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Climate impacts on agriculture and tourism: The case for climate resilient investment in the Caribbean

An analysis of 10 years of climate change research in the Caribbean found that sectors that are vital to regional economic development are vulnerable to climate change and its impacts.
Multiple Authors
Climate Change in the Caribbean, the case for action


For the Caribbean, climate change is not tomorrow’s problem. The threats it poses are neither distant nor abstract – they are already apparent. In recent years, hurricanes have caused major damage in countries such as Jamaica, Grenada and Cuba; severe flooding has hit Belize and Guyana; and droughts affect much of the east of the region. The small island state of Saint Lucia alone has faced 27 natural disasters between 1980 and 2008, with total economic damage reaching an estimated US$2.5 billion. The need for investment to build climate resilience in the Caribbean has never been greater.

Focusing on the agriculture and tourism sectors, this document identifies some of the most pressing issues and climate vulnerabilities facing Caribbean states. It makes the case that climate resilience investment by governments, businesses and development partners is urgently needed to sustain economic and social development, and points to some possible approaches to adaptation and resilience building.

It also provides resources for policy makers – a directory of the useful reports and tools on which this publication is based (see table on pages 6-9). This may be used as a toolkit for decision-makers to build a clearer picture of some of the potential impacts of climate change for key sectors in the Caribbean, identify adaptation options, prioritise them, and integrate them into existing decision-making processes.

*Download the full text from the right-hand column. The key messages from the brief and details of proposed adaptation options are provided below (please note that footnoes have been removed). See the full text for additional detail on climate change impacts and climate vulnerability in the Caribbean islands.

Key Messages

  • Climate variability and change are already having severe impacts on key sectors including agriculture and tourism.
  • These impacts are reversing economic growth, exacerbating poverty and undermining the future prosperity of Caribbean countries.
  • CDKN research has provided locally appropriate climate change projections that give fresh insight into the vulnerability of key sectors.
  • Adaptation investment in the agriculture sector is needed to account for projected changes in rainfall and growing seasons, and occurrence of extreme events, especially drought.
  • Adaptation investment in the tourism sector is also needed to build resilience to rising seas, bleached coral reefs, water scarcity and gradual temperature increase.
  • There are many potential adaptation measures that can be applied by governments, businesses, individuals and development partners.
  • Financial support is needed to support adaptation action as high up-front costs are a barrier to local adaptation efforts.
  • Effectively prioritising adaptation options can maximise their value and lead to positive co-benefits for individuals, businesses and society.

Adaptation Options

Investing in adaptation for increased agricultural resilience

The locally relevant climate data provided by the CARibbean Weather Impacts Group (CARIWIG) have allowed researchers to identify adaptation options that are nationally and subnationally appropriate. With regard to agriculture, CDKN-supported research has identified potential measures that can be supported and applied by the state, businesses or individual growers:

  • ŸPractise crop diversification or substitution: CARIWIG research in Jamaica found that crops such as sweet potato, cassava and yam are good diversification alternatives. Sweet potato is comparatively drought-resistant and requires little fertiliser or soil nutrients. It is also resistant to storms as it grows underground. Climate projections indicate that sweet potato crops in the country could increase in yield by up to 33% by 2041–70.
  • ŸInvest in irrigation and mechanisation: Researchers found that rainfed yields across many crop types were significantly lower than irrigated yields. Vegetable crops such as peppers can benefit greatly from irrigation, increasing yields by 50%. As climate change is likely to reduce the amount of available surface water, efficient irrigation methods such as drip-feed systems should be preferred. Some research suggests that improved mechanisation and efficiency of agricultural production have the potential to more than make up for reduced maximum potential yields driven by climate change. While this may be true for commercial-level farming, for many smaller farms, capital investment is needed.
  • ŸMonitor growing areas and plan for land-use change: Changes to average temperatures and shifts in growing seasons should be monitored closely to ensure crops are being grown in the most suitable areas. Research in Jamaica and in Trinidad and Tobago showed that planning is necessary to manage crop movements. For instance, while cocoa crops in Trinidad and Tobago are projected to have improved yields 500 metres above sea level, currently 98% of higher- altitude areas are forested. This suggests that climate change may increase the likelihood of deforestation if farmers move crops into higher altitudes in the future.
  • ŸImprove education on sustainable farming practices: Research in Belize projects an increase in the number of forest fires as droughts intensify. The researchers note that a contributing factor to these fires is milpa farming practices, where land is cleared by fire before being replanted. Changing farming practices, to include alley cropping, minimum-tillage ploughing, and enrichment and mechanical clearing of brush land, will be beneficial to the soil and can increase farm productivity while avoiding fire incidents.
  • ŸAdopt micro-insurance: Developing micro-insurance products to protect farmers from climate-driven natural disasters and hurricanes could allow farmers to invest in more resilient infrastructure and crops after suffering a loss event.

Investment in climate change adaptation requires capital expenditure, which can be problematic for small farmers. Global Islands’ Vulnerability Research, Adaptation Policy and Development Project (GIVRAPD) research in Saint Lucia has found that while medium-scale farmers are able to invest in new technologies such as polytunnels and irrigation, for the island’s 4,000 farmers who have plots less than acre in size, the level of investment that is required remains out of reach. Small-scale farmers will therefore need support in order to adapt to climate impacts. The value of investment in climate change adaptation measures can have benefits that extend beyond increasing climate change resilience (see Box 1 of the full text to read about co-benefits of adaptation in the agriculture sector), which may create a stronger incentive for external parties such as governments and development partners to provide this support.

Investing in adaptation for increased tourism resilience

The nature of the tourism sector – which is reliant on multiple interconnected industries – requires adaptive co-management and multi-stakeholder approaches. CDKN-funded research points to many possible adaptation measures for the industry, most of which are highly dependent on the local context.

Research in Belize identified 35 specific options for improving tourism sector resilience. Specific recommendations include planning regulations that restrict building to areas at least 2.6 metres above mean sea level and 30 metres from the high-tide mark; and a range of disaster-preparedness measures to be undertaken at the beginning of the hurricane season, including water storage, first-aid training and supplies, and securing loose fittings.

Researchers found that, crucially for effective adaptation in the tourism sector, adaptation plans “need to be presented and supported at the national level through national policy frameworks”. Implementation must involve a wide range of stakeholders, including from private sector operators. Such multi-stakeholder processes were found to be vital for successful adaptation of tourism at the local level because the sector is highly intermeshed with other sectors, including water and energy, and relies on natural ecosystems such as coral reefs. CDKN research showed how governments can foster local networks that include public and private sector institutions as well as local communities through a case study focusing on the Soufriere Marine Management Area. This longstanding protected marine reserve on Saint Lucia’s west coast has successfully managed marine conservation in the face of competing interests from a wide range of stakeholders including the tourism industry, fishermen and conservation groups.

From the front page of the brief: A Caribbean street turns into a river following heavy rainfall.

This research draws upon the following CDKN-funded projects:

ŸCaribbean Weather Impacts Group: The CARIWIG project has generated locally relevant climate data and information to help decision-makers evaluate climate change and its impacts across a range of timescales. The key resource is a data and information portal, supported by 11 case studies in which CARIWIG data sets have been applied to real-world scenarios such as projecting Caribbean crop yields.

ŸThe Global Islands’ Vulnerability Research, Adaptation Policy and Development Project: The GIVRAPD research project focused on community adaptation to climate change in Saint Lucia and Jamaica.

ŸThe Caribbean Research Call: The Research Call funded research proposals that aligned with research needs identified in CARICOM’s implementation plan for the Regional framework for achieving development resilient to climate change. It supported five research projects in Belize, Jamaica, Saint Lucia, and Trinidad and Tobago.

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