Securing the Food Systems of Asian Mega-Deltas for Climate and Livelihood Resilience


Home to 177 million people, the densely populated Asian mega-deltas are biodiverse, fertile and productive food baskets dominated by rice, fisheries and aquaculture that support millions of people beyond the delta dwellers themselves. Deltas are reaching a significant tipping point. Tens of millions of small-scale producers living in Asian mega-deltas face risks to food and nutrition security and livelihoods from impacts of climate change.

Recent models of coastal elevation show that the Asian mega-deltas are much lower than previously assumed and will be severely affected by more frequent and more intense floods, sea-level rise and salinization of freshwater and soil. The models also predict water shortages, severe cyclones and climate extremes, which can lead to an annual loss of 6% of GDP in Southeast Asia, over twice the global average expected loss. These trends will put increased pressure on those remaining, who are often aging women facing labor shortages, decreased productivity and reduced livelihood opportunities. The result is likely further erosion of food security and increased poverty and hunger.


This Initiative aims to create resilient, inclusive and productive deltas — which maintain socio-ecological integrity, adapt to climatic and other stressors, and support human prosperity and wellbeing — by removing systemic barriers to the scaling of transformative technologies and practices at community, national and regional levels.


This objective will be achieved through:

  • Adapting deltaic production systems by identifying, synthesizing, evaluating, adapting and scaling interventions to ensure systems can adapt to and mitigate the effects of salinity, flooding, drought, terminal heat and sinking land.
  • Nutrition-sensitive deltaic agrifood systems, developed through the promotion of sustainable production and consumption of nutritious foods in Asian mega-deltas, by involving institutional stakeholders in the co-production of nutrition-sensitive interventions.
  • De-risking delta-oriented value chains by assessing the potential of digital climate advisory and complementing services to address climate risks among vulnerable groups, supporting development of improved and inclusive digital and bundled services, and identifying and developing financing models and partnerships to achieve scale.
  • Joined-up, gender equitable, inclusive deltaic systems governance, informed by transdisciplinary research evidence, local knowledge and political economy insights used to coordinate multi-stakeholder dialogues for more coherent water-agriculture-environment policies and strategies; collaborative, networked implementation practices; and gender-equitable and socially inclusive governance innovations.
  • Evidence-based delta development planning at the macro-level to ensure plans/policies incorporate inclusive and climate-proof approaches to food systems transformation.


Proposed 3-year outcomes include:

  1. A network of inclusive learning alliances comprising at least 200 stakeholder communities and 30 organizations in each delta and supported by at least three national/sub-national policies, that can scale up diversification of agrifood systems in deltas to accelerate adaptation by 150,000 smallholders and improve management of 100,000 hectares of land.
  2. At least three nutrition-sensitive interventions are tabled by national ministries and major non-governmental organizations using Asian mega-delta co-produced knowledge and evidence to reduce mortality and micronutrient deficiencies for 20,000 producers (80% women) and 100,000 consumers.
  3. Digital climate advisory and bundled services, both public and private, are used by almost a million smallholders, with at least one financing partnership plan established to assure sustainability for further scaling.
  4. Gender equitable and socially inclusive policies or strategies for natural resource and food systems governance are co-designed by at least three national governments or international development partners together with grassroots actors, including marginalized women and youth.
  5. Climate adaptation-oriented policies, projects and investment plans with the nominal value of at least US$1.8 billion are developed through engagement with Asian mega-deltas by policymakers and development partners in at least two deltas that are involved in knowledge integration networks.


Projected impacts and benefits include:


Around 4.8 million people benefit from climate adaptation through use of digital climate advisory services, improved agronomic practices, and income gains derived from use of these innovations.


Around 1.24 million people in Asian mega-deltas are anticipated to benefit from improved nutrition both directly and indirectly, including via nutrition-sensitive policies and interventions, as well as higher incomes and averted losses due to enhanced agricultural performance, adoption of digital climate advisory services, and more inclusive cross-sectoral governance.


Climate-smart agricultural practices, bundled services, and nutrition-sensitive interventions will contribute to poverty reduction by boosting farm incomes and employment for around 14.3 million people, 1.7 million of whom were previously living below the poverty line. Poverty will also be reduced via the impacts of improved natural resource governance.


Around 14.3 million women benefit as members of smallholder households gaining income from improved farming practices, as participants in nutrition-sensitive agricultural interventions, as users of digital climate advisory services, and as users of natural resources under improved governance.


Fine-scale land suitability assessment will identify diverse agri-production options to address soil health, biodiversity, and ecosystem services across Asian mega-deltas, improving outcomes for management, environmental health, and biodiversity over 2.6 million hectares of land.


For more details, view the Initiative proposal


Header photo: A farmer tends to her maize crop, an example of recession agriculture on the floodplains of the Tonle Sap at Phat Sanday, Cambodia. Photo by N. Palmer/IWMI.