Malawi study reveals climate adaptation costs

A study done in Malawi and other countries in Asia and Africa has revealed that efforts to assess what is needed to adapt agriculture to a changing climate often miss the point by trying to estimate an overall price tag that fails to reflect the diversity of the sector.

The results have been summarized in a briefing paper published by International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED) on Friday.

Dr Muyeye Chambwera at the IIED in collaboration with the Stockholm Environment Institute and the Global Climate Adaptation Partnership (GCAP) led the study that was also done in Bangladesh, Nepal, Rwanda and Tanzania.

Researchers and farmers carry out research to adapt to climate change. Photo: IDRC, Peter Bennett

They sought to identify ways to assess the cost of adapting different agricultural systems from the local level, as each will respond in a different way to climate change.

Chambwera says climate vulnerable countries need to combine better information about the costs of damage and investments in adaptation at the farm level with improved climate data.

According to Dr Chambwera, adaptation means many different things in different contexts.

“The cost of adapting a integrated farming system in a village in Nepal could be US$20,000 per year, that of a rain-fed maize system in a district of Malawi’s US$55 million, and protecting the entire livestock sector of Tanzania could cost up to US$280 million — with all costs likely to treble by 2030,” he said.

And Dr Tom Downing of GCAP says the research shows that adaptation to climate change must be better coordinated, with local and district level input into national processes and plans, and greater alignment of funding earmarked for ‘climate change adaptation’ with budgets for agricultural development.

“To adapt agriculture to a climate change, policymakers need to follow pathways of social, economic and institutional change from the bottom up, rather than rely on isolated top-down interventions,” Dr Downing said.

He also said policymakers must align adaptation with existing development plans that aim to address inefficiencies in the sector.

“It is also critical that adaptation plans can themselves respond to new information and as-yet unknown directions that climate change could take.” Dr Downing said.

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