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With climate effects looming, land-use planners reach for their toolbox

Experts discussed a range of technical and social responses at the Global Landscapes Forum in Lima.
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Brazil could lose as much as 10 million of its 60 million hectares of cropland.
Brazil could lose as much as 10 million of its 60 million hectares of cropland.

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LIMA, Peru—It’s coming soon. And it’s time to act now.

Imminent climatic changes challenge planners and policy makers to forecast likely impacts and launch adaptation plans a decade or more before the worst effects are felt.

With more (and better) data and tools for exploring future scenarios, planners can make land-management decisions, justify investments and map strategies for climate-change adaptation and for meeting the proposed Sustainable Development Goals after 2015, researchers said in a discussion session at the 2014 Global Landscapes Forum in Lima.

The forum was organized by the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) and the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) on the sidelines of the annual UN climate change conference. It drew more than 1,700 people from 90 countries, including country climate negotiators, ministers, CEOs, indigenous leaders, civil society leaders and researchers.

FORECASTING IMPACTS

Using the Brazilian Land Use Model (BLUM), planners in that country combined hydro-meteorological, spatial and economic data to predict climate-driven changes in agricultural and livestock production.

BLUM enabled them to explore baseline, pessimistic and optimistic future scenarios at the regional level, said Rodrigo Lima, general manager of AGROICONE, a Brazilian consulting firm specializing in agriculture, energy and sustainability.

Projecting productivity changes for pasture, maize and soy from 2010 to 2030, they found that top-quality farmland in the country’s southern grain belt could decrease from 32 million hectares to between 27 million and 29 million hectares.

Even “low-climate-risk” farmland in the south could shrink between 2020 and 2030.

“That’s a spatially relevant outcome that has major policy implications for Brazil,” said Erick Fernandes, an agriculture adviser with the World Bank Group.

Overall, the country could lose as much as 10 million of its 60 million hectares of cropland, Lima said.

A farmland squeeze could increase prices for farm products, as much as doubling agriculture’s share of the country’s economy over the next decades—good news for farmers, but bad news for consumers, who would see food prices rise. It could also lead to increased deforestation to clear more land for crops, Lima said.

Planners must consider not just national impacts, but also local and regional effects on poverty, livelihoods and small farmers. Some could be mitigated by intensive use of pasture or by shifting crops to a different area, but those adaptation measures require planning and policies.

The challenge will be to transform degraded cropland and pasture, which are greenhouse gas sources, into vibrant, diversified cropping systems that serve as greenhouse gas sinks, Fernandes said.

“It can be done,” he said, but “you need a decade or two to put it in place.”

MISSION: RESTORATION

The global challenge of restoring 150 million hectares of degraded land by 2020 and 350 million by 2030—plus the Latin American goal of restoring 20 million hectares by 2020—creates opportunities for linking multilateral finance to restoration, said Patrick Wiley, senior forest policy adviser at the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Using the Restoration Opportunity Assessment Methodology (ROAM), planners can identify the best places for restoration and the best strategies to use for food and water security, Wiley said.

Using the tool, they can identify the main problems caused by land degradation, then set goals and meet with interest groups to determine the types of degraded lands and the most feasible restoration actions, quantify costs and benefits, estimate the value of carbon sequestered in the landscape and analyze financing options.

A tool like ROAM helps land-use planners justify their investment in land restoration, especially because of the local benefits, such as jobs, that will result, Wiley said.

FILLING IN DATA GAPS

Effective land- and forest-management policies require a solid evidence base, and the Poverty and Environment Network (PEN) aims to fill data gaps. Using household surveys, researchers gather data from more than 50 study sites in 24 developing countries in the tropics.

“The key research question is how much do forest and non-cultivated environmental resources contribute to household income,” said Sven Wunder, a principal scientist at CIFOR, which coordinates the project.

The study sites were selected to represent a variety of geographical regions, infrastructure, population density, forest types, land-tenure systems, poverty levels and access to markets.

Data show that 22 percent of the households’ income comes from forests and 6.4 percent from other extractive resources—a combined amount almost equal to income from farming.

Statistics bureaus can use the data to develop a more accurate picture of environmental impacts on rural household income, Wunder said. PEN data can also be combined with climate data to identify patterns and help with planning for projects for reduction of emissions from deforestation and forest degradation (REDD+).

CIFOR is now working with FAO, the World Bank and other organizations to develop a forestry module for PEN.

These tools were developed as part of KNOWFOR, a joint effort by of the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and the World Bank’s Profor program.

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