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.
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:
- Understand the vulnerability of Central American ecosystems and small-scale farming communities to climate change
- Identify which ecosystems, ecosystem services and small-scale farming communities are most vulnerable to climate change
- Characterize the strategies that smallholder farmers are using to adapt to climate change
- Test the effectiveness of different EbA options for reducing farmer vulnerability
- Identify local and national institutions that could promote EbA approaches
- Strengthen capacity of key organizations to support implementation of EbA with smallholder farmers
- Promote the incorporation of EbA approaches in national and regional adaptation strategies and associated policies
What Did We Do?
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 Papers,” “Policy Materials” and “Training Materials.”
Highlights of the project include:
- A paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science (PNAS) on “Coffee, bees and climate: coupling of pollination services and agriculture under climate change,” which was featured in 132 news articles from 103 news outlets, and was listed as one of the top 25 Climate Change publications in 2017
- A special edition of the journal "Climatic Change" (March 2017, vol. 141) on “Climate change impacts on ecosystems, agriculture and smallholder farmers in Central America,” which was edited by C. Donatti and L. Hannah and includes 10 scientific articles
- A seminal paper, "Ecosystem-based adaptation for smallholder farmers: definitions, opportunities and constraints," that provides the first-ever framework for understanding EbA in the context of smallholder farming (Vignola et al. 2015)
- The first assessment of the use of EbA practices by smallholder coffee and subsistence farmers (Harvey et al. 2017)
- A novel assessment of the needs of policy makers for adaptation planning for smallholder farming (Donatti et al. 2015)
- The coffee rust crises in Colombia and Central America (2008–2013)
- Mapping climate change adaptive capacity and vulnerability of smallholder agricultural livelihoods in Central America
- Effects of shade, altitude and management on multiple ecosystem services in coffee agroecosystems
- What information do policy makers need to develop climate adaptation plans for smallholder farmers?
- Vulnerability of smallholder farmers to climate change in Central America and Mexico
- Mapping conservation priorities and connectivity pathways under climate change for tropical ecosystems
- Regional modeling of climate change impacts on smallholder agriculture and ecosystems in Central America
- Climate change influences on pollinator, forest, and farm interactions across a climate gradient
- Climate-smart landscapes: Opportunities and challenges for integrating adaptation and mitigation in tropical agricultural landscapes
- The use of Ecosystem-based Adaptation practices by smallholder farmers in Central America
- Skill of CMIP5 climate models in reproducing 20th century basic climate features in Central America
- Observed (1970-1999) climate variability in Central America using a high-resolution meteorological dataset with implication to climate change studies
- Mapping adaptive capacity and smallholder agriculture: applying expert knowledge at the landscape scale
- Coffee, bees and climate: coupling of pollination services and agriculture under climate change
- Impacts of climate change on ecosystem hydrological services of Central America: water availability
- Climate change, ecosystems and smallholder agriculture: An introduction to the special issue
- Farmer perception and utilization of leaf functional traits in managing agroecosystems
- Projections of climate change impacts on central America tropical rainforest
- Assessing air temperature trends in Mesoamerica and their implications for the future of horticulture
- Ecosystem-based adaptation for smallholder farmers: definitions, opportunities and constraints
- Climate change impacts and adaptation among smallholder farmers in Central America
- Module 1: Climate change, vulnerability and actions to combat climate change: basic concepts (El clima, el cambio climático, la vulnerabilidad y acciones contra el cambio climático: Conceptos básicos)
- Module 2: Impacts of climate change on agriculture in Central America: adaptation and mitigation strategies (Impactos del cambio climático en la agricultura de Centroamérica, estrategias de mitigación y adaptación)
- Module 3: The importance of ecosystem services for agriculture (La importancia de los servicios ecosistémicos para la agricultura)
- Module 4: How to address climate change in agricultural systems: Ecosystem-based Adaptation Practices (Cómo enfrentar el cambio climático desde la agricultura: Prácticas de Adaptación basadas en Ecosistemas)
- 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
- Six policy briefs, including a policy brief per target country on the opportunities for climate change adaptation in agriculture and a final policy brief on "EbA as an option for helping Central America’s agricultural sector adapt to climate change"
- Ecosystem-based Adaptation is essential for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals
- Smallholder Farmers and Ecosystem-based Adaptation
- La agricultura de Costa Rica y el cambio climático: ¿Dónde están las prioridades para la adaptación?
- La agricultura de Guatemala y el cambio climático: ¿Dónde están las prioridades para la adaptación?
- La agricultura de Honduras y el cambio climático: ¿Dónde están las prioridades para la adaptación?
- Adaptación basada en Ecosistemas como una opción de adaptación de la agricultura al cambio climático en Centroamérica
- 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.