In the following post, Richard Choularton (Tetra Tech) provides a critically important lens into the immediate and real challenges climate change is placing on farming communities worldwide. In addition to defining some of the most pressing issues, such as changing agronomic conditions that shift what is possible to be grown in specific locations, the author also highlights that many farming communities are living and working in wider social and market systems that do not have the capacity to effectively adapt. Even in the country cases the author cites as being effective at adapting, not all the communities in those countries have similar access the knowledge, financing, market connections, etc., needed to adapt to the changing conditions in their fields. It is also important to add that while the author does a good job of outlining how farming communities will have to change in regard to near-term challenges, the level of inclusiveness and the ability to reduce the pace of climate change will determine if any near-term change in what is being farmed will have lasting value.
Agricultural market systems are transforming because of climate change. In India, apples are moving upslope and pomegranates are being grown instead. In Central America, coffee is moving up and out and being replaced by cacao and citrus. In Bangladesh, farmers have switched from rice to aquaculture. Farmers and agribusiness have made these adaptations on their own as their principal traditional crops become less viable due to precipitation and temperature changes, shifts in pest and disease prevalence, and changes in water availability.
Although each transformation is unique, they occur in places where there are adequate market systems and institutional capacity to enable them to adapt. These examples offer critical insights into what farmers, communities, the private sector, and governments need to do to make agriculture and food systems climate-resilient. They also stand in contrast to the places where this capacity is lacking and where the failure of agricultural and food systems can have more significant consequences: food crises, out migration, and violent conflict.
Over the last three years, I have worked with colleagues at the World Resources Institute to look at how policymakers can accelerate transformative climate change adaptation approaches in agriculture. As climate change accelerates, the viability of crop and livestock production systems in some areas will diminish. To build climate resilience, new crops will have to be introduced, production moved to more suitable areas, and production systems changed fundamentally. These changes are challenging, especially for the most vulnerable populations.
In case studies from India, Ethiopia, Bangladesh, and Costa Rica, we found several common elements:
In other words, each of these places had adequate adaptation capacity within the market system to respond to the challenges climate change posed to their agricultural systems. However, there are also many places where the most vulnerable households face severe adaptation deficits and do not have adequate capacities to manage and thrive given the current climate risks. We found that adaptation deficits are systemic and institutional. For example, without the research capacity to identify what alternative crops will thrive in a changed climate, the extension capacity to support farmers to switch crops, the value chain finance to support the switch, and the marketing capacity to store, transport and sell new crops, transformative adaptation isn’t possible.
Inclusive market systems approaches offer a critical tool for overcoming systemic and institutional adaptation deficits. Better integrating climate change impact and options analysis into the market systems development process is a start. Better analysis can help market actors and policymakers envision a more climate-resilient, inclusive, and sustainable market. Better analysis can also inform real investments in the capacities needed in the public and private sector to support locally driven, market-based adaptation pathways that promote inclusion and equity.
Policymakers, researchers, and funders can take steps to accelerate transformative adaptation action. In June 2021, the World Resources Institute published their solutions in a research article titled: Food Systems at Risk: Why Transformative Adaptation is Needed for Long-Term Food Security. The article provides specific recommendations on actions stakeholders can take to make our food system climate resilient. Some of the most important recommendations include: the need to support the development of policy and planning tools that allow governments, businesses, and communities to better integrate transformative adaptation pathways into their policies and plans, supporting inclusion, equity and sustainability.
For more information:
Food Systems at Risk: Why Transformative Adaptation is Needed for Long-Term Food Security (Online Event: June 23, 2021: 9:00-10:30am EDT)
Food Systems at Risk: Transformative Adaptation for Long-Term Food Security (Report)
The MSDHub Blog Series is authored by respected implementers and donors of market systems projects globally.