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Managing landscapes for Climate-Smart Agriculture systems


Implementing climate-smart agriculture through landscape approaches

Elements guiding landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture 

The common underlying objective of integrated landscape planning and management is to find and promote synergies among activities that improve production systems, enhance livelihoods, support the conservation of biodiversity and sustain ecosystem services. The ultimate goal is to ensure sustainability.

Integrated landscape planning and management is instrumental for achieving climate-smart agriculture. It is an umbrella for natural resource management that recognizes the value of various ecosystem services to multiple stakeholders, and the different values that can lead stakeholders to pursue different land-use objectives or livelihood strategies (MEA, 2005). When implementing landscape approaches, the trade-offs between conservation and development are taken into consideration. This demands the increased integration of activities to reach a range of different objectives related to poverty alleviation, agricultural production and food security. In addressing multiple objectives in an integrated manner, the emphasis is placed on adaptive management and stakeholder involvement (Sunderland, 2012). 

The key elements guiding landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture interventions are:

  • The integration of mechanisms for the governance of natural, semi-natural and agricultural ecosystems. Landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture are based on optimizing synergies between multiple stakeholders and sectors in the landscape in terms of production, climate adaptation and mitigation. To enhance resilience to climate change, interventions applying a landscape approach should bring together agro-environmental and socio-economic governance issues that are of interest to multiple stakeholders. This requires:
    • drawing on expertise and processes from a wide range of methodologies, best practices, concepts and tools;
    • engaging in joint processes related to diagnostics, planning, the management and monitoring of progress and results, and the promotion of collaborative activities between stakeholders and sectors; and
    • building on the interactions between multiple sources of knowledge (e.g. research, institutional, civil society, traditional, indigenous).
  • Support multiple ecosystem functions.The dynamics and functions of ecosystems, including agricultural ecosystems, are at the heart of landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture interventions. Ecosystems function extend over different spatial and temporal scales. Consequently, activities need to be undertaken at multiple scales to encompass the entire agricultural ecosystem and follow a life cycle approach. Ecosystem functions also operate at nested scales, which requires the integration of geographical and technical solutions within broader landscapes. 
  • Support governance and an enabling environment. Landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture should undertake system-wide capacity development to enhance the capacities of people, organizations, institutions and the enabling environment. This includes the strengthening institutions; formulating suitable policies and regulations and ensuring their enforcement; and building multidisciplinary scientific and technical capacities at all levels (see module C1 on system-wide capacity development, and module C3 on policies and processes);
    • Landscape approaches also depend on individual and collective tenure security. A rights-based approach is required that fosters endogenous negotiations to address social inequality and imbalanced power relations and recognizes the complex cross-sectoral character of agricultural ecosystems and the impact that climate change will have on these ecosystems.
    • In the field, and especially on small farms, this involves the design of packages of incentives for maintaining ecosystem services that can support small-scale producers' adoption of best practices and sustain climate-smart interventions.
  • Adaptive and nested scales management. Landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture should seek improvements in management practices that are based on sound assessments, experience and climate risk analyses (see module C8 on climate impacts assessment and climate-smart agriculture options appraisal, and module C9 on climate-smart agriculture programme and project monitoring and evaluation).
    • Decision-making needs to be iterative and reactive in face of uncertainty and changes in climatic conditions.
    • Initial planning and monitoring, learning and evaluation call for participatory approaches and the use of inclusive methods for diagnostics, collaborative planning and data collection, analysis and documentation. Simple and integrated metrics should track the range of the agro-ecological and sociocultural benefits derived from climate-smart landscape initiatives (Scherr, Shames and Friedman, 2012);
    • Management undertaken at nested scales needs to integrate small-scale results into the broader landscape. Activities related to the sustainable increase of agricultural production or small-scale natural resources management should be included in broader level planning (e.g. watershed). Such small scale planning should later contribute to district or decentralized planning which should then be inscribed within national goals and harmonized policies. Finally, attainment of such goals concurs to reaching SDGs.

In an in-depth analysis of current practices, Duguma et al. (2014a) suggests that more emphasis is being placed on complementarity (i.e. mitigation projects that provide adaptation co-benefits and vice versa) rather than synergies. They note that, unlike complementarity, synergies should emphasize functionally sustainable landscape systems in which adaptation and mitigation are optimized as part of multiple functions. They also clarify that moving forward from complementarity to synergies will require a paradigm shift from current compartmentalization between mitigation and adaptation to 'systems thinking' at the landscape scale. However, conducive policy, institutional, and investment conditions need to be in place at global, national, and local levels to achieve synergies. Duguma et al. (2014b) also propose a synergy score analysis to identify, analyse and compare enabling conditions for achieving synergies.

How climate-smart landscapes are multifunctional

Adapted from Minang et al., 2015.

  • Landscape approaches provide an effective and efficient scale for the analysis and management practices to establish climate-smart multifunctionality.
  • Multifunctionality in landscapes is achieved by promoting synergies and reducing trade-offs across different land uses and objectives.
  • Both additive synergies, in which the sum of parts constitutes the whole, and superadditive synergies should be sought within landscapes to promote multifunctionality.
  • Objectives guiding the identification of opportunities to achieve synergies should be clearly defined and understood, and ideally identified through collaborative multistakeholder processes.
  • If synergies and landscape multifunctionality are not sought, there is risk that detrimental feedback cycles will be perpetuated and exacerbate the negative impacts of climate change.

Step-by-step guide to implement landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture

The process of applying landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture interventions follows these steps:

  1. Designing the methodology: This step includes the development of the analytic framework and the selection of tools for the intervention. It also involves raising awareness of climate risks and the need for adaptation and mitigation to promote the wider uptake of climate-smart agriculture. For country-level interventions, this is the step in which the strategy and action plan are prepared. The action plan is generally aimed at the implementation of the intervention, the expansion of activities on the ground and the mainstreaming of climate-smart practices. A step-by-step guide to the national implementation of climate-smart agriculture is outlined in module C10).
  2. Assessing and prioritizing: This step includes the preparation of assessments of land and other natural resources, and socio-economic conditions. This step also includes a system-wide capacity needs assessment (See module C1). During this step, training materials are developed and disseminated. At this time, climate change impact and vulnerability assessments are also carried out, which can also include climate analysis, agro-meteorology forecasts and climate modelling (see module C8). At this step, a participatory wide-scale assessment is undertaken to identify hot spots (e.g. areas where there is a severe degradation of ecosystem services or declining production) and bright spots (e.g. areas where the land is being managed sustainably). Based on the assessment's findings, the priority landscapes interventions are selected through a collaborative process involving all stakeholders and sectors. This process considers the livelihoods, ecosystem functions and services, and other agro-environmental factors in the landscape. A participatory and inclusive process is fundamental to ensure country-ownership and commitment, which are key ingredients for making a transition to climate-smart agriculture.
  3. Analysing and planning: This step includes the detailed biophysical characterization of the environment. The detailed assessment of selected areas in the landscape allow for the joint selection of the most suitable ('best') practices for climate-smart agriculture based on local livelihoods and natural resources. In building climate change scenarios, the assessment considers the impacts of climate change, determines mitigation benefits and identifies options for adaptive management. Community or territorial management plans are then developed through a negotiated and collaborative multistakeholder right-based process.
  4. Implementing, monitoring and learning to scale up best practices: The implementation of plans is undertaken by using a variety of technologies and approaches based on both indigenous and scientific knowledge. Activities are 'retrofitted' through endogenous monitoring, self-evaluation and the sharing of lessons learned. The sustainability of climate-smart practices demands continued action and support from all stakeholders. The mainstreaming of the best practices requires appropriate policy, planning and institutional support and the establishment of sustainable financing for scaling up climate-smart practices and ensuring all stakeholders have adequate incomes. This should include financial and non-financial incentives for ecosystem services and should be negotiated between stakeholder groups from all sectors.

Table A3.1. Examples of tools that can support the implementation (the list is not intended to be exhaustive)



Designing methodologies

  • Guidelines for designing data collection and sharing systems for co-managed fisheries
  • Designing nutrition-sensitive agriculture investments
  • Incorporating climate change considerations into agricultural investment programmes
  • Guidelines for Climate Proofing Investment in Agriculture, Rural Development, and Food Security (ADB)
  • MOSAICC (Modelling System for Agricultural Impacts of Climate Change)

Assessing and prioritizing

  • Modernizing Irrigation Management (MASSCOTE)
  • SHARP Self-evaluation and Holistic Assessment of climate Resilience
  • Dryland Restoration Initiative Platform DRIP
  • Social Mobilization Approach
  • Safe Access to Fuel and Energy (SAFE) toolbox
  • BEFS Operator Level Tool
  • Climate-Smart Agriculture Prioritisation Toolkit, CCAFS
  • Ex-Ante Carbon-balance Tool (EX-ACT)

Analysing and planning phase

  • LADA Local
  • Guidelines for the economic valuation of pollination services at a national scale
  • GreeNTD
  • EAF planning and implementation tool

Implementing, monitoring and learning to scale up best practices


  • Integrated pest management
  • Conservation agriculture
  • Farmer Field Schools
  • Climate Smart Villages, CCAFS
  • Incentives for Ecosystem Services (IES)
  • Certification/eco-labelling
  • LINK methodology: A participatory guide to business models that link smallholders to markets:

Monitoring and learning

  • Ecosystem Service Valuation
  • System of Environmental-Economic Accounting for Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries
  • Self-evaluation and Holistic Assessment of climate Resilience SHARP
  • Guidelines for the economic valuation of pollination services at a national scale
  • Ex-Ante Carbon-balance Tool (EX-ACT)
  • Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) IFAD

Case Study A3.2, Climate -smart landscape-level intervention planning in Burundi, describes a five-step process that includes both agro-environmental and governance activities to enhance the sustainability of climate-smart interventions. At the national level, interventions that employ a landscape approach needs to operate at the nested scale, initially prioritizing the investments with national stakeholders and then intervening in the selected agricultural ecosystem using local-level planning and implementation. Case Study A3.4, A step-by-step landscape approach to prioritize sustainable land management investments outlines the process used by FAO to assess, prioritize, and mainstream sustainable land management actions from a landscape perspective at the national level. Case Study A3.5, Capacity development at multiple levels for effective implementation of sustainable land management, illustrates how system-wide capacity development can strengthen country ownership and commitment.

Box A3.3 Why participatory monitoring and assessment is important for integrated landscape adaptive management

In general, any management cycle includes initiation, planning, execution, monitoring and closure. All these steps are needed in the management of the process for scaling up of appropriate technologies and practices to increase food security and establish climate-smart landscapes. Continuous monitoring and assessment are also key aspects of adaptive management because they help determine the effects of the planned actions and identify incremental changes that can ensure a transition towards a more productive and resilient system. Also, they help to review progress towards objectives and adjust the actions so as to optimize the benefits and scale up successful climate-smart agriculture practices and technologies. In landscape approaches, the participation of stakeholders and beneficiaries is vital for obtaining critical observations of the results of the actions, and modifying them as appropriate through the management cycle. An endogenous assessment process strengthens ownership, raises awareness of issues and reinforces the knowledge that has been gained.

There is also a need to monitor and assess the effectiveness of any incentive measures and the involvement of stakeholders in landscape management schemes. For payment for environmental services schemes or the implementation of public-private partnerships, the monitoring and evaluation process helps to raise awareness of stakeholders so that they are more responsive to changes in adaptive management.

Climate-smart landscapes for sustainable food and agriculture

Interventions that use landscape approaches operate at multiple scales in the agricultural ecosystem to enhance the ecosystem dynamics and functions (e.g. the cycling of nutrients, water and carbon, the control of pests and diseases). This provides the basis for protecting the environment and creating opportunities and benefits for many stakeholders. When landscape approaches are applied for climate-smart agriculture interventions a key goal is to sustain resilient agricultural livelihoods that can safeguard food security by sustainably increasing productivity and incomes of the various land users and producers. Landscape approaches for climate-smart agriculture also require building awareness among all stakeholders of the need for sustainable natural resource management that can generate benefits not only for individual producers but also support a range of ecosystem services that benefit society as a whole and increase the resilience of the productive sectors. 

Change management adds a strategic, long-term objective to policy, legal and research frameworks (FAO, 2011a). Sustainably increasing or intensifying productivity can mitigate climate change by decreasing pressures to open up of forest or grazing land for agriculture. Restoring degraded grassland ecosystems and rehabilitating eroded croplands involves reducing soil erosion, restoring fertile soils and improving vegetation cover. Grassland management can also be complemented by the introduction of trees, shrubs and plants that can sequester carbon above and below ground. Improved grazing management can lead to an increase of soil carbon stocks (Conant, 2009). See module B.2 for further information on livestock management and module B5 on integrated production systems. 

If biological processes are preserved, ecosystems, such as wetlands and peatlands (see also module B7) can provide important water regulatory services and act as large carbon sinks. Due to the vast amount of land they cover, dryland and rangeland ecosystems also play a crucial role in climate change adaptation and carbon sequestration. Landscape-level land-use planning strategies need to identify and protect these key ecosystems and the important ecosystem services they provide. Special attention should be paid to the management of organic soils as they have significant potential for mitigation climate change (Biancalani and Avagyan, 2014).

Box A3.4 Example for integrating elements of landscape management for climate-smart agriculture into a farming system

In dryland systems, livestock production systems, which often rely on the mobility of animals, provides milk and meat to rural communities. These production systems also make effective use of limited land and water resources. The manure from the animals can help maintain or increase soil fertility for crop production and grazing land. The planting of leguminous shrubs and trees can provide fodder and fuel. The integration of trees and shrubs in agricultural production systems can also provide litter for mulching, which can help restore soil organic matter, improve moisture retention and enhance soil microbial activity. Landscape approaches focus on enhancing these micro-ecologies in different locations within the landscape. They also foster interactions throughout the landscape that optimize the ecosystem functions and support the production of a variety of different products. 

The local production of a diverse range of food products, the presence of local storage facilities and food processing activities ensures that nutritious, locally preferred foods are available in farming communities. This also contributes to dietary diversification and supplies local markets with nutritious fresh foods (e.g. fruits and vegetables). Local production, storage and processing can increase market access for local goods, ensure greater returns for producers and use energy efficiently. This can foster the growth in local agricultural value chains, which in turn improves livelihoods, food and nutrition security, and food sovereignty. 

Diversified local food systems can enhance and stabilize production throughout the year. They also contribute to climate adaptation and mitigation by optimizing the use of soil, water, and biological resources and developing a resilient and integrated agro-ecological system.

Adaptive management is the key to implementing landscape management plans and strategies that can enhance the capacity of the system to cope with the impacts of climate change and reduce greenhouse gas emissions (see module A2). Since landscapes change and evolve over time, the objective of sustainable management is to ensure the continued and growing supply of goods and services for the present and next generations (Sangha Group, 2008). In a crop or crop-livestock system, attention will be given to well-adapted crop and livestock varieties and breeds, and sustainable agronomic and livestock management practices (see module B1 on climate-smart crop systems and module B5 on integrated production systems). These practices will improve productivity and support climate change adaptation and mitigation. A landscape approach also takes into account interactions with other land uses and multiple value chains to enhance synergies and reduce negative impacts of the specialized production systems (e.g. crop production) on forests, pastoral communities, settlements and other land users. Areas where there may be interactions and potential synergies include the maintenance of recreational value of the forest; the sustainable use of biomass and re-afforestation; improved logistics and transport; and wood product production and energy production to support sustainable urban development.

Figure A3.2. Interaction and synergies in a landscape approach for wood products factory

Source: van Oosten, 2015

An example of an intervention that optimized synergies is presented in Case Study A3.2, Climate-smart landscape-level intervention planning in Burundi. 

Both risk management and change management form an integral part an integrated landscape approach. Disaster risk reduction focuses on preventing new risks, reducing existing risk and managing residual risk (see module C5). 

Landscape approaches can be carried out through a variety of mechanisms, including watershed and territorial management committees; land-planning and water-users associations; and producer associations. These mechanisms, which allow for multistakeholder dialogues on local conditions and specific priority issues, can be organized through networks, platforms or roundtables where all stakeholders or their representatives can settle their conflicts, negotiate trade-offs or make plans. See Case Study C1.11 from the Andhra Pradesh Farmer Managed Groundwater Systems (APFAMGS) Project on how data sharing within the community influences water use, and Box C5.4 on integrated community approaches to disaster risk reduction and adaptation in Papua New Guinea.

Figure A3.3. Landscape-level interventions

Source: Scherr, 2013

Both policy makers and land users gain from organized and democratic planning that aligns land use with local and national goals. Ideally, land-use planning is a country-wide and nested effort, from local villages through communes, districts, and provinces in which local needs are harmonized with national priorities. Stakeholders may include village and municipal authorities, private sector interests, district authorities and members of the country’s ministry of planning or national planning commission and even budget and finance. At the local level, it is important that all community groups are represented – men and women, young and old, wealthy and poor, farmers, herders ¬and fishers – and their diverse views and perspectives are taken into account. See also Box C5.7 on a community-based integrated watershed management approach to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Uganda.