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Climate-Resilient Agriculture in South Asia: An analytical framework and insights from practice

The paper explores entry-points for and examples of climate resilient agriculture (CRA) in South Asia, and the current challenges and knowledge gaps affecting it's implementation.
Agriculture Value Chain Phases


South Asia has a population of roughly 1.75 billion people, 25% of whom fall below the international poverty line, and 70% live in rural areas of whom the majority, especially women, rely on agriculture for their livelihood. Despite being predominantly agrarian, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, and Nepal are net importers of food. Climate change is expected to exacerbate food security challenges by impacting food production, disrupting supply chains and raising food prices, adding further stress to this highly challenging socio-economic situation. The vulnerability of this region is further exacerbated by existing conditions of poverty, malnutrition and increasing populations. This puts intense pressure on limited natural resources, especially land, water and energy – all of which are integral to agricultural systems.

Since 2014 the Action on Climate Today (ACT) programme has been actively working in Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan to help national and sub-national governments mainstream adaptation to climate change into development planning and delivery systems. ACT has championed Climate-Resilient Agriculture (CRA) as an approach to increasing the resilience of agricultural systems on which billions rely. CRA is a subset of Climate-Smart Agriculture which has a broader focus that includes interventions to mitigate Greenhouse Gas Emissions (GHGs) (see below and pages 7-8 of the full text for relevant discussion and definitions).

This ACT learning paper* introduces a framework of practical entry points at the national and local level to operationalise CRA. The framework targets the full agricultural process from farm to market. The paper also identifies and discusses the critical challenges and knowledge gaps that currently exist in interacting and working with governments and organisations across these four main entry points. The paper then goes on to explore the conceptual framework by presenting examples of CRA interventions developed and deployed across the four entry points by the ACT programme.

*Download the full report from the right hand column.

Listen to audio abstracts from the authors:

Table 2 from page 8 of the full text: Comparison of approaches. CC = climate change; CRA = climate-resilient agriculture; CSA = climate-smart agriculture

Practical entry points for CRA

The entry points identified in this research, which target exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity within the vulnerability framework, are as follows:

  1. Policy and institutional entry points,such as establishment of an enabling environment for climate-relevant policies, screening of existing agricultural policies, establishment of new institutions and approaches to ensure resilience and adaptation options reach a broader population, etc.
  2. Financial entry points, such as use of financial instruments to streamline farmer behaviour into ensuring enhanced resilience, enabling appropriate CC financial services for farmers, providing safety nets against CC shocks and stresses, establishment of off-farm and non-farm income-generating activities, etc.
  3. Information and social behaviour entry points, such as conducting studies to provide information on CC causes, impacts, risks and options, enhancing social networks, cohesion and gender equality for resilience, developing information systems, increasing the efficiency of food use, etc.
  4. Technical entry points, such as identification of risks from actual and anticipated climate hazards, improvement of ecosystem health and buffering capacity, climate-proofing agricultural post-harvest infrastructure, development of emergency preparedness systems and procedures, etc.

Each of these points is described in detail in Chapter 3 of the full text (from page 9). The alignment of practical entry points for CRA with Exposure, Sensitivity and Adaptive Capacity is also discussed and summarised in Table 4 on page 18 of the full text.

Critical challenges and knowledge gaps

The paper outlines several critical challenges and knowledge gaps associate with each of the entry points (see Chapter 4 of the full text). These include (edited from main text):

  • Policy and institutions:
    • Appropriate structures and processes are needed to enable the formulation of effective policies for climate resilience in agriculture. This requires a multi-agency/sector approach and a strong evidence base from carefully commissioned research.
    • Human capacity to implement and support policies effectively will need to be developed for all types of institutions (government, non-governmental and private) through relevant training courses and exposure to experience at all levels, as well as national and international partnerships.
  • Finance:
    • Adapting to climate change requires long-term continuity of purpose and funding to enable the development and application of new capacities and technologies and the refinement of methods and processes. This requires long-term funding like the Aga Khan Development Network’s intervention in Afghanistan, which has been ongoing since 2002.
    • Current agricultural investment flows are insufficient to adequately finance sustainable agricultural development – and most of this investment comes from farmers and livestock-keepers. National budgets will need to be reassessed, redistributed and supplemented by the capture of international funding for climate change resilience.
  • Information and knowledge management:
    • A robust monitoring, evaluation and learning system with a set of consistent metrics (indicators) can show if programmes are meeting their aims and pinpoint where they need to improve. This knowledge is also needed for prioritisation and targeting, and for application to international adaptation funding sources. The FAO CSA Sourcebook (FAO, 2013, pages 493–534) provides a good background for developing a Climate-Smart monitoring and evaluation system.
    • Climate prediction, especially of precipitation amounts and distribution, is not yet available at the local level, and local-level weather forecasting is still not accurate or reliable enough for farmers to base day-to-day decisions on. The situation should improve as more weather stations are set up and linked to computing power. In the meantime, the Institute for Social and Environmental Transition is combining knowledge from models with local knowledge through Shared Learning Dialogues in Asian contexts to make the best possible decisions.
  • Technology and asset management:
    • The speed of climate change can overtake the efforts of farmers to adapt, and oblige them to use unsustainable coping mechanisms, such as the short-term mining of soils, opening of forest land for cultivation, taking high interest loans and migration to urban areas. Research and extension need the resources to stay one step ahead of climate change, introducing technologies that will enable farmers to adapt and governments to climate-proof livelihoods, landscapes, infrastructure and institutions.
    • Incremental change that reduces sensitivity and exposure may not be sufficient; radical change may be needed, such as land reform, changes in the farming system, the breeding of functionally different crop varieties etc. Such transformational change has the potential to make a major difference, but also carries risks of maladaptation. These risks can be reduced through good diagnosis of the problem in the first place, and sensitive monitoring from the start that allows for early modifications.
    • Different agricultural environmentsrespond to climate change in different ways and require tailored information and services, developed with farmers. Huge experience of participatory research within the region will assist this process.
    • Certification and incentivisation: While there is a recognised set of sustainable agriculture standards under the Sustainable Agriculture Network, there are, as yet, no agreed standards for CSA against which to certify or reward farmers or farmer organisations. Further research is needed to provide a set of standards and a fair inducement system to incentivise farmers to meet the challenges of CC.

Lessons Learnt

Further to the above the paper discusses a set of cross-cutting lessons derived from this review of the state of global practice on CRA and initiatives undertaken by the ACT programme. These are discussed in detail in Chapter 6 of the full text (from page 31) and include the need for:

  • Moving beyond business as usual by addressing exposure and sensitivity to climate shocks, and increasing adaptive capacity in the context of agriculture systems and those dependent on them.
  • Engaging multiple stakeholders in processes to make agricultural practices more resilient to the impacts of CC.
  • Recognising the political nature of the CRA approach and not looking at it as a set of isolated technical interventions.
  • Integrating initiatives with government priorities to generate political will for CRA to be sustainable and institutionalised.
  • Urgently scaling up CRA across the region and ensuring its uptake by policy-makers, civil society, the private sector, universities, banks and, most importantly, communities engaged in agriculture.
Winnowing wheat, Afghanistan. Picture credit: Barry Pound

ACT (Action on Climate Today) is an initiative funded with UK aid from the UK government and managed by Oxford Policy Management (OPM). Find out more about the ACT programme in South Asia here: and

Key Contacts

  • Elizabeth Gogoi, Consultant, Oxford Policy Management (OPM) [email protected]

  • Aditya Bahadur, Regional Programme Development Manager, Action on Climate Today (ACT) [email protected]

Suggested citation

Pound, B., Lamboll, R., Croxton, S., Gupta, N., and Bahadur, A.V. (2018). Climate-Resilient Agriculture in South Asia: An analytical framework and insights from practice. ACT.

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