This policy brief, published by the research network NCCR North-South, argues that good natural resource management can benefit poor farmers and help developing countries mitigate climate change and adapt to its effects.
In Ethiopia, farmers have increased their yields by rehabilitating degraded soils through simple land management such as building earth walls, drainage gutters and terracing. But these measures also reduce emissions and increase the carbon stored in soils, which makes them more resilient to climate extremes such as prolonged drought.
Good water management similarly speeds up carbon sequestration by improving vegetation cover. It also helps farmers cope with changing rain patterns and receding glaciers that provide a crucial source of agricultural water.
Studies around Mount Kenya reveal that protecting headwater forests — forests found at a river's source, usually at higher elevations — offers one way of improving water flows downstream during dry seasons to help farmers cope with increasing variability in rainfall.
But good land and water management requires investment. Rehabilitating degraded soils is often too costly for poor farmers but could be supported through, for example, carbon trading. Planning where to take action will also require investment in tools such as soil reflectance spectrometers that can measure soil carbon to collect local and regional quantitative data.
Improving irrigation systems and technologies will also be critical to ensure that dwindling agricultural water supplies are more efficiently used. It is particularly important in Central Asia where climate change is reducing glacier meltwater and changing river flows.