Climate Smart Agriculture Sourcebook

Managing landscapes for Climate-Smart Agriculture systems


From climate-smart agriculture to climate-smart landscapes

A thorough analysis of the pressures and demands on natural resources and ecosystems, the biophysical and socio-economic impacts of climate change, and the opportunities and the constraints that land users face to adapting to change and threats is required when applying landscape approaches in interventions to support climate change adaptation and mitigation. This analysis must be undertaken in coordination with all stakeholders in the landscape. (see module C8 on climate change impact scenarios and module C1 on system-wide capacity development). Reversing trends in environmental degradation involves the use of landscape approaches to address climate change. It has been often been demonstrated that the best approach to achieve the objectives of climate-smart agriculture is to broaden the agricultural management practices from single farming unit to the management of the entire landscape by multiple stakeholders (e.g. decision-makers, farmers, industrial groups). An example of this is the integration of trees into pastures, with the support of community-based forest management and planning and the collaboration of local authorities, to establish productive silvo-pasture systems (see module B5 on integrated production systems). Other examples of agricultural ecosystem management practices that are pertinent to landscape approaches for agricultural production are dealt with in more detail in the modules in Section B. A landscape and ecosystem perspective is addressed also in module C5 on disaster risk reduction.

Climate change is exacerbating pressures on natural resources

Natural resources and ecosystems are under increasing pressures from population growth and unsustainable management practices associated with agricultural production and land use. The degradation of soil, freshwater resources and biodiversity; the overexploitation of agricultural lands and their encroachment into marginal areas; and insecure tenure regimes, all affect ecosystem functions and services. These forces are leading to declines in the productive capacity of croplands and rangelands, and driving deforestation, which accelerates the loss of ecosystem services. The impacts of climate change (e.g. unpredictable rainfall, changing temperatures, seasonal shifts, drought, and extreme events), exacerbates these drivers of environmental degradation, undermines agricultural  production and increases threats to ecosystems, livelihoods and food security. 

Land degradation, which is reflected in the loss of fertile soils, the erosion of biodiversity and a reduction in carbon stocks, threatens the livelihoods and well-being, the food, water and energy security, and the resilience of millions of people. Land degradation is both a cause and a consequence of climate change. Ecosystem degradation and climate change form a ‘negative feedback loop’ that increases greenhouse gases emissions from agricultural production. The loss and degradation of soil and vegetation significantly reduces the capacity of soils to act as a 'carbon sink'. These negative loops affect agriculture production and livelihoods at all levels. Land degradation and sustainable soil and land management are addressed in module B7. Climate-smart energy solutions are a priority objective for preserving natural resources and preventing the degradation of the natural environment (see Box A3.2). Module B9 looks at the management of energy in the context of climate-smart agriculture.

Box A3.2 Charcoal production, environmental degradation and climate change mitigation

In some areas, the unsustainable production of charcoal is one of the drivers of deforestation.  In sub-Saharan Africa the reliance on charcoal in rural areas and expanding urban areas is a serious environmental issue. Unsustainable charcoal production degrades the natural resource base on which people depend and increases greenhouse gas emissions. Investment is needed to enhance the access of urban and rural populations to appropriate alternative fuel sources. This involves increasing capital, know-how and technology, and creating incentives to encourage a shift towards more sustainable and resilient fuel and energy supplies.

The 2017 FAO publication, The charcoal transition: greening the charcoal value chain to mitigate climate change and improve local livelihoods, provides data and information to allow for informed decision-making on the contribution sustainable charcoal production and consumption can make to climate change mitigation (FAO, 2017a).

To satisfy the increasing demand for limited land resources, governance institutions in many areas are turning a blind eye to, or even encouraging, the expansion of agricultural production systems into forest lands, wetlands, marginal drylands and protected areas. This expansion can momentarily increase production, but generally leads to negative if not catastrophic mid- and long-term outcomes. 

Implementing a landscape approach, which includes land-use planning, helps reduce conflicts over the use of resources; addresses the threats to forest areas, wetlands and other biodiversity-rich ecosystems; and can contribute to restoring key ecosystem functions and services. Despite potential difficulties in initially establishing a landscape approach, the approach can deliver positive and sustainable outcomes for the long-term resilience of populations facing unpredictable and extreme weather events (IPCC, 2014; FAO, 2015a). As integral parts of broader landscapes, forests and trees contribute to the stability and vitality of ecosystems and play a key role in sustaining livelihoods (see module B3 on forestry and module B5 on integrated production systems).

Extractive land use practices are not sustainable and are associated with high rates of greenhouse gas emissions. Often establishing an enabling environment and increasing investments are not sufficient to support the adoption of sustainable agricultural practices that sequester carbon in the soil or prevent carbon dioxide emissions caused by soil mineralization; sustain ecosystem functions and agricultural productivity; and enhance the adaptive capacity of vulnerable populations.

Lack of enabling environment for climate-smart agricultural practices

The lack of institutional capacities, which includes a lack of capacity for land-use planning, financial planning and implementation, contributes to the limited support for climate-smart practices (Scherr, Shames and Friedman, 2012). Environmental and economic sustainability can be achieved by moving away from sector-driven initiatives to cross-sectoral activities that address the objectives and needs of multiple stakeholders who depend on natural resources and ecosystems. This can be done by planning and carrying out interventions at the landscape level (see Case Study A3.1 on Autochthonous pig breeds for climate-smart landscapes in the Balkans). The policy processes that support the landscape and ecosystem approach are addressed in module C3 as part of a set of instruments for the adoption and scaling up of climate-smart agriculture. A system-wide capacity development approach to strengthen the capacities of people, institutions and policy makers is addresses in module C1

In some climate change scenarios, adaptations to change will need to be based on local practices. If stakeholders are not empowered to self-assess their actions or are not directly involved in monitoring the results of land planning this can create a lack of ownership over the actions undertaken in the landscape (See module C1). The enabling environment should include options for self-evaluating the impacts of interventions. There is also a lack of capacities and methods for assessing the effectiveness of the multiple dimensions of landscape-based climate-smart interventions that involve multiple sectors and are carried out at a variety of scales. Metrics and indicators need to be developed for monitoring progress toward climate-smart landscapes; assessing the impacts of climate-smart agriculture interventions; justifying the application of landscape approaches in supporting climate-smart agriculture. The evaluation of the impact of climate-smart agriculture interventions is addressed in module C9.

Reversing trends through landscape approaches

An assessment of climate change dynamics related to agriculture indicates that three key features should be part of a transformational approach to establish climate-smart landscapes: 

  • climate-smart practices at the field and farm level; 
  • a diversity of land uses in the landscape, which including areas set aside for conservation, the provision of ecosystem services, and improvements in the capacity of ecological and social systems to cope with extreme events (see module A2); and 
  • the management of ecosystems and land-use interactions at the landscape scale to deliver social, economic and ecological benefits (Scherr, Shames and Friedman, 2012). 

Climate-smart agriculture provides opportunities, but also presents considerable challenges. To seize these opportunities and meet these challenges, it is necessary to adopt a holistic, integrated approach to capacity development in which all stakeholders participate actively and gain a sense of ownership over the activities (See module C1). An integrated approach, which encompasses the socio-economic, agro-ecological and policy dimensions, ensures greater efficiency in the use of resources and more sustainable management of natural processes and human activities in the landscape. Production systems need to capitalize on natural biological processes and recycle waste and residues. It is also important to create integrated and diversified farming systems that can generate a range of goods and services at the landscape level (see Case Study A3.2 on Climate-smart landscape intervention planning in Burundi). 

The integration of agro-ecological and governance dimensions, which includes socio-economic and policy issues, can greatly reduce the pressure on the natural resources and minimize the need for external inputs (e.g. energy, chemical fertilizers and pesticides) and lessen the impact of agricultural production on ecosystems. The integration of agro-ecosystem and the livelihood approach presents multiple benefits as it “combine(s) vertical and horizontal integration” (van Ginkel et al., 2013). Vertical integration is an approach in which field, farm, landscape and region are nested to address contextual variations in the drivers of adoption of activities to improve the long-term sustainability of the land management process. 

Horizontal integration involves working across disciplines and sectors (e.g. agriculture, forestry, markets, environment, water and energy) to address the policy and institutional requirements for optimizing benefits, reducing tradeoffs and enhancing innovation uptake at different scales (See also module C1). For example, the Great Green Wall for the Sahara and Sahel Initiative, which was initially not designed to address the impacts of climate change, is reversing land degradation by working both at the wider landscape level through the management of agricultural ecosystems and improving governance. The Initiative, which builds on farmers’ endogenous environmental rehabilitation practices in the Sahel, supports rural communities adapt to climate change and helps reduce the concentration of greenhouse gas emissions in the atmosphere. (See Case study A3.3 Positive dynamics: re-greening of the Sahel and the Great Green Wall action plans.

The need for landscape approaches to achieve climate-smart agriculture objectives

Climate change is one of many challenges within the fields of environmental and natural resource management that are referred to as ‘wicked problems’ due to their complex and interwoven nature. Solutions to these wicked problems often demand significant policy changes in modifications in the behaviours of a broad range of stakeholders (Balint et al., 2011). 

Increasing the resilience of agricultural communities so that they can maintain their food security in the face of climate change calls for multiple interventions that include social protection, climate-smart agricultural practices, biodiversity conservation and risk management (FAO, 2016a). (See also modules in section B for climate-smart agricultural practices, module C5 for disaster risk reduction and module C7 for social protection and decent rural employment). Holmgren (2012) noted that although the landscape approach makes planning and management challenging, there are no other options for achieving climate-smart agriculture’s goals. Designing national and decentralized level plans in a participatory manner for different land uses and productive sectors is particularly important given that all sectors are affected by climate change, resources are limited, and the demand for goods and services are high. Climate-smart agriculture cross-sectoral planning and management makes the most efficient use of valuable and limited natural resources.