly and congruously to the increasing risks associated with climate change, and therefore face a significant reduction in crop yields and yield stability. To empower smallholders, governments should provide a conducive environment to encourage investment in agriculture. For instance, a reduction in the interest rates on bank loans can make credit available to financially constrained farmers. Collaboration among value chain stakeholders is also key to drive economic growth. This will promote efficiency across all the stages of the product value chain. The development of infrastructure (transport, electricity, irrigation, and communication) could significantly reduce transaction costs.

These strategies should be applied at the local farm level since the benefits will also be realized throughout the entire value chain. Moving forward, new policy should be geared towards minimizing the trade-offs and maximizing the synergies associated with climate change adaptation strategies.

So, what then are some of the decision tools that have been developed to aid stakeholders to evaluate the economic efficiency and viability of climate adaptation strategies? Stay tuned for a discussion of the application of one such multi-dimensional tool for selected value chains in the sub-Saharan region.

For more details, see the full article here

About the authors

Devinia Princess Akinyi is an Agricultural Economist with a specialization in environmental valuation and policy analysis.

Stanley Karanja is an associate scientist in the Climate action – Finance and Investment Team. His training is in Development economics and production ecology and resource economics. He is the focal point for cost-benefit analysis and socio-economic related work in Africa