A quarterly newsletter about achieving a land-degradation neutral world





Land-based adaptation: a story
of hope
Sustainable land management, which is at the heart of combating land degradation, is one of the most promising approaches to ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. More…

From the Executive Secretary
On World Day to Combat Desertification on 17 June 2014, we highlight the tremendous benefits of sustainable land management in our collective response to climate change. More…

Rhetoric is moving, policy action slow
We have committed to protect our ecosystems; and we should be far more proactive in harmonising our economic activity with our biological and moral needs and responsibilities. More…


Good practice

Why and how do farmers adapt?
Research programmes are exploring why farmers select or refuse to implement adaptive strategies and how they make their decisions. The findings should help farmers choose the most appropriate adaptation measures. More…

Georgia: old practices and new techniques
Windbreaks have recently experienced a renaissance in the Caucasus as an effective method of ecosystem-based adaptation. New planting techniques are the key to success.


Ecosystems: a key to climate change adaptation

On 17 June, we celebrate World Day to Combat Desertification. This year’s event is dedicated to ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change. We want to highlight the benefits of sustainable land management policies and practices in our collective response to climate change. The benefits can be tremendous!

Often, adaptation to climate change has primarily been understood in terms of hard infrastructure measures such as dams and seawalls. But in recent years, ecosystem-based adaptation’s potential has become more and more obvious. It’s smart, it’s efficient and it’s cost-effective.

Monique Barbut

Ecosystem-based adaptation is a complex issue which requires a firm commitment from many different stakeholders. At the international level, the three Rio conventions, with their focus on climate, biodiversity and land, have a particularly important role to play. On World Day to Combat Desertification, UNCCD is reiterating its support for this approach, with the aim of increasing people’s resilience to the adverse effects of climate change.

But what is UNCCD’s specific role in this context? Ecosystem services, which are becoming even more crucial in relation to climate change, such as food production, the nutrient cycle, and mitigation of the impacts of extreme weather conditions, strongly depend on land and soil. If land and soil degrade, ecosystem services decline. So when I call for our land to be managed in a more sustainable manner, I do so for the sake of land and soils, but also with a clear intention to maintain and preserve the capacity of ecosystems to increase climate change resilience.

Land degradation affects 1.5 billion people globally. The role of land in ecosystem-based adaptation is another reason why it must be protected from degradation as a matter of urgency.

“If land and soil degrade, ecosystem services decline. Therefore, I call for our land to be managed in a more sustainable manner.” (Monique Barbut)

There are two dimensions to ecosystem-based adaptation. First, we can utilise ecosystem services for adaptation purposes. Second, ecosystems have to adapt to climate change so that they can continue to provide services – enhancing carbon sequestration, supplying freshwater, preventing soil erosion and contributing to soil fertility. Although crucial for a thorough understanding of the concept of ecosystem-based adaptation, this fact is often overlooked. As a result, many opportunities for adaptation remain underutilised.

The science section of this issue of UNCCD News puts the spotlight on farmers. They are the ones who ultimately decide whether or not to apply climate-friendly farming practices – often light years away from global policy debates and scientific research. We must do everything in our power to convince them to apply sustainable land management practices. We must make every effort to reach them through national and local policy-making, advocacy and capacity-building. How do they make their decisions about land management and what motivates them to opt for sustainable land management? This science section provides some answers. The story on good practice takes us to Georgia in the Caucasus, where Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH is restoring degraded landscapes, taking into account future climatic changes and introducing drought-resistant permanent crops, reforestation and planting to provide erosion protection. It is one of countless examples showing that sustainable land management does make a difference – to land, to ecosystems, to our climate and ultimately to a sustainable future for everyone.

“We must do everything in our power to convince farmers to apply sustainable land management practices.”
(Monique Barbut)

Monique Barbut
Executive Secretary


Land-based adaptation: a story of hope

The fact that adaptation is now an integral part of the world’s response to climate change is a result of defeat. Around 10 years ago, we realised that it was too late to rely on mitigation alone. The world is warming up, precipitation patterns are changing and sea levels are expected to rise. There is undoubtedly worse to come. But despite the negative connotations of concepts such as “loss and damage” in the current climate debate, there are also stories of hope. Ecosystem-based adaptation – particularly land-based adaptation – is one of them.

Entry point: ecosystems

Adaptation to climate change has many different facets. The most common adaptation measures are engineered solutions such as dams, seawalls and irrigation systems to enhance people’s resilience.

An alternative is ecosystem-based adaptation, which is attracting greater attention – although not as much as it deserves. According to the 5th IPCC Assessment Report, there “is growing experience of the value for ecosystem-based, institutional, and social measures”. More and more stakeholders have already recognised its benefits and the UNCCD is also keen to promote it. That’s why the UNCCD has dedicated this year’s World Day to Combat Desertification to this topic, with the slogan “Land belongs to the future – let’s climate proof it”.

Climate proofing land

Climate proofing includes identifying the risks land faces from climate change impacts, both current and future. Changes in land management practices must then be implemented to reduce the risks to acceptable levels and make the land more resilient to climate change.

(Based on: Sherryl Sveiven (2010): Are the European financial institutions climate proofing their investments, IVM Institute for Environmental Studies Report R-10/07)

But what is ecosystem-based adaptation? As the name suggests, it aims to utilise ecosystem services to support adaptation – for example, through reforestation to prevent soil erosion caused by increasing amounts of sudden rainfall. The result is more resilient ecosystems, which build people’s capacities to adapt to climate change. But it is also about managing ecosystems so that they can continue to provide services such as food, regulating services to buffer the impacts of floods and drought, soil formation, and nutrient cycling, despite the additional pressure due to climate change. As Conservation International explains: “Humans aren't the only ones who must adapt to climate change; other species – the building blocks of all healthy ecosystems – also need our help.”

“Humans aren't the only ones who must adapt to climate change; other species also need our help.”
(Conservation International)


A definition of ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA)

There is no universally agreed definition of ecosystem-based adaptation. One of the most commonly used explanations is that provided by the UN Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD): “Ecosystem-based adaptation uses biodiversity and ecosystem services in an overall adaptation strategy. It includes the sustainable management, conservation and restoration of ecosystems to provide services that help people adapt to the adverse effects of climate change.”

Examples of adaptation schemes in diverse ecosystems

Ecosystem Examples of ecosystem-based adaptation measures
Coastal and marine areas Stabilising the coastlines with mangroves
Forests Conservation and restoration of forests to stabilise slopes and regulate water flows
Mountain areas Reforestation and restoring terraces to reduce landslides, avalanches and flash floods
Lakes and rivers Sustainable catchment management for groundwater recharge
Agricultural landscapes Sustainable land management to maintain productivity

The benefits of ecosystem-based adaptation are undeniable. They include greater water security, reduced vulnerability to extreme weather events, and the prevention of drought and erosion. Another factor making them highly attractive is that they are not only cost-effective but also very profitable. According to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP), compared to loss of ecosystem services, well-planned restorations may provide cost-benefit ratios of 3 to 75 in terms of return on investment, depending on the context and measures applied.

Ecosystem-based adaptation is not only cost-effective, but also very profitable.

There are also many co-benefits, which include climate change mitigation. For example, sustainable land management practices enhance the soil’s carbon sequestration capacity. Biodiversity conservation and improved livelihood conditions are other co-benefits and another reason why EbA measures are regarded as no-regret options.

Ecosystem-based adaptation in drylands

Drylands are particularly vulnerable to climate change. They are expected to become even more arid, with more droughts and less agricultural productivity, in years to come. Many factors come into play here; climate variations are one of them. People are already confronted with climate-related water scarcity, food insecurity and many more challenges to their livelihoods, so there is an urgent need for adaptation.

For those involved in combating land degradation, many aspects of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change in drylands sound familiar. Indeed, sustainable land management, which is at the heart of combating land degradation, is one of the most promising approaches to ecosystem-based adaptation.

Sustainable land management is one of the most promising approaches to ecosystem-based adaptation.

National policy will be much more effective and efficient if policy-makers responsible for drafting National Action Programmes (NAPs) to combat desertification, National Biodiversity Strategies and Action Plans (NBSAPs) and National Adaptation Plans to climate change (NAPs) see all three aspects – desertification, climate change and ecosystem biodiversity – as part of a bigger picture. All three Rio Conventions are committed to ecosystem-based adaptation, especially the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD).

Areas of action

There is a need for action in three areas:

  • - First, farmers need to move away from outdated to climate-resilient production
    practices. Many of today’s production systems erode and pollute fertile soils and
    consume too much freshwater. Farmers have to adopt already available sustainable
    land management techniques in order to meet the continuously growing
    demand for food.
  • - On a larger scale, it is vital to protect and restore ecosystems as “smart landscapes”.
    As long as ecosystems are intact, they have the unique capacity to reduce the impacts
    of climate change. One obvious example is the crucial role of forests in preventing
    soil erosion.
  • - Finally, the UNCCD calls for a move away from urban decay to sustainable land use.
    “Land use planning must ensure that the land can absorb climate shocks such as
    droughts and storms and that enough productive land is set aside to feed the world’s
    growing population,” says UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut.

It is vital to realise that the success of adaptation does not primarily depend on new techniques. The UNCCD recommends more than 250 best practice techniques that can be implemented in various ecosystems. Some national governments provide an even broader range of possibilities. China, for example, disseminated more than 1,000 distinct land management practices to address climate change. So the knowledge is available. The problem, it seems, is that people have yet to recognise the need for EbA and put these techniques into practice.

Promoting EbA at all levels

At the international policy level, now is the time to ensure that land-based adaptation becomes part of the collective response to climate change. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon will convene a climate summit in September this year and a new climate agreement is to be drafted under the UNFCCC by 2015. The new Sustainable Development Goals will also be an important link in promoting land-based adaptation.

Nationally, more and more countries are integrating ecosystem-based adaptation into their strategies. For many of them, it is difficult to make informed decisions on adaptation actions. Often, there is “poor understanding of ecosystem-based approaches for adaptation and their distinctiveness vis-à-vis other adaptation measures”. This was one of the findings of a UN Workshop on Adaptation in 2013. A research study on National Adaptation Plans in West and East Africa and South Asia also noted capacity constraints across all 14 countries reviewed. “The most common include lack of capacity in climate observation systems, technical and institutional capacity, and limited finance,” says the study. In order to address this problem, these countries are supported in various ways, for example through the UNFCCC Nairobi Work Programme on Impacts, Vulnerability and Adaptation to Climate Change.

Now is the time to ensure that land-based adaptation becomes part of the collective response to climate change.

Climate Summit Poster

There are more and more resources available to support country parties in this regard. The United Nations Development Programme, along with other agencies, launched the Adaptation Learning Mechanism (ALM) in 2007 and UNFCCC has set up a database on ecosystem-based approaches to adaptation in the context of its Nairobi Work Programme, for example.

When promoting ecosystem-based adaptation, a number of factors must be borne in mind. Here are some examples:

  • - EbA is not a stand-alone solution, but must always be embedded in an overall
    adaptation strategy.
  • - It is essential to assess vulnerabilities and consider expected future climate scenarios.
  • - EbA is a broad and integral approach across sectors and administrative districts, and
    stakeholder participation is essential.
  • - The CBD’s 12 principles of the ecosystem approach must be respected.


With various financing mechanisms such as the Adaptation Fund, the Global Environment Facility Trust Fund, the Least Developed Countries Fund (LDCF) and the Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF), the world community is committed to financing specific adaptation programmes and projects. However, according to the UNFCCC, the cost of adaptation for one year (2030) will be between USD 50 - 170 billion and many countries report that funding for adaptation remains a challenge. This fact makes ecosystem-based adaptation even more attractive, because it is generally cost-effective and needs less investment than physical infrastructure.

Not a panacea, but vast potential still untapped

Ecosystem-based adaptation is not a panacea. The CBD Secretariat warns that “there are rates and magnitude of climate change for which natural adaptation will become increasingly difficult”. But “conservation and management strategies that maintain and restore biodiversity can be expected to reduce some of the negative impacts from climate change”. As UNCCD Executive Secretary Monique Barbut explains: “There is a need for greater attention and investment in land-based adaptation. So I invite everybody to climate proof the land.”


Rhetoric is moving, but policy action is too slow

Professor Jeffrey Sachs is a UNCCD Dryland Ambassador and Director of the Earth Institute at Columbia University. He is known for his work on the challenges of economic development, environmental sustainability, poverty alleviation, debt cancellation, and globalisation. He is Special Advisor to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on the Millennium Development Goals, Director of the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network and Director of the Millennium Villages Project.

How much significance do you attach to ecosystem-based adaptation, also in comparison to other climate change adaptation measures?

Prof. Jeffrey Sachs

The concept of an ecosystem is that life depends on complex, systematic interactions across species and between living organisms and the physical environment. When these interactions are disrupted, for example, by removing water from the ecosystem, or by adding an invasive species, the results can be massive disruption and even collapse of the ecosystem. Land can become degraded and unusable; farm productivity can collapse; hazards like flooding can become unmanageable. Such disruptions can result from things like pollution, over-hunting of species, human destruction of habitat (e.g. deforestation), changing temperature and rainfall patterns resulting from human-induced climate change, invasive species, and the emergence or introduction of new pathogens. Humanity itself is now the key author of many such disruptions in ecosystems around the world.


The concept of “ecosystem-based adaptation” (EbA) arises from the fact that human-induced climate change is now a dire threat to human wellbeing, forcing communities and nations in every part of the world to adapt to the climate changes now under way and anticipated in the future. Even with full-scale mitigation programmes to reduce human-induced climate change, we are already in the midst of severe and dangerous disruptions to the climate in all parts of the world. These disruptions threaten human health, livelihoods, food supplies, and protection against natural hazards such as floods, droughts and extreme storms.

The idea of EbA is that effective adaptation to climate change requires an ecosystem-based strategy. In practical terms, that means that our adaptation approaches should take into account the complex interactions of the ecosystem. If we are worried about the effects of climate change on the water supply, we need to understand and address the water cycle within the ecosystem. If we are worried about the effects of climate change on food security, we need to understand how changes in the climate will affect the entire ecosystem (including biodiversity, the water cycle, the nitrogen cycle, the pattern of extreme events such as droughts and floods, the dynamics of soil formation and loss, and so forth). Ecosystem-based adaptation therefore means “systematic” adaptation that takes into account the full range of (complex) interactions among the species and the natural environment that constitute the ecosystem.

In a way, EbA should be obvious. Let’s say a farm community aims to make its food production resilient to climate change, but fails to pay attention to the way that the climate change will affect the availability of freshwater, the soil moisture, the safety of the community and farms from extreme storms, and the biodiversity that is vital for farm production (e.g. the abundance of wild pollinator species). Narrow approaches to farm adaptation that focus only on the farm but not the whole ecosystem are bound to fail. The community will find itself overwhelmed by complex disruptions that are beyond the level of the farm itself.


In this sense, EbA doesn’t conflict with other standards of development or adaptation, such as community-based approaches that call for participation, human rights, and transparency in local decision-making. EbA is not a substitute for good community practices; it is a complementary set of tools to ensure that local decision-makers are operating with a systems perspective, taking into account the complexity of the local ecosystem and the ways that it might be disrupted by climate change and the ways that the ecosystem as a whole can help to protect the community from the effects of climate change.

Does this significance differ between developing and developed countries?

The main truth of climate change is that the impacts are global. Countries at all levels of development are being strongly affected. Just this year, drought has hit high-income farm communities in California, medium-income farm communities in Brazil, and low-income communities in Indonesia and other parts of Southeast Asia. This is not unusual. It’s the new normal.


And which role does combating land degradation play in this regard?

Land degradation means the loss of land productivity. It can be caused by countless factors, including deforestation, over-grazing of animals, invasive species, urbanisation into formerly rural areas, changes in precipitation and soil moisture patterns, and much more. The results of land degradation are also highly varied: lower (or zero) farm productivity, lack of freshwater resources, loss of biodiversity vital for life and livelihoods, and increased risks of floods and other hazards. Land degradation is therefore a fundamental cause of ecosystem failures, and also a fundamental result of disruptions to ecosystems coming from climate change. EbA aims to keep ecosystems healthy in the face of climate change. Preventing or reversing land degradation is therefore among the high priorities and targets of EbA.

Preventing land degradation in various forms is also a key part of climate change mitigation. Currently, land degradation releases several billion tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere each year, adding to the release of CO2 from the burning of coal, oil, and natural gas. Better land management, including the end of deforestation, and indeed the reforestation of previously deforested regions, can therefore biologically sequester vast amounts of CO2, tens of billions of tonnes, that otherwise will contribute to human-induced climate change.


Do national and global political agendas already sufficiently reflect this significance?

Unfortunately, most countries still do not protect their vulnerable ecosystems, and still less anticipate the higher vulnerability of ecosystems in the coming years as the result of ongoing climate change. Most communities act as if the water supply, biodiversity, and ecosystem services they currently enjoy will continue indefinitely into the future. It’s a sad mistake. Look at how the water-parched US southwest continues to encourage massive urbanisation and overuse of increasingly scarce water supplies even as climate change portends more severe droughts in the years ahead.

Though the rhetoric is moving towards using ecosystem-based adaptation, policy action is much too slow. In the final outcome document to the Rio+20 Summit (“The Future We Want”), there was a declaration to: “Promot[e] integrated and sustainable management of natural resources and ecosystems that supports inter alia economic, social and human development while facilitating ecosystem conservation, regeneration and restoration and resilience in the face of new and emerging challenges.” We should use the upcoming Sustainable Development Goal framework, now being adopted at the UN, to encourage the practice of EbA.

“We should use the upcoming Sustainable Development Goal framework to encourage the practice of EbA.” (Jeffrey Sachs)

Which economic costs are associated with ecosystem degradation that determine the value of ecosystem-based adaptation?

There are many scholarly attempts to put a dollar value on ecosystem services. They invariably show a very large value to ecosystems. Yet in a way, these estimates are a bit misguided. It’s like asking about the dollar value of survival, or the value of the quality of life, or the value in avoiding a world of frequent disasters. Yes, economists can put a number on such things, but the real truth is that we should be taking far more care to avoid disasters and to be good stewards of the Earth’s many ecosystems. Our ecosystems are vital for life; we have committed to protect them; and we should be far more proactive in designing ways to harmonise our economic activity with our biological and moral needs and responsibilities.


What is needed to further promote ecosystem-based adaptation – more droughts, lower yields, more talk, more money? And where do you see the greatest challenges?

The most important next step is better understanding by communities, political leaders, and businesses of the risks ahead and the practical opportunities to address those risks. I believe that every level of government, from local districts to metropolitan areas, nations, regions, and the world as a whole, needs to develop sustainable development pathways, showing how our current dangers – climate change, loss of biodiversity, extreme pollution, vulnerability of the food supply – can be addressed. In making these plans of action, it is vital that the scientific community should be at the table. That is why UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon created the UN Sustainable Development Solutions Network (UN SDSN), to bring together the global scientific communities with business, civil society, and government, to engage in practical and science-based problem-solving. EbA will be a key part of the UN SDSN effort.


Rural dryland populations in Africa and Asia are particularly affected by land degradation exacerbated by climate change. Yet they hardly contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. Could mechanisms such as the Green Climate Fund boost ecosystem-based adaptation in these generally less developed regions?

It is very notable and exciting that the Global Environment Facility (GEF) has recently declared that African food security will become a major signature initiative of the GEF in the coming years. The GEF will devote around USD 120 million to the challenge of Africa’s food security, focusing on smallholder farmers and their communities. This is a perfect opportunity to integrate EbA into real community best practices. The new Green Climate Fund should also help once it is up and running. It aims to support low-income countries in both adaptation and mitigation programmes. Africa’s dryland populations should be a high priority: they are very poor, highly vulnerable, and yet within reach of major improvements in productivity and major opportunities to help store CO2 biologically in healthier dryland ecosystems.


The Earth Institute is very much involved in the Millennium Villages Project. Have there been any efforts to address climate change with sustainable land management practices? What were the results? What is your vision of climate-smart agriculture in arid or semi-arid developing countries?

The Millennium Village Project now operates in more than 20 countries in Africa, across almost the full range of Africa’s highly diverse agro-ecological zones. In every part of the project, the MVP aims to integrate ecosystems conservation practices with local community development. In this sense, the MVP is actively pursuing EbA. Some of the results are simply astounding: massive increase in forest cover; recovery of the groundwater; protection against land degradation through improved land management; and much more.

Some of the pillars of the MVP food security approach include:

  • 1. Increasing sustainable agricultural crop production,
  • 2. Improving food and nutrition security,
  • 3. Farm diversification for income generation, and
  • 4. Underpinning sustainability by restoring and conserving the natural resource base.
  • interview

    Farmers in the MVP now practise much more composting, proper fertiliser application and inter-planting to manage soil fertility and improve harvests. In some sites, gabions and vegetative barriers have been built to stem erosion and restore degraded lands. Since the project began, more than 2.5 million tree seedlings have been planted to help provide fuelwood and other benefits, as well as stabilising local ecosystems. These are a few of the results we have seen from the Millennium Villages Project. Our experience shows that sustainable land management practice is multi-faceted, and needs consistent science-based efforts as well as financial and other resources to become fully functional in the long run.


    Why and how do farmers adapt?

    When it comes to adaptation to climate change, farmers around the world are asking themselves the same questions: Do I need to take any action in the face of climate change on the land that I farm? How can I make use of ecosystem services to maintain my livelihood and help protect the various ecosystems from the impacts of climate change?

    The farmers’ answers are not only crucial for their own livelihoods, but are also highly relevant on a larger scale, because they impact on general food security. A land-based approach to adaptation is therefore an important issue for everyone.

    Various scientific research programmes are currently exploring farmers’ attitudes towards the impacts of climate change. They are looking at why farmers select or refuse to implement adaptive strategies, how they make their decisions, and how they perceive their options for adaptation. The findings of this research provide a basis for policies and communication strategies that aim to help farmers choose the most appropriate adaptation measures.

    Farmers’ views on climate change and adaptation

    Many farmers realise that climate change is affecting the way they farm. They may find that certain crops are no longer suitable due to the rising temperatures experienced in the past few seasons. In addition, precipitation patterns are changing and extreme weather events such as droughts and floods can cause devastation on farmland. But changing conditions are nothing new to rural land users. East Africa, for example, has always faced high rainfall variability. Many cultures thus have a wealth of climate knowledge at their disposal, including magical or religious practices, which they can draw on in their efforts to reduce environmental risks and protect their farming.

    Many cultures can draw on a wealth of climate knowledge in their efforts to reduce environmental risks.

    The challenges of climate change, however, are unprecedented in their scale. They include short-term shocks such as drought as well as longer-term risks, and will affect present and future generations alike. Although scientists are developing climate models and scenarios, these are still beset with uncertainties, making it difficult for farmers to predict what the climate will actually be like in future. Traditional knowledge about the land, soil, weather and climate may no longer apply. Faced with such uncertainty, farmers find it a challenge to make decisions about future land use and farming techniques.

    Research addresses the farm level

    To find out more about farmers’ attitudes, needs and options, comprehensive research at farm level is indispensable. Researchers are therefore collecting data in interviews, surveys, focus group discussions and stakeholder workshops. They have to take a broad approach, given that farmers’ motivation for adopting land-based adaptation measures may depend on many different factors, including their personal or religious beliefs, access to information, level of social integration, personal character traits such as cautiousness, and financial considerations. This unique combination of cultural, economic and social factors makes it difficult to transfer research results to other regions, which is why many small-scale studies are needed.


    New research project: overcoming the barriers to sustainable land management practices

    Sustainable land management (SLM) mitigates or reverses land degradation and is a key component of land-based adaptation. Yet adoption rates of the many well-known SLM techniques often remain low. A new research project aims to identify the political, social and economic constraints to adopting sustainable land management practices. From February 2014 to 2017, the Institute for Advanced Sustainability Studies (IASS) and the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) will be addressing the issue from a landscape perspective, integrating biophysical and socio-economic aspects in projects in north-east Tanzania and south-west Malawi. AGORA - Acting Together now for Pro-poor Strategies against Soil and Land Degradation not only incorporates scientific knowledge from different disciplines, but involves local people in the co-design of knowledge throughout the research in a transdisciplinary approach. Ultimately, the project aims to establish a multi-stakeholder process to design more equitable solutions to land degradation, enable land users to apply sustainable land management practices and provide an evidence base for more informed decisions.

    Options at hand

    There are many different land-based adaptation strategies available: planting drought-tolerant varieties or crops that are less sensitive to higher temperatures, introducing sustainable irrigation systems and water conservation techniques such as rainwater harvesting, and adopting a holistic approach to land management. Many farmers are adapting their planting and harvesting times, for example. But they may also resort to social or economic adaptation strategies such as migration, economic diversification, and insurance schemes to increase resilience.

    Complexity of decision-making

    Why farmers prefer one adaptation strategy to another depends on many different factors. To get a clearer picture, many studies group farmers according to the underlying factors on which their adaptation depends. A survey conducted in Australia by Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation, for example, identified three different types of farmer:

    • - Cash-poor long-term adapters (around 50 per cent of the sample) actively seek
      to adapt their farming practices to manage climate change. They are young, healthy,
      information-seeking and relatively poor, and believe in climate change-related risks.
    • - Comfortable non-adapters, representing 25 per cent, are usually older than the first
      group and are socially well-connected with a comparatively good income. They are
      confident that they can continue to cope with change.
    • - Transitioners, also representing around 25 per cent of the interviewees, have the
      lowest income and fewest resources. They don’t use information services and have
      problems accessing support services. They are generally under considerable
      pressure and thus have low adaptive capacity.


    Other surveys also conclude that wealth, age and attitude contribute to adaptation-related decisions. But a sense of belonging to a specific social group, participation in local institutions, farmer-to-farmer interaction, education and many other factors have proven to be important, too. Some of the external sources of motivation include public investment, a policy environment in support of adaptation, and the availability of inputs and information. So there is a broad mix of psychological, cultural, social and economic factors that influence adaptation decisions, according to the 2012 OECD Report on Farmer Behaviour, Agricultural Management and Climate Change. Some of these are universally applicable, but others vary. In West Africa, for example, a research project found that increasing wealth was reflected in increased on-farm changes, while in India it correlated to a reduced inclination to embrace change.

    A broad mix of psychological, cultural, social and economic factors influence adaptation decisions.

    It might seem obvious that water scarcity motivates smallholder farmers to engage in land-based adaptation. Research in northern Gujarat, India, however, did not find any evidence that scarcity resulted in higher investment in human capital or improved water efficiency. Instead, young farmers opted for migration as the preferred method of adaptation.

    According to Australia’s Farming Future Final Market Research Report, motivating factors for land-based adaptation are financial benefits, agricultural research and development, and community and peer-based support. Among the most prominent barriers are a lack of capacities to invest in adaptation, fear, distrust, comfort and a focus on the here and now.

    Adaptation requires knowledge and information

    There is no adaptation without knowledge and information. Farmers need to be aware of the risks associated with climate change and the potential offered by land-based adaptation. All too often, climate change projections are only available on a large scale and fail to take specific local conditions into account. That makes it much more difficult for farmers to develop long-term adaptation strategies. They have to rely more on short-term weather information, and various efforts are under way to improve its availability. For example, scientists from the Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) worked with the Senegalese meteorological agency to supply farmers with more accurate and specific seasonal rainfall forecasts. Today, the information reaches two million farmers via community-based radio.

    In South Africa, the Climate Information Portal provides farmers with climate data from the last few decades and with local-level climate change projections. This provides sound information based on climatic conditions recorded in the past, enabling users to make good decisions about their adaptation needs.

    Many studies found that information is only of value if recipients have confidence in its source. In rural communities, the credibility of scientific information may depend on the confidence placed in institutions, rather than the accuracy of the information itself.

    Information is only of value if recipients have confidence in its source.

    A joint effort toward sustainable land management

    From a policy perspective, more collaboration is needed between government organisations, the scientific community, development actors and non-governmental organisations at the district level. Policies have to take into account farmers’ motivation and barriers to adaptation.

    What about science’s contribution? Although numerous case studies are available for the agricultural sector in developed and developing countries, more are needed, because they clearly demonstrate the benefits of land-based adaptation to rural farmers and policy-makers.

    But all policy and scientific efforts are in vain unless farmers actually implement appropriate land-based adaptation strategies. Political and scientific support and access to key information will help them address the diverse and region-specific climate challenges – for the benefit of their livelihoods, food security and healthy land. Their common guiding principle is: “Land belongs to the future – let’s climate-proof it.”



    Georgia: old practices and new techniques

    Less than 30 years ago, windbreaks were a distinctive feature of the landscape in the Dedoplistskaro district of east Georgia in the Caucasus. Today, most of these trees and shrubs, planted in rows around the edges of fields, have disappeared. They were cut for firewood, leaving the land unprotected from winter storms and causing erosion of the topsoil. But windbreaks have recently experienced a renaissance – as an effective method of ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change.

    Dedoplistskaro, the country’s corn belt, is already feeling the adverse impacts of climate change, particularly extreme temperatures and long periods of drought in summer. Wind speeds are also increasing, causing large-scale soil erosion, with humus content down from 7.5 per cent in the 1990s to currently 3.2 per cent. This has resulted in a reduction of wheat yields by as much as 50 per cent. 80 per cent of pasture is over-utilised, and almost all the region’s forest has disappeared. With more climate stressors anticipated, many parts of the region are poorly prepared for a sustainable future.

    The district government recognised the seriousness of the situation and understood what a great mistake it was to cut down forests and windbreaks to meet people’s demand for firewood after the demise of the Soviet Union. But what could be done? This is where the advice provided by Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH came in. As part of the International Climate Initiative (ICI), GIZ suggested reintroducing old practices and adopting new techniques to rehabilitate degraded landscapes in Dedoplistskaro.

    It was a great mistake to cut down forests and windbreaks to meet people's demand for firewood.

    Windbreaks make a comeback

    From 2008 to 2012, around 36 of the original 1,800 km of windbreaks were restored as models for the entire region. They are designed to improve the micro-climate, thus preventing soil erosion and increasing soil humidity very effectively. The trees’ and shrubs’ height and density, the number of rows, the combination of species and the length, orientation and continuity of the windbreaks are not left to chance, but follow a scheme that has been found to be most effective. The windbreaks are 10 m wide. Trees and shrubs are planted in a chequerboard pattern every two or three metres, depending on the tree species, with three metres between the rows. The middle row consists of large trees, with outer rows of smaller trees or shrubs. This design reduces wind speed on the windbreaks’ leeward side to a distance of up to 20 times the windbreaks’ height.

    Project activities were accompanied by the introduction of a protection regime for the windbreaks. As a result, windbreaks are an integral part of the forest legislation now being developed. They will be regarded as forests and will be legally protected throughout the country.

    And what about the co-benefits that ecosystem-based adaptation is often praised for? They exist in this ecosystem too: windbreaks provide habitats for wildlife and some trees produce berries and nuts for harvesting. Honey may also offer potential as a commercially viable by-product. In addition, the windbreaks serve as wildlife corridors between east Georgia’s protected areas.

    The co-benefits of windbreaks: habitats for wildlife, commercially viable by-products and wildlife corridors between protected areas.

    Containers for afforestation

    The project also tackled the large-scale deforestation that has taken place in the region over the past few decades. More than 100 hectares of former forest and degraded pasture managed by the local forest services, local authorities and the private sector were to be reforested. Of course, the species to be planted had to be suitable for the anticipated future climate variations. “A mixed forest consisting of native trees was the choice at hand. In search of the most appropriate approach, we opted to grow and plant container seedlings, a technique mostly unknown in the area before,” says Dr Dieter Müller, manager of the project, which concluded in 2012.

    At first, the Georgian project partners were reluctant; some even claimed that container plants could not grow in Georgia. However, a tree nursery in the nearby village of Sartichala had modern equipment to produce container plants. This was a great opportunity to train more than 100 local people in climate-resilient planting techniques. A brochure and a video were produced to additionally highlight the benefits of this technique.

    At first, the Georgian project partners were reluctant; some even claimed that container plants could not grow in Georgia.

    The initial results convinced the local forest services, scientists and non-governmental organisations that container plants are particularly suitable for the region’s climatic conditions. News of the container plants spread rapidly, and more and more people realised that bare-root plants should generally not be used in regions with a semi-arid climate. They simply don’t grow that well. A skills transfer took place as well: trained personnel passed on their knowledge to seasonal workers and to interested people in other regions. Enquiries have even been received from neighbouring countries such as Azerbaijan and Armenia.

    An inclusive approach

    Because ecosystem-based adaptation to climate change is a complex issue, many stakeholders were involved in the activities in Dedoplistskaro: the country’s Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources Protection and Ministry of Energy, district and local authorities, farmers, local nurseries and private land owners, who contribute to the project financially and in kind. “Everybody was eager to make this project a success,” says Dr Dieter Müller. Study visits to Germany and Sweden provided many stakeholders with a completely new vision – not only of climate-resilient reforestation, but more generally of sustainability.

    The project also included a scientific component, which indicated that the project investment will pay off from a climate change mitigation perspective. The afforestation activities initiated with the project are predicted to reduce 162 tonnes of CO2 per hectare for biomass and 99 tonnes of CO2 in the soil by 2040.

    Continuing action

    From a project management perspective, there are signs of sustainability. After the first project, funded by Germany’s Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB), ended in 2012, Austria and Germany are continuing activities as part of the German development project “Sustainable biodiversity management in the South Caucasus”. Another 100 kilometres of windbreak are to be rehabilitated, and agricultural techniques on neighbouring fields will also be adapted to climate change, mainly by promoting disc cultivation instead of ploughing and by growing climate-tolerant wheat varieties.


    In the project region, the cornerstones of more climate-resilient land use are now in place. In the long run, the new forests will provide firewood, as well as by-products such as honey and fruits. The rehabilitated windbreaks combined with climate-resilient farming practices will boost agricultural production. Elisbar Imerlishvili, a local farmer, has already increased his yield to more than twice the national average. He says: “The trees are still small, but I already see the benefits and I am sure that one of my sons will continue it.”

    New multimedia information platform

    More examples of good practice like the one from Georgia in the article above are featured on the new "Soil is Life" information platform: www.soil-is-life.info .This multimedia tool will be launched by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) on World Day to Combat Desertification.


    About the UNCCD

    Developed as a result of the Rio Summit, the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD) is a unique instrument that has brought attention to the land degradation affecting some of the most vulnerable people and ecosystems in the world. The UNCCD has 195 Parties (194 countries plus the European Union) and is one of the three Rio Conventions, along with the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) and the Convention on Biological Diversity (CBD). The UNCCD is increasingly recognised as an instrument that can make an important contribution to the achievement of sustainable development and poverty reduction.

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    Photo credits: Contents: P. Casier/CGIAR, UN Photo/Marco Dormino, Asian Development Bank, P. Casier/CGIAR, GIZ; Message from the Executive Secretary: UNCCD, UNDP Ethiopia; In Focus: Andrea Borgarello/courtesy of World Bank TerraAfrica, Fatoumata Diabate/Oxfam Niger, Georgina Smith/ CIAT, UN, UN Photo/Fardin Waez; Interview: Wade Martzall, 2x Global Water Partnership, John Weiss/flickr.com, Kate Evans/CIFOR, Anne Wangalachi/CIMMYT, Ericsson, 10b travelling/flickr.com, The Earth Institute - Columbia University; Science: UNDP Kyrgystan, KfW-Bildarchiv/Joachim E. Roettgers, Schilling_2/flickr.com, KfW-Bildarchiv, A. Divis/CGIAR Climate, M. Tall/CCAFS West Africa; Good Practice: 5x GIZ.