Growing trees, it seems, is already a well-established strategy that poor farmers are using to help them adapt to changes in climate.
In response to changing weather patterns, farmers can choose to grow different crops or different varieties, adjust seasonal calendars, improve the use of irrigation water or shift cultivation from one place to another. Research is showing that the choices made by poor smallholder farmers in Vietnam and Kenya are closely linked to the resources available to them.
“One of the villages we studied in Cam My commune, Ha Tinh province, Vietnam is quite close to the forest,” explains World Agroforestry Centre Vietnam researcher Nguyen Quan who conducted much of the research in Vietnam together with Hue University and the farmers association of Ha Tinh province. “Abnormal and increasingly unpredictable weather over the last five years has led farmers here to use forest land for fast-growing timber trees, fruit trees, industrial plants and even vegetables.”
“In another village in the commune, which is located near a main road, farmers have turned to raising livestock and trading for fodder and agricultural materials such as fertilizers and pesticides,” says Quan.
Mixing agriculture and forestry activities – i.e. agroforestry –is already being adopted by farmers to exploit available natural and human resources and to make their farms more resilient to changing weather patterns. Incorporating trees that provide timber, fruits and other products offers diversity; an important strategy in managing risk. Trees can give farmers additional income and act as assets for security when annual crops are less reliable.
“In Vietnam, we found more than 20 tree species being grown in home gardens to provide income, food, feed and other environmental benefits.”
The research in Vietnam as well as Kenya has combined Participatory Rural Appraisal (PRA) tools, such as farmer interviews and household surveys, with an analysis of meteorological data and GIS mapping to evaluate local vulnerability to climate variability and to investigate local adaptation strategies.
In Kenya, where the ICRAF-SLU research is being conducted in partnership with Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT) and the Pro-poor Rewards for Environmental Services in Africa (PRESA) program, meetings have been held with local policy makers to examine the gap which exists between current climate change policy and the actions being taken on the ground by farmers.
Scientists have been looking at two villages near Embu in Kenya, one which is higher up in the watershed where tea as well as subsistence crops are being farmed. In the other village, which is lower down, fruits, macadamia nuts, maize and beans are being cultivated.
“We expect to find some similar results in Kenya as in Vietnam even though the ecosystems, socio-economic factors and culture vary markedly,” says Alba Perez-Teran, Program Officer with the World Agroforestry Centre in Vietnam.
“In Kenya, our early results are showing that some farmers in the downstream village are growing new drought-resistant varieties of maize and there is more diversification through growing cassava, yams and arrowroot.”
The results from both locations will help to develop a method for rapidly assessing the strategies used by smallholder farmers in rural areas anywhere to adapt to climate variability.
Delia Catacutan, Social Scientist at the World Agroforestry Centre, is interested in the impact of farmers’ adaptation strategies on watershed services, especially the availability of water.
“In adapting to climate change, farmers are increasingly looking at how they can better access a reliable supply of water,” says Catacutan. “This study will likely reveal strategies which improve water management, opening up the possibility for implementing a payment for environmental services (PES) scheme.”
Catacutan and colleagues have already had positive signs that such an agreement - whereby farmers receive rewards for maintaining a healthy environment -might be possible in Kenya.
“In September we will meet with local policy-makers in the Embu area to discuss how an agreement could be negotiated.”
This collaborative research project between the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF) and the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) is funded by the Swedish Research Council Formas and carried out under the supervision of Minh Ha Hoang (SLU/ICRAF Vietnam), Delia Catacutan (ICRAF/PRESA) and Ingrid Öborn (SLU).
A paper on the research in Vietnam - Nguyen, H.Q., Hoang, M.H., Öborn, I., Van Noordwijk, M. Multipurpose agroforestry as a climate change adaptation option for farmers - an example of local adaptation in Vietnam - is currently under review.
Photo: Ida Enjebo