A Global Agricultural Research Partnership

Change and Innovation: climate adaptation practices

In thinking about climate adaptation, it is easy to overlook the fact that poor farmers across the tropics already possess much of the knowledge required to adapt to climate change. Many are already adapting their agriculture not only to more variable weather patterns but also to more immediate problems such as growing families, health-related challenges, and spiking food prices. And many of these actions also reduce greenhouse gas emissions and/or store carbon.

The Climate Change, Agriculture, and Food Security (CCAFS) initiative became one of the first new CGIAR Research Programs in 2010. As a first priority it set out to collect baseline data at the household, village and institutional levels from benchmark sites in East Africa, West Africa, and South Asia so as to better understand the status of food secure households, what actions and adaptation strategies farmers have already been pursuing to deal with a variable climate, what information they are getting and how they are using it, and services they have been receiving. This data will also allow the program to track changes in food security and natural resource management practices, assess program outcomes and impacts, and plan community-led trials of agricultural technologies and practices.

Patti Kristjanson, a CCAFS Theme Leader who co-led the baseline surveys, says, “It was a huge challenge to develop survey instruments and approaches that would be implemented across so many countries and diverse agricultural systems.” The household-level surveys alone covered 5,040 households in 252 villages across 36 sites in 12 countries in the three regions.

Carrying these out, alongside complementary village-level exercises focusing on gender, equity and institutional issues, involved joint learning exercises and ‘co-creation’ of appropriate questions with experienced local survey teams and partners from all the sites.

“Building on its strengths as a cross-cutting CGIAR program, CCAFS research theme leaders worked with a range of experts with deep experience in designing and implementing these kinds of surveys, including the International Livestock Research Institute and World Agroforestry Centre joint research methods group and a team from the Statistical Services Group at the University of Reading, UK.

“The level of rigor and documentation introduced by this valuable collaboration has allowed us to share all materials – the survey instruments, the training manuals, the analysis programs – widely within a year,” Patti explains.

The results indicate that households have been testing and adopting new agricultural practices over many years to adapt to increasingly unpredictable conditions. These changes include improved management of crops, soil, land, water, and livestock, and new technologies (e.g. shorter-cycle and drought-tolerant varieties).

Are more innovative households also more likely to be food secure than less innovative farming households? Initial analyses of data from 700 households in 35 villages in Ethiopia, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda suggest they are. The implications of this finding – e.g. safety net policies are crucial, and how to identify and target ‘innovators’ – are just beginning to be explored with policymakers, development practitioners and others. CCAFS encourages widespread involvement in this dialogue.

Article written by Patti Kristjanson and Vanessa Meadu
Photo credit: P. Casier/CGIAR.
This post is part of our series celebrating “40 years of CGIAR

4 Responses to Change and Innovation: climate adaptation practices

  1. How do these surveys capture information about diversity within crops?

  2. [...] does CCAFS measure impact anayway? Well, by documenting progress in adaptation relative to a baseline, of course. What I want to know is how the baseline captures within-crop [...]

  3. [...] does CCAFS measure impact anayway? Well, by documenting progress in adaptation relative to a baseline, of course. What I want to know is how the baseline captures within-crop [...]

  4. Hi Luigi. Which varieties of each crop are being produced by households are not captured in this baseline. What is captured is what changes in crops and/or crop varieties have been made over the last 10 years, and why. So for example, we are seeing shifts towards shorter-cycle varieties in some places, with a later start in the rains, or less overall rainfall given as reasons for this shift. The questionnaire is available at and I’m happy to discuss further. Cheers, Patti, at:

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