Simple steps to climate-proof farms have big potential upside for tropical farmers

From Eurekalert

Public Release: 6-Dec-2018

Climate-smart agriculture boosts yields, mitigates extreme weather impact and reduces greenhouse gas emissions. A study in Central America, Africa and Asia points to profitable opportunities for farmers and the environment

International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Drought and salinity-resistant rice at an International Center for Tropical Agriculture research site in Vietnam. Credit Internaional Center for Tropical Agriculture / Georgina Smith

Cacao farmers in Nicaragua lose their crop, the main ingredient for chocolate, to fungal blight and degrading soils. Yields drop in Vietnam’s rice paddies because of higher temperatures and increased salinity. Bean and maize growers in Uganda see their plants die during severe dry spells during what should be the rainy season. The two-punch combination of climate change and poor agricultural land management can be countered with simple measures that keep farms productive and profitable. Implementation of these climate-smart agriculture (CSA) practices can increase yields, benefit the environment and increase farmer income, according to a new cost-benefit analysis by the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) published November 19 in PLOS ONE.

The study examines 10 major climate-related issues facing farmers in Africa, Asia and Latin America and proposes site-specific CSA remedies. These include rotating rice fields with peanuts in Vietnam, manual blight control for cacao in Nicaragua, and planting drought-tolerant varieties of beans and maize alongside each other in Uganda.

Where additional investment is required, initial rates of return on investment range from 17 percent to 590 percent. Startup costs can be recovered in one to eight years, depending on the management practice. In all cases, yields increase.

“The potential for these strategies is immense and actionable immediately, if targeted to the right farmers and accompanied by appropriate resources,” said Peter Laderach, CIAT’s Global Climate Change and co-author of the study. “Now, the challenge lies in overcoming the obstacles to implementing their adoption.”

Many CSA practices that improve production, buffer fields against climate change and improve nutrient-poor soils require little additional investment. Sometimes these cost less than business-as-usual farming, which relies on single-crop plantations and chemical fertilizers. But adoption at the most of the research sites in is minimal. Obstacles include resistance to changing habitual farming techniques, labor constraints and lack of access to credit.

“Engaging multiple stakeholders, including the private sector, is crucial in ensuring the widespread and sustained implementation of climate-resilient strategies,” said Margarita Astralaga, the Director of the Environment, Climate, Gender and Social Inclusion Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which provided funding for the research.

Le Lan, a researcher at the University of Western Australia and the study’s lead author, said successful CSA interventions by governments and development agencies need to seek “the greatest aggregated benefit to the community” and not just potential gain for individual farmers. “In addition, if the area suffers from extreme climate events, targeted assistance must consider the socioeconomic and cultural realities of farmer groups if the practices are to be widely adopted.”

Room to grow

Lan and colleagues conducted household surveys in Nicaragua, Vietnam and Uganda, tabulated levels of CSA adoption, created a cost-benefit analysis for widespread CSA implementation and projected potential adoption levels at each site.

At the Vietnam study site, the most widely adopted CSA techniques observed was crop rotation between rice and peanuts. This increased profits for farmers and reduced their overall greenhouse gas emissions. Almost one third of farmers had adopted this technique. Ten percent or fewer had implemented organic fertilization, improved rice varieties that withstand drought and salinity, and shrimp farming.

The researchers estimate the adoption potential of five CSA techniques at the Vietnam site range from 23 to 89 percent. Initial investments can be recouped in a maximum of five years, while organic fertilization and peanut rotation are immediately profitable due reduced costs for chemical fertilization and rice planting. In contrast, the research sites in Nicaragua and Uganda showed zero uptake of the study’s CSA strategies.

Nicaraguan cacao farmers can implement manual control of moniliasis – better known as frosty pod rot disease – to recover up to 80 percent of their losses to the pathogen. Organic fertilization and planting banana trees to shade sun-exposed cacao trees can help increase yield at little expense. The researchers estimate a 50 percent adoption rate of these strategies is possible. Estimated rates of return for these practices varies from 17 percent for organic fertilization of cacao over eight years to 590 percent for banana-tree shading over one year.

Northern Uganda’s drought-threatened farmers can benefit from intercropping hardier breeds of beans and maize that mature faster, tolerate drought and have higher yields. Together with implementing water-harvesting techniques for irrigation during dry spells and retaining soil moisture, these varieties – which are already in use in other areas not included in the study site – have the potential to be adopted by 90 percent of farmers. Estimated rates of return are 25 percent over six year and 85 percent over three years for the Uganda site.

“Scaling CSA is at the heart of CIAT and CGIAR strategies,” said Godefroy Grosjean, a co-author and leader of CIAT Asia Climate Policy Hub. “With key partners such as IFAD the World Bank, we are developing CSA Investment Plans for countries including Bangladesh and Mali. Our work also focuses on conceptualizing solutions to unlock investment in the agriculture sector. This year, we launched a new initiative on Agricultural Risks Management that will explore innovative financial products for CSA tailored to farmers’ needs. The research from this paper will be extremely useful to that purpose.”


The study was funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) in partnership with the CGIAR’s Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) research program as part of IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Program (ASAP).

The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) is a CGIAR research center. CIAT develops technologies, innovative methods and knowledge that enable farmers, especially smallholders, to make agriculture more competitive, profitable, sustainable and resilient. Headquartered in Cali, Colombia, CIAT conducts research for development in tropical regions of Latin America, Africa, and Asia.

CGIAR is a global research partnership for a food-secure future. Its science is carried out by 15 research centers in collaboration with hundreds of partners across the globe.


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December 11, 2018 6:05 pm

Because droughts and diseases never happened BCC (Before Climate Change).

Warren in New Zealand
December 11, 2018 6:14 pm

At least they are proposing adaption and methods instead of the usual doom, gloom and pestilence that is all too common. If you take the obligatory “Climate Change” out of the screed, it makes sense.

Reply to  Warren in New Zealand
December 11, 2018 9:15 pm

Adaptation by introducing such newly conceived ideas such as ‘crop rotation’. /sarc

Reply to  Rocketscientist
December 12, 2018 1:16 am

Indeed. I remember studying the medieval improvement from biennial rotation to triennial rotation when I was 11 yo. People isn’t studying history anymore, apparently.

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
Reply to  Rocketscientist
December 12, 2018 1:21 am

Crop rotation is not a new technique. In fact two decades back I wrote articles on the importance of crop rotation, particularly crops grown under chemical inputs technology that degrade the soils if same crop under same inputs are grown. In fact In my state tobacco buyers insists crop rotation. If any farmer violates, they won’t buy that. I was advocating the same with GM cotton [the area increased non-linearly under GM cotton]. As there is no policy on crop rotation, cotton farmers, mostly tenant farmers, crop the same piece of land year after year with cotton. In the case of paddy and wheat, they government insists that farmers must grow pulses or green manure crops.

Also, majority of the papers published in the filed of agriculture, climate change is used as an adjective. Some use temperature in their study, though it is not new.

Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy

Curious George
Reply to  Dr. S. Jeevananda Reddy
December 12, 2018 8:32 am

As a Climate Smart Architecture, the crop rotation is absolutely new. Climate Smart people are a new crop, slowly discovering that there is something called the past.

Reply to  Warren in New Zealand
December 12, 2018 1:24 am

Warren in New Zealand

The problem is the term ‘profit’ is used in a positive sense relative to agriculture. The greens wont like that at all.

December 11, 2018 6:24 pm

Just spent an hour cutting my tropical lawn – 5 inches growth in one week. Anyone who thinks plants have trouble growing in tropical conditions needs their head examined.

Warren in New Zealand
Reply to  Eric Worrall
December 11, 2018 8:22 pm

I know that feeling over in here Golden Bay Eric. 3 times this week already

Reply to  Warren in New Zealand
December 12, 2018 3:03 am


We moved into our house in Dartford, Kent in 1991. We cut the grass once a week, probably less. We didn’t bother trimming shrubs as they never needed it. Our Yew tree was around 6′ tall and about the girth of a man.

We now cut the grass at least twice a week in the summer and the Yew tree is 12′ tall, around 20′ in diameter and needs more than just trimming three of four times a season.

Most of the growth seems to have occurred over the last ten years or so. Subjective I know, but it’s happening.

December 11, 2018 6:28 pm

… successful CSA interventions by governments and development agencies …

Scaling CSA is at the heart of CIAT and CGIAR strategies, ….

Life is too short, I can’t read anymore of this.

Tom Bri
December 11, 2018 6:38 pm

Buzzword creation. Climate-smart agriculture? What do any of these techniques have to do with climate? Nothing but add a buzz-word.

…Margarita Astralaga, the Director of the Environment, Climate, Gender and Social Inclusion Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which provided funding for the research…

How many pop buzz-words can you count?

D. J. Hawkins
Reply to  Tom Bri
December 11, 2018 6:41 pm

I had to re-read the article to convince myself you didn’t make that up. Oi!

Reply to  Tom Bri
December 11, 2018 7:46 pm

Do plants really care which gender the farmer self identifies as?

Reply to  Tom Bri
December 11, 2018 8:20 pm

Its all in the form of communication.

For example, most people here see or hear words that have definition and meaning, when arranged in a certain order will provide context and convey facts, poetry, reasoning or emotions. From this ordering of words we can communicate ideas that can be built upon to bring about greater ideas.

To others, sounds or words are triggers for emotion – mostly rage.
In this case, it is to prepare the hypnotic word so when used later will conjure up the appropriate feelings when coming from the next manipulator.

So lets diagram this phrase in this form of communication:

“Climate” – you are supposed to be serious, because Climate is serious.
“Smart” – I’m smart, smart is good, I’m good therefore whatever comes next must be smart and good.
“Agriculture” – Could have made the sound “farm” or “crops” but by using a multisyllabic word such as “Agriculture” then it must be sciency. I better get on board this because I like science because science confirms my feelings.

So now whoever is making some sort of non-sense plea just needs to make sure the NPC hears the sounds “Climate Smart Agriculture” and the proper emotions will be triggered and associated with whatever agenda the manipulator is pushing.

Tom Bri
December 11, 2018 6:54 pm

IFAD, nice gig if you can get it…typical UN op.

Form Wikipedia:
IFAD came under fire in 2010 when the expenses for Nigerian agricultural entomologist Kanayo Nwanze, who had previously deemed UN staff that cared about high salaries and benefits “mercenaries”, [8] was paying himself nearly $300,000 per year in a housing allowance and discretionary expenses, in addition to the $194,329 salary he receives[9]. The controversy was so great Italy threatened to pull their funding even though they are headquartered in Rome. [10] The Australian government had already withdrawn from funding in 2007 due to similar concerns. [11]

In response to the controversy, when Nwanze was re-appointed in 2013 his compensation was capped at what he was already receiving. [12

Reply to  Tom Bri
December 11, 2018 8:47 pm

Look at the large number attending COP24 from developing countries

Guinea 406
Democratic Republic of the Congo 237
Côte d’Ivoire 208
Sudan 172
Senegal 171
Congo 164

These countries have a reputation for endemic corruption and human rights abuse.
I doubt they are paying for all their own people.
Their main interest is the likely free handouts for climate change.
I wonder who is actually paying the bill.

Alan Tomalty
Reply to  Jeff
December 11, 2018 9:32 pm

I wonder what Canada’s total contribution to the World Bank, International Aid agencies, IMF, the U.N. …..etc has been since 1945. i hate to think what the total has been. 2nd question is: What is the total bureaucratic cost of all of these agencies per year?

December 11, 2018 7:42 pm

It is a more sensible approach than most, what they suggest would presumably be useful even without ‘climate change’. And AGW does provide plenty of organic fertiliser!

December 11, 2018 7:45 pm

Isn’t it amazing how lab rats always know more about how to run a farm than do actual farmers.

December 11, 2018 8:02 pm

Climate smart agriculture sounds exactly the same as smart agriculture. The miracle of CAGW is that you can add the magic word “climate” and claim credit for techniques that are sometimes so ancient that their origins are lost. Or sometimes you can assume credit for work that was published last year. I have to add a new utility for CAGW. I thought it was primarily a scapegoat for bad management. Now I see that it is a back door to introduce the management that should have been there all along. CSA means that city dikes should be up to standard, forest fuels should be controlled, lodgepole pine shouldn’t be grown in vast continguous swaths of mature trees, crops shouldn’t be grown where water supplies are unreliable, dams can make water supply more reliable… CSA is everything sensible.

Reply to  BCBILL
December 12, 2018 9:06 am

“The two-punch combination of climate change and poor agricultural land management”

For farmers call it, “The two-punch combination of weather and poor agricultural land management.”

Gary Pearse
December 11, 2018 8:15 pm

The climateering story is just a bit too flexible. They invoke polar amplification anomalies of 3 times the global change precisely because tropical temperatures do not change. But when they want to just push the CAGW meme, they give us malarkey on the poor tropical folk suffering more with climate change than rich westerners. Without knowing anything else, studying this sort of thing is proof positive that it is a scam.

December 11, 2018 9:48 pm

I spent 3 years in Iraq working with farmers on improving agriculture production as a soldier. The number one impediment was government followed by lack of education. Many of the agricultural management people in government had been educated in foreign agricultural colleges with many PHDs. No one seemed to be able to relate the experiences of Iowa farmers to Iraq. Crops were planted the same time every year with the same results. Genetics were not considered. I gave a farmer 3 seed packs of Okra to plant. He made more money from that Okra then he did on an acre of tomatoes. The plants matured earlier, were tender and more flavorful than the seed they have been planting for many decades. I gave him some sweet watermelon seed and he never had to take the melons to market. Buyers cam to his farm. He can not buy that seed from his government. I can not send any to him anymore. The variety he is forced to plant are what the US planted in the 1950s. The results of government (socialism) is that a country who once exported farm products now import 95% of their food. If it wasn’t for oil, they would starve. Climate change is the least of their worries.

John F. Hultquist
Reply to  Randy
December 11, 2018 10:53 pm

The number one impediment was government …

Thanks Randy.

December 11, 2018 11:05 pm

As one of the readers said its the old way plus he word Climate tagged on. I recall being taught in school in 1941 that the farmers of the 1700 were using the practice of leaving one field fallow per year , then along came the potato and they soon realised that planting it restored the Nitrogen to the soil.
This resulted in far greater production, but of course it also resulted in a big increase in population.

Two things are need to solve the problems of the likes of Africa, education, perhaps by a school of the air, the old fashioned way for poor farmers, by using a radio. Second, as hard as it is for the people of the “Bible belt , we must send not money but condom , or we get the Rev. Mathas again.

The alternative is of course War and starvation, but the Media will then arrive with cameras to film a wide eyed little girl, and we of the West do not like to see that sort of thing as we eat our Breakfast.

But in a few short years that little girl will be producing children, it will never end.


Reply to  Michael
December 12, 2018 2:08 am

Nope. Potatoes don’t fix nitrogen. Legumes do.

By the way crop rotation is essential when growing potatoes, they quickly exhaust nutrients and there is a quick buildup of parasites. At least in Sweden if you grow potatoes for too long in a field it may become unsuitable for potatoes for several years.

Reply to  Michael
December 12, 2018 7:34 am

There is no evidence that sending condoms or teaching about birth control has ever influenced reproduction rates. Most of those who push such solutions seem to be more interested in offending Christians than they are in actually helping people.
If you want to lower reproduction rates, increase wealth. That is the only thing that has ever worked.

December 12, 2018 1:07 am

In the middle of the Little Ice Age in the 18th century farmers were able to increase output of food to supply the new industrial population by developing the Norfolk four course rotation. This dispensed with the need for 30% of the land lying fallow by growing legumes to fix nitrogen, turnips to provide winter feed for livestock who provided manure to fertiliser the soil, wheat for bread and barley for beer!
The more progressive farmers held open days where their neighbours by hours could come and see the results.
Also improvements in agricultural machinery and livestock breeding were taking place, but took longer to spread owing to the expense.
Agricultural Societies were formed to spread the new farming techniques and helped spread the word among the farming community.
There is nothing here that couldn’t be done on a world wide scale, except where the dead hand of incompetent government is present where the elite look down on farmers as inferior beings.
In the UK an example was set by the larger landowners who took pride in the quality of their crops and livestock.
I.e. nothing that couldn’t be done by a change in attitude and governance in third world countries and decent agricultural extension services and education.

December 12, 2018 2:04 am

Planting bananas to shade cocoa is supposed to be something new? Small-time growers around the Caribbean have been doing it since time immemorial.

And crop rotation is as old as agriculture.

Peta of Newark
December 12, 2018 3:33 am

Cacao farmers in Nicaragua lose their crop, the main ingredient for chocolate, to fungal blight and degrading soils

Apart from the negligible consideration that chocolate is a stress & anxiety reducing drug (where did the stress & anxiety come from I wonder) it is also a delivery system for sugar (lethargy, obesity, diabetes and ultimately dementia) and vegetable oil (blocked arteries and cancer)
The fungal blight and degraded soils are simply from growing The Same Stuff over and over and over again on the same patch of dirt. Sorry. Cannot hang that one on ‘Climate’
In any case, the problem is solving itself:

Yields drop in Vietnam’s rice paddies because of higher temperatures and increased salinity.

Temps have gone up, if at all apart from Magical Thinking and Data Adjustment, because there is less water in the wider environment. Seem crazy don’t it, Paddy Field is too dry but the water in the Paddy Field is exactly there for the same reason other farmers own ploughs and tractors.
Comes from Climate Change?
Pull the other one……
Salinity comes from over-use of irrigation schemes. Period.
Its what happened to those ‘poor’ people we heard about recently where an ‘Airburst Meteor’ 3,700 years removed all their soil and left salt behind. Mental derangement at its worst – The Last Thing an airburst will do is remove the dirt. Groundburst – yes. Airburst – no.
Were those people The Minoans. Did they create their own Warm Period just like The Romans did.
Did the Minoans trash the Fertile Crescent and Garden of Eden and thus create the ‘warm’ desert we see there now?

Bean and maize growers in Uganda see their plants die during severe dry spells during what should be the rainy season.

Try visiting the corn-growing part of the US. Learn about Corn Sweat.
Because corn, being a fairly tall plant, starts to behave like a rainforest and can pump huuuuuge amounts of water vapour into the air.
Given enough water resource within the soil (organic material with its huge affinity for water), the corn will look after itself and create its own clouds and possibly even rain.

BUT, it needs the soil-based water reservoir so if your corn is failing, you are effectively saying your dirt has ‘failed’ i.e. it is deficient in organic matter.
Places deficient in soil organic matter are typically referred to as ‘deserts’
Makes perfect sense coz that’s exactly what they are.

smart agriculture (CSA) practices

Do be careful bandying around the word ‘smart’ Presumably it is YOU, the farm adviser who is ‘smart’ and the folks on the ground are ‘not smart’ i.e. Dumb & stupid
Well, that really is a great way to make friends and influence people – introduce yourself by telling them they are dumb and you have the monopoly on cleverness and intelligence.
Let me guess, you’re really rich and long-lived also?

Exactly the same with Smart Anything and especially Smart Motorways here in the UK. Basically our very own Government is telling every single car and truck driver that they are ‘stupid’
Strange why they need Hi-resolution telephoto cameras to witness this ‘stupidity.
(Non-stupid people use the same cameras to shoot videos of clouds – in the name of ‘science’ of course.
Thanks Mrs May, Tony Blair etc etc. Thanks a bunch

can increase yields,

There is a guy name-of Stanley Jevons just waiting to kick your feet out from under you on that point

and increase farmer income

Somebody really has Lost The Plot

Curious George
Reply to  Peta of Newark
December 12, 2018 8:52 am

I agree with most of your comment, but .. Theobroma cacao is a tree. We don’t have enough experience in rotating forests. [Wikipedia] “Cacao trees grow well as understory plants in humid forest ecosystems.” I wonder if Comrade Ortega grows it that traditional way. Revolutionaries usually despise traditions.

December 12, 2018 6:21 am

‘“Engaging multiple stakeholders, including the private sector, is crucial in ensuring the widespread and sustained implementation of climate-resilient strategies,” said Margarita Astralaga, the Director of the Environment, Climate, Gender and Social Inclusion Division at the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), which provided funding for the research.’

The farmer will be shocked to find that there are other stakeholders in his farm.

Can gender inclusive cacao and social inclusive rice be produced without GMA?

As OK S. says, this report is just a justification for government to take over farms.

Which begs a question: Will geoengineering or government takeover of farms kill the most people?

December 12, 2018 9:46 am

Drought tolerant crops, crop rotation & manual blight control are not novel “climate-proof” tactics. Agronomists have been working to develop & popularize relevant sensible strategies before weather became classified as climate.

In my farming region’s hill country cacao is grown. The O.P. suggested manual blight control is used to some extent, but the issue there is labor more than motivation. Which is to say, the small landholders are educating their children more now & so traditional family labor pool is no longer as available for chores. Since most of this cacao terrain is at some distance from the main road bringing in day laborers is a financial burden & thus growers are not always doing what the
regional agricultural office advises.

And in my farming region the practise of crop rotation is understood, but not widely practised by small landholders. The O.P. suggested peanuts crop intromission & these were once widely grown here. At that time the agricultural department made available good seeds, related materials & facilitated crop marketing. When the government stopped that program local growers found it more economically practical to just buy a bit of fertilizer & take out loans to buy insecticides for simpler crops, or use the land for grazing.

Drought & salinity tolerant plants are showing interesting promise of course. Still, in my semi-arid region the small landholders are pretty satisfied with yucca & pigeon peas in the ground for their extended family; a gunny sack of yucca can cheaply be sent by bus to a city relative hosting the farmer’s child attending school. Of course a more valuable market crop with drought tolerance could be grown; the issue there is how practical marketing that produce is relative to farmer’s outlay (& labor).

In a developing country what is important to rural farming is a Packing House; these are best with some degree of temperature control. Collection, delivery to the Packing House & shipment to market are involved; these are accomplished best with motorized vehicles. A bit of fossil fuel makes that whole set up easier to make profitable.

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