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Planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation to climate change

Introduction and study objectives

The study sought to inform climate policy by analysing agricultural adaptation in developing countries. Country case studies in Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania, following a common methodology, provide fresh evidence of the possible costs of agricultural adaptation to climate change. A global review of the literature on agricultural impacts of climate change, adaptation strategies and measures and economic valuation informs a perspective based on understanding adaptation pathways in developing countries. This generalized framework places climate change adaptation at the heart of development planning.

Each case study focuses on a different agricultural system, documents local adaptation pathways (called signatures in the general framework), and evaluates possible costs.

The roles of stakeholders at different levels, from local to national, provides a picture on the different entry points for adaptation investments and deployment of adaptation funds. Project teams learned from workshops with national stakeholders and experts who reviewed emerging findings. A synthesis workshop with all of the national teams developed key messages and lessons learned from using the analytical approach.

Study approach: a new way of framing agricultural adaptation for costing and planning

The study proposes an alternative approach for framing and costing developing country agricultural adaptation that goes beyond just providing a global adaptation price tag using aggregation methods. Rather, a stakeholder-driven approach was taken in order to breakdown the investment levels needed across different scales of decisionmaking. The study frames adaptation as a function of the inputs of actors at national, district and local levels, thus suggesting various levels of resources needed for deploying agricultural adaptation within a country. Agricultural systems were distinguished as cropping versus livestock systems, subsistence versus cash systems, and single crop versus integrated cropping systems.

Given the heterogeneous nature of agricultural system between and across case countries, adaptation prescriptions cannot easily be generalized or scaled up. Further, the impact of climate change on each system, development pathway and adaptation targets and players are different, therefore their costs are different. As a result, adaptation is not treated as a specific state to be obtained in isolation, but a learning process in which activities in one period build on activities and experience from previous periods specific to country contexts. Study teams employed diverse methods including surveys, focus group discussions, expert judgment and budget analyses to decipher investment needs across country specific scales and actors. The specific actor-investment relationships differ by agricultural system and by country, thus the evidence can only provide adaptation pathways (or signatures) of such linkages, rather than generally applicable prescriptions for all countries. Neither can signatures be aggregated to global levels without overstating or understating the costs of adaptation.

Characterization of the agricultural systems used in case study research


System Description

Primary Goal

Defining Feature

Associated functions and enterprises


Pastoral livestock systems

Store of wealth

Extensive livestock management based on mobility and minimum external input use

Maize, lablab (type of bean), cowpeas, sorghum, millet


Integrated maize-based farming systems in the mid hills

Food sufficiency

Integrated farming with mixed cropping

Maize, rice, wheat, legumes, millet, livestock, vegetables, fruit trees


Subsistence rain-fed food production

Food security

smallholder maize production

Tobacco (for cash), cassava, sweet potato, beans and some livestock


Small-holder cash-cropping


Tree crops dominated by coffee

Banana, Irish potato, maize, beans, livestock/cattle


Deltaic, flood-prone cropping systems

Food and livelihood security

Saline-prone rice production in lowland at small and medium scales

Fisheries and aquaculture, livestock, vegetables, pulses, potatoes, maize, wheat.

Main case study findings: Key adaptation actions and costs

The adaptation responses in the case studies are not single actions, but packages of coordinated responses by actors at local level (farmers), district level and national level, referred to as “signatures” in this study because they depict a possible or representative way in which adaptation could be planned and delivered in a specific area. This could change in a different agricultural system in the same country or same agricultural system in another location.

The adaptation signatures developed by country case studies grouped adaptation actions into three levels, without implying these need to be implemented separately, but to reflect the different levels of decision making by different actors. A signature would typically consist of coping strategies or survival options, improvements in agricultural efficiency in one group. The other group consists of coping with climate variability while the third group of actions deal with the impacts of climate change. National level actions include research, institutional and policy development for climate change, early warning systems, coordination of actors, and training of experts. District level actions, undertaken mostly by local authorities, government line ministries based at district levels and NGOs include extension services, local capacity building, land use planning, and provision of infrastructure. Local level actions include the actions of households and businesses to implement specific actions with the support of district actors, NGOs and on their own. These include crop and animal husbandry, livelihood diversification, and migrating to other areas (temporarily or permanently).

The total cost of each signature, integrating relevant actions at different levels are:



Annual cost now

(million US$)

Annual cost to 2020

(million US$)

Assumptions /scale





Entire country for the livestock sector




Entire country for the livestock sector




Entire country for the livestock sector





Two villages with a total of 600 households




Coordination across 40 villages




Coordination and facilitation (exclude major institutional adjustment, capacity building, national extension services)




Five-year budget rather than annual costs






National agriculture



Costs of national coordination of specific agronomic, institutional change and marketing activities




Turn-around programme for coffee sector, farm to national, including marketing





Assumes all activities at national and local levels are coordinated by designated government departments







When assigned to the different actors implementing the adaptation interventions, the signatures form the basis for national planners, donors and others to integrate them in their development and sectoral plans as well as implementing institutional changes reflecting actions and players at different levels. For example, in most case study countries, awareness budgets are best allocated to government departments and NGOs with presence at the local and district levels instead of creating new structures in players who are only based at the national level. The global policy environment should then derive its policy options from these realities.

IIED Project Press Release

Summary of country findings: Scale of adaptation actions, and costs, across actors in Bangladesh, Malawi, Nepal, Rwanda, and Tanzania

Study findings for each country case study and specific agricultural system analyzed are summarised in the below links. Each summary gives:

  • A background to the climate and development related challenges faced by the respective system assessed in the respective country;
  • Current coping mechanisms and adaptive actions;
  • Recommended future adaptation investment areas, and their estimated costs (costing methods differed by country)
  • Present and future institutional arrangements to be considered based on respective country study findings.

It is important to note that country teams implemented a number of research and costing methodologies to carry out the studies within the overall framework of adaptation pathways described above.

Planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation in Bangladesh

Planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation in Malawi

Planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation in Nepal

Planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation in Rwanda

Planning and costing agriculture’s adaptation in Tanzania

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