Student information

Climate change and adaptation

Climate change is expected to negatively affect crop and livestock production through increasing temperature, changing rainfall patterns, increased climate variability and increased frequency of extreme events. Yet, the agricultural sector is not only a victim but also a culprit of climate change as it emits a large share of global greenhouse gas emissions. Hence, there is a strong need for adapting to climate change and mitigating agriculture’s contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. At the same time, agriculture will have to meet demands for food that are expected to sharply increase in the coming decades. The climate-smart agriculture concept offers scope to analyse this three-pronged challenge of food security, resilience and mitigation in an integrated way.

At PPS we conduct integrated, multi-criteria and cross-scale assessments of climate change impacts, adaptation and mitigation in both low-input and high-input farming systems. The research is often implemented with active stakeholder involvement to understand farmers’ perceptions and identify solutions that are relevant  for the farmers who are intended to use them. In this work, we combine crop, livestock and whole-farm models to assess climate change impacts and evaluate adaptation options based on stakeholder workshops and farmer interviews. The models can be both dynamic or static to simulate or optimize (with e.g. linear programming) systems (link with theme 9). Building resilience to climate change and weather variability and extremes is an important component of improving the sustainability of farming systems, which explains the link with theme 1 and theme 2.

Vulnerability of smallholder farmers and adaptation options in African farming systems

Smallholder farming systems are vulnerable to climate change and need to adapt in order to improve productivity and sustain people’s livelihoods. Although the impact of climate change is projected to be large, many uncertainties persist, not only with respect to crop production, but also with respect to the livestock and grazing components of the system. In particular, effects on the resilience of heterogeneous farm populations are not well understood. Numerous climate adaptation options exist for crop–livestock systems, but despite the potential solutions, smallholders face major constraints and barriers at various scales that limit the adoption potential.

A thesis under this sub-theme will focus on assessing vulnerability, resilience or climate adaptation, or a combination of those for the smallholder context in West, East or southern Africa. Using simulated future climate data as a starting point, students can use crop models to quantify the expected impacts of climate change on crop and biomass productivity and map changes in land suitability. Such information can be integrated with household level information to map vulnerability hotspots.

Alternatively, students can focus on unpacking the resilience concept by assessing attributes that describe the resilience concepts of robustness, adaptability and transformability of different types of smallholder systems. Data on farm system characteristics and performance of adaptation options (for example from experiments (see theme 1) or from literature) can be combined with simulation modelling to explore how resilience could be improved.

Adapting to climate change in European farming systems

Impacts of climate change on agriculture are often projected using crop models, focusing on crop productivity. These models suggest that impacts of climate change can be both positive and negative, depending on the agro-ecological conditions, crop type and management. In the Netherlands, gradual climate change largely has positive impacts on crop yields. However, also the frequency of extreme events is increasing, and impacts of these are largely negative. For example, in 2016, extreme rainfall events led to crop failures, and in 2018, droughts reduced potato yields in the Netherlands with an estimated 18%. Reduced crop growth also leads to reduced nitrogen uptake and larger nitrogen losses to the environment. Impacts on income depend on market responses.

At PPS, we perform integrated assessments in which we combine crop models with semi-quantitative participatory approaches and bio-economic models. Impacts of climate change are considered in the context of changes in technology, markets and policies, and we address impacts on economic, environmental and social indicators.

A thesis under this sub-theme can contribute to improve understanding of the impacts of climate change on crop yields and other agricultural functions. Experiments may be performed on-station or on-farm, farm surveys organized and analysed, crop models improved, and stakeholders interviewed to improve impact assessments. Also statistical, dynamic and optimization modelling can be used to analyse and explore impacts. Most projects take place in the Netherlands, but options may be available in other European regions.

Climate smart agriculture

The climate-smart agriculture (CSA) concept brings together the three pillars of food security, resilience and mitigation in an integrated way. Numerous agricultural options are claimed to be climate-smart (e.g. conservation agriculture), but many claims of triple-wins do not withstand detailed scrutiny, as benefits for one CSA pillar often go hand in hand with drawbacks for another pillar or compromises in terms of social or economic sustainability. In addition, constraints to the adoption of CSA options limit the adaptation and mitigation capacity of the current system. Policies to underpin pathways towards CSA must take account of the possible trade-offs and synergies between the CSA pillars, which depend on the context and the scale of the analysis.

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Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO).

A thesis under this sub-theme can contribute to understanding this complexity and finding holistic solutions, through an analysis that takes a farming system and/or food systems perspective. A systems approach is characterized by accounting for the interactions between system components (e.g. crops and livestock), cross-scale dynamics (e.g. field to farm to regional scale) and through multi-dimensional assessments (e.g. integrating agronomic, economic and environmental aspects). To assess the trade-offs between the three CSA pillars, a thesis can rely on a literature review, building a (simple) model, using existing models, analysis of existing (farm and household) level data and/or scenario analysis. Also more qualitative analyses can be conducted, e.g. relying on stakeholder workshops to identify, evaluate and prioritize CSA options. A thesis can focus both on high- and low-input systems.

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