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Climate resilience: synergies between Disaster Risk Reduction and Climate-Smart Agriculture

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Scaling up investments in disaster risk reduction in agriculture

Along with community disaster risk management and community based adaptation, there are several other approaches that can be used to enhance technical, financial, and social capacities to build community resilience to disasters and that can also contribute to reaching the objectives of climate-smart agriculture. This chapter looks at local disaster risk reduction practices and approaches that have generated evidence on the value that disaster risk reduction can add to broader climate-smart sustainable development. It proposes pathways for using good practices in disaster risk reduction to scale up climate-smart agriculture.

C5 - 4.1 Agriculture technologies and practices for disaster risk reduction with co-benefits for climate-smart agriculture

Reducing the vulnerability of people and the exposure and sensitivity of the systems to disaster risk and climate change are key element for increasing the resilience of livelihoods to threats and shocks. 

In many societies, strengthening resilience has been a natural, evolving process for coping with shocks and adjusting to changes that have an impact on livelihoods (Pandey et al., 2003). An example of this process is can be seen in the ways indigenous peoples worldwide have cultivated an enormous diversity of traditional crop varieties using a variety of effective traditional practices (IIED, 2011). Numerous case studies have documented the importance of indigenous knowledge to disaster risk reduction. For example, in many regions of the world, a diversity of indigenous rainwater harvesting and management practices has evolved over millennia to cope with climate variability, particularly drought. In South Asia, rainwater harvesting dates back over 8 000 years. In India alone, more than 1.5 million traditional village tanks, ponds and earthen embankments harvest rainwater in 660 000 villages across the country (Pandey et al., 2003; IUCN, 2008).

In the rangelands of the Horn of Africa, pastoralism, which emerged thousands of years ago and has evolved in response to weather uncertainty, is a resilient livelihood strategy for coping with the harsh environment of arid and semi-arid lands and optimizing the use of natural resources. It allows rural communities to manage risk and conserve their resources (WISP et al., 2007; HPG, 2009). (see also module B2 on climate-smart livestock).

Traditional or local practices that help mitigate the impacts of extreme events can be combined with a wide range of new science-based technologies and practices for reducing the vulnerability of farming systems and building their resilience. Modern techniques include diversifying crop production; adjusting cropping calendars; developing drought- or flood-tolerant crop varieties; breeding more resistant livestock and improving the bio-security of animal production systems; building hazard-proof grain storage facilities and livestock shelters; setting aside strategic fodder reserves; creating water reserves as a buffer against droughts; and implementing crop insurance schemes, (FAO, 2011b). Because of their value in strengthening the adaptive capacities to extreme events and supporting sustainable agricultural livelihoods many of these practices are important for climate-smart agriculture. Some of these practices, such as conservation agriculture can contribute to reaching all of climate-smart agriculture's objectives. Conservation agriculture is particularly suitable for areas that are exposed to difficult climatic conditions (e.g. increasing unpredictability of the onset of the rainy season) and use technologies that offer flexibility in the timing of field operations (see module B1 on climate-smart crop production systems). Conservation agriculture is also a way to manage agricultural ecosystems to improve and sustain productivity and food security and at the same time preserve and enhance the natural resource base (FAO, 2011a). 

Many technologies for disaster risk reduction are available to help farming communities prepare for climate variability and extreme weather events, and cope with their impacts. Climate change, however, also creates new hazards (e.g. rising sea levels, increased average temperatures and the expected spread of plant pests and diseases) that require additional measures that complement disaster risk reduction. This is one of the reasons, why local expertise should be combined with scientific knowledge, research and technological innovations. However, in some cases, practices based on traditional knowledge may be insufficient to cope with the full complexity of the impacts of climate change and carry a risk of evolving into maladaptation. The example in Box C5.5 on potatoes in the Andes illustrates how traditional risk reduction practices can be effectively combined with new adaptive technologies to address risks associated with the impacts of climate change.

Box C5.5 Building the resilience and adaptive capacity of potato farmers in the Andes

In some regions of the world, climate change is expected to increase plant diseases and pests that affect potato production. Late blight, the fungus responsible for the Irish potato famine in the 1800s, is expected to expand into previously unaffected areas. Increases in temperature will also put pressure on the potato’s wild relatives. By the year 2055, it is forecasted that 16 to 22 percent of all wild potato species will be threatened with extinction. This is an urgent problem given the importance of wild relatives as gene pools for breeding new varieties. Potatoes constitute the fourth most important food crop after rice, wheat and maize. 

A project by Association Andes supports Andean potato farmers through the protection of traditional knowledge and conservation efforts that prevent the disappearance of potato varieties from local fields. This ensures farmers have more options for dealing with the impact of climate change. 

Another potato breeding initiative in Bolivia is helping local farmers cope with the increasingly shorter rainy seasons and the resulting declines in yields. The project, implemented by the International Potato Center (IPC) and the Fundación para Promoción e Investigación de Productos Andinos breeds potato varieties that are better adapted to the short rainy season without any loss in yield. With local farmers, the project tests new varieties in the field under real conditions.

The IPC, together with local organizations, is evaluating the tolerance to water and temperature stress of the genetic resources of its potato collection and those of new varieties that are being bred. The IPC can draw on the world’s largest genetic reservoir of potato varieties. Its gene bank contains 5 000 distinct types of cultivated potatoes and more than 2 000 wild relatives of the potato belonging to around 140 wild species. The goal is to identify the desired key characteristics and genes that determine tolerance to abiotic stress. Climate change and other factors that increase pressure on ecosystems are threatening the existence of many wild relatives. The establishment and maintenance of gene banks is intended to curb the loss of this diversity in varieties. To date, the IPC has repatriated over 400 native potatoes varieties among communities across the Andes. 

Sources: Centre for Development and Environment, 2008; International Treaty on Plant Genetic Resources for Food and Agriculture, 2011

Despite a wealth of knowledge on good practices on disaster risk reduction, there is still a long way to go toward identifying specific contexts where suitable practices can be piloted before replicating them on a wider scale. Before any disaster risk reduction practices can be recommended for scaling up, evidence from the field must be obtained to determine the returns of investment. There is a crucial need to quantify the percentage of damage and losses that can be reduced by implementing a particular disaster risk reduction practice. Cost-benefits analyses are used to assess the net benefits of a given intervention. For disaster risk reduction initiatives, they take into account their agro-ecological suitability, socio-economic feasibility, the potential to increase resilience of livelihoods to disasters, and their environmental impacts. The net benefits of the new practice are compared with baseline data on the historic performance of the current practice and with the investments that were made to implement the new practice. Results obtained during the observed time are then extrapolated over a longer time period. The cost-benefits analysis is used to calculate the Benefit Cost Ratio, which indicates the dividend (measured in monetary terms) that is returned on the financial investment. FAO supports countries in identifying, testing, and scaling up good practices and technologies in disaster risk reduction, and promotes a consistent approach for monitoring and evaluating these technologies at the local level. The cost-benefits analysis process is intended to help identify, under normal conditions and hazardous conditions, the most cost-effective disaster risk reduction practices and provide guidance on the socio-economic potential for scaling them up, (Figure C5.6). The calculation is based on primary farm level data collected on agricultural seasonal basis. For the cost-benefits analysis, the data collected on farms includes the costs of inputs, labour, maintenance and capital, and the benefits in terms of the gross value of production.

Figure C5.6.  Analytical framework to measure the performance of disaster risk reduction good practices

Source: FAO, 2017

Preliminary results from studies conducted in Bolivia, Cambodia, the Lao People's Democratic Republic, the Philippines and Uganda indicate that, when hazards strike, the net economic benefits at the farm level that are gained from implementing good disaster risk reduction practices are 2.5 times higher than business-as-usual practices (FAO, 2017). Box C5.6 shows detailed results obtained from a specific disaster risk reduction technology tested in Uganda.

Box C5.6 Improved maize varieties in Uganda

As part of the Global Climate Change Alliance (GCCA) project on Agriculture Adaptation to Climate Change farmers in Uganda were introduced to improved maize varieties that were more tolerant to drought and diseases and were trained on a set of good practices to enhance the resilience of maize production to increasing dry spells in the central cattle corridor of Uganda. During the 2016 dry season (June to August), the performance of the improved maize varieties was monitored in 19 farms in the Kiboga, Mubende and Nakasongola districts. All the farms were affected by dry spells during the monitoring period. Rainfall was between 50 to 100 percent below normal in August, and land surface temperatures were 3 to 7 C° above average, which reduced water availability. Figure C5.7 shows that, in dry spell conditions, the average net benefits delivered by improved varieties over 11 years are more than double those of the local maize variety (Munandi). Local maize varieties had higher labour costs than improved varieties, probably due to the higher resistance of improved varieties to weeds, pests and diseases. The higher seed and fertilizer costs associated with the cultivation of improved maize were more than compensated by the increase in yields. The benefit-cost ratio of improved varieties is 2.9, as compared to 1.75 for the local variety.

Source: Adapted from FAO 2017.

Figure C5.7.  Preliminary Results: Cumulative Net Benefits and Benefit Cost Ratios of Good Practice

Added Benefits

Avoided losses


Added benefits under non-hazard conditions could not be analyzed since all farms were affected by dry spell.

In farms affected by dry spells, the average net benefit of the good practice is more than two times higher than the local practice. This is largely due to enhanced drought resilience of the improved maize varieties.

 The improved maize varieties mature faster than the local variety. Therefore, water use is lower under the good practice.

and Local Practice (US$ per acre per season) -2016 Dry Season (June to August)

 Source: FAO, 2017. 

Given the long history and wide range of potential disaster risk reduction practices, a cost-benefit validation that is based on sound evidence from the field can help select practices that have potential for scaling up. This involves validating practices that have been effective in a variety of landscapes and against different types of hazards. Once the evidence has been gathered and the practices validated, government investments for disaster risk reduction are essential for promoting the uptake of these practices on a larger scale. 

Where disaster risk reduction technologies have been proven to be effective locally, they can be taken up and promoted through both disaster risk reduction and climate-smart agriculture initiatives. A main obstacle to the widespread adoption of climate-smart that also reduce the risk of disasters is the fact that the most vulnerable and poor agricultural producers have very limited access to the required technologies and resources.

C5 - 4.2 Landscape and ecosystem perspectives to local disaster risk reduction and climate-smart agriculture actions

Effective disaster risk reduction depends in large part on sound environmental stewardship and natural resource management practices that can ensure the sustainable use of ecosystems. Deforestation, desertification the degradation of land, water and other natural resources, and marine and coastal environments reduce the capacity of vulnerable communities to defend themselves against climate-related hazards and aggravate the impact of disasters (FAO, 2011b). In turn, disasters can accelerate environmental degradation. On the island of Sumatra in Indonesia, the 2004 Asian Tsunami damaged approximately 20 percent of sea grass beds, 25 to 35 percent of wetlands, about 60 000 hectares of agricultural land, nearly 49 000 hectares of coastal forests, and 32 000 hectares of mangroves (UNEP, 2005; UNEP, 2007). Environmental degradation reduces the goods and services available to local communities, shrinks economic opportunities and livelihood options, and ultimately contributes to greater food insecurity and hunger (FAO, 2011b). 

Conversely, healthy and diverse ecosystems are more resilient to natural hazards. Forests and trees provide windbreaks, and play an important role in stabilizing riverbanks and reducing soil erosion, which help protect communities against landslides, avalanches and floods. Wetlands store water and provide a buffer against storms, mitigate flooding, protect shorelines and control erosion (FAO, 2011b).

When strengthening resilience of vulnerable agricultural communities, interventions must necessarily take into account how natural resources are managed within the entire agriculture landscape or broader ecosystem (see also module A3 on integrated landscape management). A landscape or ecosystem approach is of critical importance for disaster risk reduction and climate-smart agriculture.

Sustainable ecosystem management provides the unifying base for successful disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. It also maximizes opportunities for safeguarding or diversifying rural livelihoods and improving food and nutrition security (PEDRR and The Council of Europe, 2010). Box C5.7  presents an example from Uganda of an integrated watershed management approach that brings together a diverse range of stakeholders in the pursuit of win-win options for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation.

Box C5.7 Community-based integrated watershed management approach to disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation in Uganda

Uganda is prone to droughts, floods, windstorms and hailstorms, landslides and crop and livestock diseases. Water-related hazards account for over 90 percent of the natural disasters, destroying an average of 800 000 hectares of crops annually (UNDP et al., 2009). The impacts of these natural hazards are made worse by increasing environmental degradation. The most disaster-prone communities are located along the dry arid and semi-arid areas of the 'cattle corridor' that stretches across the country. FAO Uganda is promoting a community-based integrated watershed management approach, which integrates disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation strategies, to address socio-economic development, the restoration of the environment’s ecological integrity and institutional capacity development. It places communities at the centre of the process and empowers them to make qualified decisions. Building and strengthening watershed organizations and linking them with District Disaster Management Committee and Village Disaster Management Committees is crucial. Farmer field schools are used to increase the knowledge and skills of farmers and pastoralists. Farmers can then solve problems for themselves and undertake their own initiatives in disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation. Each district that participated prepared draft action plans on how to apply and replicate the approach in their local environment. As a result of the training, the local government of Moroto District has initiated an improved community-based watershed management programme in the Musopo watershed. The conceptual and operational framework of community-based integrated watershed management for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation is presented in Figure C5.8.

Source: FAO, 2013a.

Figure C5.8.  The conceptual and operational framework of community-based integrated watershed management for disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation

Source: FAO, 2013a.

As climate change affects rainfall patterns and increases surface temperatures, ecosystem services will become more vulnerable and fragile. The Paris Agreement and the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction have both recognized the importance of ecosystem-based approaches as critical elements for building resilience to change (see Chapter C5.5). Ecosystem-based approaches are also a fundamental pillar of climate-smart agriculture. Existing ecosystem-based disaster risk reduction measures can strengthen adaptation and mitigation efforts in the agriculture sectors and play a large role in making the transition to climate-smart agriculture. Initiatives that combine disaster risk reduction and climate change adaptation objectives are beginning to emerge. For instance, agronomic practices with multiple benefits such as conservation agriculture and the System of Rice Intensification have been promoted to support disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation and resilience. These crop production practices are describe in module B1.

C5 - 4.3 Financial risk management tools for agriculture

Risk Insurance schemes can buffer the costs of the impacts of disasters and climate change, including losses of agricultural assets. Insurance provides a risk transfer mechanism in which users pre-invest in risk reduction by ensuring repayment and timely recapitalization when affected by disasters. The Munich Climate Insurance Initiative and the Secretary General’s Climate resilience initiative (A2R) are examples of global efforts to scale up support for increasing insurance coverage for risks associated with disaster and climate change. Many legal requirements, tools, and services to develop insurance products are based on existing disaster risk reduction techniques and practices, such methods for damage and loss assessments, disaster risk reduction agriculture practices, early warning systems tailored to end-users in the agriculture sectors, or standards for the reconstruction of irrigation systems. These are services that are in the mandates of various stakeholders in agriculture line ministries and other partners. The Palestinian Agricultural Disaster Risk Reduction and Insurance Fund (PADRRIF) (Box C5.8) is one example of an initiative to foster the holistic application of disaster risk reduction services in agriculture coupled with risk insurance and compensation schemes.

Box C5.8  Palestinian Agricultural Disaster Risk Reduction and Insurance Fund

Established by the Palestinian National Authority, the Palestinian Agricultural Disaster Risk Reduction and Insurance Fund (PADRRIF) is a non-profit semi-government organization that ensures prompt and efficient delivery of insurance and risk management services to Palestinian farmers. PADRRIF provides an umbrella that brings together stakeholders, tools, services and information on agricultural risk management, disaster risk reduction and insurance. It translates the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction priorities for action into the agriculture sectors. Its  activities include data collection and the management of agricultural risks to reduce damages and losses. It fosters cooperation and coordination with all partners to raise awareness about agricultural risk prevention, encouraging public and private investments to improve farmers' capacities to confront agricultural risks. It also develops mechanisms for transferring agricultural risks and a compensation system based on an agricultural insurances scheme. 

The fund also develops mechanisms of transferring agricultural risks by establishing a system of compensations and agricultural insurances. The synergies between climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction as well as the role of PADRIFF have been recognized in the National Adaptation Plan to Climate Change. (Environment Quality Authority, 2016)

Source: PADRRIF 2016

Agriculture risk insurance schemes require an analysis of production levels, the damage and losses caused by disasters over the past decades and current risk factors. They must also take into account the possible future impacts of climate change on insurable assets. Several successful agriculture insurance schemes have been put in place around the world, especially for medium and large-scale production systems. The design of index-based insurance for the agriculture sector have had to overcome some difficult challenges, such establishing processes to accurately verify damages to trigger bonus payments. Yet, for remote communities in many developing countries, the obstacles that need to be overcome to achieve a sufficient return on investment from agricultural risk insurance schemes and deliver them on a large scale have made it difficult to raise awareness of smallholder agriculture producers about the potential benefits of risk insurance schemes and provide them with access to these types of schemes. Designing and improving risk insurance products for smallholder producers will require the combined efforts of different groups of stakeholders working in the fields of disaster risk reduction, climate change adaptation, sustainable development and humanitarian assistance, but it will especially demand public-private partnerships. The multiple components of climate-smart agriculture, which link climate change adaptation and sustainable intensification of production, have the potential to complement and support disaster risk reduction and support climate change programmes and strategic partnerships that can establish risk transfer mechanisms for the agriculture sectors.