NOTE: This initiative has ended, and as of June 2018, this webpage is no longer being updated regularly.


The CASCADE Project

Ecosystem-Based Adaptation and Smallholder Coffee and Subsistence Farmers in Central America: Results from the CASCADE Project


The CASCADE project “Ecosystem-based Adaptation for Smallholder Subsistence and Coffee Farming Communities in Central America” was a six-year research project (2012–2018) focused on identifying and evaluating Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) strategies to help smallholder farming communities adapt to climate change.

The overall objective of the project was to assess the vulnerability of smallholder subsistence and coffee farming communities to climate change, and develop and test strategies for Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) to help highly vulnerable farming communities cope with climate change.

This website provides a summary of the objectives, activities and key accomplishments of the CASCADE project. It also provides links to the project’s rich legacy of scientific papers, policy briefs, technical papers and training materials on issues of smallholder farmer adaptation to climate change. We encourage you to explore these materials and share them widely with colleagues who are interested in the adaptation of smallholder farmers to climate change and in promoting the use of Ecosystem-based Adaptation in agricultural landscapes.

Project Overview

The CASCADE project was led by Conservation International (CI) and implemented together with CATIE (the Tropical Agricultural Research and Higher Education Center) and CIRAD (the French Agricultural Research Centre for International Development). The project was generously funded by the International Climate Initiative (ICI) of the German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB).

The project was implemented in three Central American countries (Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras) with smallholder coffee and subsistence (maize/bean) farmers. Activities were conducted at regional and national scales, and in six individual landscapes (Turrialba and Los Santos in Costa Rica, Chiquimula and Acatenango in Guatemala, and Choluteca and Yoro in Honduras).

​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​What Was the Impetus for the Cascade Project?

Smallholder farmers in Central America and elsewhere are highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. Smallholder farmers cultivate small areas of land, live in marginal areas, depend on rain-fed agriculture and often lack access to credit or technical support. Rising temperatures and more erratic rainfall patterns threaten the crops that smallholder farmers depend on for food security and income generation, and pose a significant challenge to farmer livelihoods.

Policy makers, donors and practitioners are increasingly aware of the need to help smallholder farmers prepare for and adapt to climate change. However, to date, there has been little information on what adaptation strategies are most effective for smallholder farmers. Policy makers and practitioners need detailed information on how smallholder farmers are being affected by climate change, which communities are most vulnerable (and why), and what adaptation options are most appropriate for smallholder farming systems.

Adaptation programs for agricultural systems have traditionally promoted adaptation strategies that are reliant on additional inputs, new varieties or new technologies (such as irrigation), but these strategies are often out of reach for smallholder farmers who have limited financial and technical resources. Other strategies such as Ecosystem-based Adaptation (the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services to help people adapt to climate change) are also needed, but little is known about the extent to which EbA practices are used — or could be used — on smallholder farming systems.

The CASCADE project aimed to fill these knowledge gaps by providing novel information on how smallholder farmers are being affected by climate change, identifying adaptation options for these farmers, exploring the potential of EbA to help farmers adapt to changing climatic conditions and building local capacity to promote holistic adaptation programs for smallholder farmers.

What Were the Project Objectives?

The overall objective of the CASCADE project was to assess the vulnerability of smallholder subsistence and coffee farming communities to climate change and develop and test strategies for EbA to help highly vulnerable farming communities cope with climate change. The project focused on smallholder coffee farmers and subsistence farmers cultivating maize and beans in Costa Rica, Guatemala and Honduras.

The project had seven specific goals:

  1. Understand the vulnerability of Central American ecosystems and small-scale farming communities to climate change
  2. Identify which ecosystems, ecosystem services and small-scale farming communities are most vulnerable to climate change
  3. Characterize the strategies that smallholder farmers are using to adapt to climate change
  4. Test the effectiveness of different EbA options for reducing farmer vulnerability
  5. Identify local and national institutions that could promote EbA approaches
  6. Strengthen capacity of key organizations to support implementation of EbA with smallholder farmers
  7. Promote the incorporation of EbA approaches in national and regional adaptation strategies and associated policies

What Did We Do?

A coffee farmer answers survey questions as part of the CASCADE project.
© José Alexis Pérez

The CASCADE project was a multidisciplinary research and action project designed to promote greater understanding and use of EbA as an adaptation strategy for smallholder farmers through applied research, training activities, outreach and policy events. We used farmer surveys, field work, modeling, on-line surveys and expert workshops to understand how climate change will impact farmers, identify those most in need and characterize the EbA options that can help farmers adapt to climate change in the region. We organized multiple technical and policy events with policy makers, agronomists, farmers and other key stakeholders (at subnational, national and international levels) to highlight the impacts of climate change on smallholder farmers and emphasize the potential for EbA to help farmers adapt to these changes.

We also developed policy briefs to help inform ongoing policy discussions on how to help the agricultural sector in the target countries to adapt to climate change. Finally, to enhance local capacity to design and implement EbA practices with smallholder farmers, we developed training modules to help agronomists, extension agents and other technical staff better understand the issues of climate change adaptation and to promote the use of EbA practices by smallholder farmers, and conducted approximately 20 training workshops with these materials. We also provided grants to nine local partner organizations to replicate our training activities with smallholder farmers, reaching some 2,000 smallholder farmers through 64 training events.

Key Project Activities

  • Assessments of historical changes in climate in the Central America region to understand how the climate has already changed
  • Modeling of expected changes in temperature and rainfall across Central America
  • Modeling of climate change impacts on agricultural systems, ecosystem services (water, pollination) and natural ecosystems
  • Assessments of the adaptive capacity of smallholder coffee and basic grainfarmers across Central America
  • Assessment of climate change impacts on smallholder farming systems (e.g., on yields, pests and diseases, food security, family income), through household surveys and expert interviews
  • Characterization of the adaptation practices used by farmers and the factors affecting the implementation of adaptation practices
  • Characterization of the use of EbA practices by smallholder farmers, through intensive field surveys of smallholder coffee and basic grain farms
  • Studies on the effectiveness of EbA practices, through field work and systematic literature reviews
  • Development of training materials (in Spanish) on climate change impacts on agriculture, and EbA for agricultural extension agents and agronomists
  • Training of approximately 200 agricultural extension agents, agronomists and other key stakeholders on issues of climate change, adaptation and EbA, using a ‘train-the-trainer’ approach
  • Grants provided to 9 local organizations to train smallholder farmers on climate change adaptation and EbA, reaching some 2,000 smallholder farmers across the region
  • Analysis of institutions that can help promote EbA among smallholder farmers
  • Analysis of what information policymakers need to establish adaptation policies for smallholder farmers
  • A review of current environmental and agricultural policies that could enable broad-scale use of EbA in the region
  • Inclusion of language on EbA in Costa Rica’s National Adaptation Policy

Project Outputs and Accomplishments

The project has generated a rich legacy of scientific publications, policy briefs, technical materials and training materials that have already been used to inform ongoing discussions and implementation of adaptation in smallholder farming communities, and which will continue to inform these discussions into the future. All of these outputs are available at the bottom of this page in the sections titled “Scientific Publications,” “Policy Materials” and “Training Materials.”

Highlights of the project include:

Scientific Publications


All Publications

Training Materials

Four training modules on EbA for agriculture (in Spanish), which give practical examples of adaptation and ecosystem services provided by specific practices for coffee farming and highlight the role of EbA in helping farmers to adapt:
  • More than 2,000 technicians and farmers trained with CASCADE training materials on climate change, adaptation and EbA
  • Five policy events organized on ‘Agriculture, Climate Change and EbA'
  • 11 media appearances featuring CASCADE work
  • Two side events on EbA and smallholder farming organized at UNFCCC (SBSTA)
  • 96 conference presentations and posters on CASCADE results at key scientific, technical and policy venues
  • Greater awareness among policy makers and agricultural technicians on the importance of EbA for smallholder farmers

Policy Materials

  • Approximately 7,000 sets of training materials disseminated to roughly 125 institutions linked to coffee or basic grains farming in the region
  • 20 training events organized on climate change, adaptation and EbA delivered to agricultural technicians across Central America
  • Grants provided to 9 local organizations:
    • Guatemala: ARNPG, Tikonel, ASORECH
    • Honduras: CONICH, COHonducafe, IHCAFE
    • Costa Rica: ACICAFOC, APOYA, CoopeDota


For more information on the CASCADE project, please contact:


This project is part of the International Climate Initiative (ICI). German Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation, Building and Nuclear Safety (BMUB) supports this initiative on the basis of a decision adopted by the German Bundestag.