Taking Root’s reforestation model is designed to mitigate climate change, but did you know that it is also designed to help farmers adapt to climate change? Since farmers earn their livelihoods from agriculture and raising livestock – one of the primary drivers of deforestation – building forest cover is normally at odds with improved livelihoods. But thanks to Taking Root’s carefully designed reforestation model, there is no trade-off between tackling climate change and improving livelihoods.
Climate change adaptation refers to livelihood strategies that reduce people’s overall vulnerability to the impacts of climate change . Planning for and implementing strategies to assist with climate change adaptation in developing countries is a key outcome of the UN’s meeting in Paris last December (COP 21, 2015). The meeting acknowledged the need for greater international cooperation in order to lend strong support to the developing nations most vulnerable to climate change. In short, it makes climate change adaptation an international policy priority.
Why climate change is a particular problem for farmers in the poorest parts of the world
Farmers in the poorest parts of the world depend on rain-fed agriculture for their subsistence, typically without crop insurance. So even small weather changes caused by climate change can disrupt the livelihoods of some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.
Increases in average temperatures pose problems to farmers for two reasons. First, warmer temperatures decrease long-run crop yields that farmers depend upon to feed their families. Second, increased temperatures are commonly associated with increases in pest and disease outbreaks. For example, over the last several years, coffee production in Nicaragua and much of Latin America has been decimated by coffee rust, a pathogen that greatly reduces productivity. The effects of coffee rust worsen with climate change.
However, the real problem caused by climate change is the increase of extreme weather events, such as floods and droughts, and greater variability in rainfall. Farmers plant their agricultural crops at the beginning of the rainy season after the first big rains. At that point in time they have already made their largest investments – they have prepared the land for planting and used up their remaining seeds from the previous year’s harvest. If rains do not fall immediately after seeds germinate, plants will die and entire harvests will be lost.
How Taking Root’s reforestation model helps farmers build resilience to a changing climate
There are several ways in which our model helps farmers adapt to climate change.
- Diversifying sources of income
At the most basic level, merchantable trees are another crop that helps famers diversify their portfolio of income earning activities, which reduces a households’ overall exposure to risk. In the event of an unexpected occurrence, such as a pest outbreak that attacks a crop, farmers still have their other crops that provide an income.
- Trees are more resilient than most agricultural crops
One of the great things about trees is that they can thrive on land not suitable for agriculture such as slopes and on rocky soil. This means that trees can provide a productive purpose to land that is not suitable for other food crops. And once trees have taken root, they are much more resistant to droughts and floods compared to agricultural crops. Established trees are much more likely to survive and thus preventing a total crop failure.
- Flexible work schedule and harvesting times
Unpredictable weather means unpredictable harvests for farmers. One of the great things about merchantable sized trees is that they can be harvested at any time of the year. Farmers can time harvests counter-cyclical to the agriculture season (i.e., times of the year when agricultural crops do not provide any income). In addition, growing quality trees requires attention and care. Trees must be pruned and thinned and farmers can do this work during the off-season, when agricultural work is scant. In this way, income-earning activities are shifted to times when they are most needed.
- Income stability
All farmers participating in Taking Root’s reforestation program receive payments for environmental services based on tree growth. In times of agricultural difficulty, such as those caused by irregular weather events, farmers still receive payments.
- Banking trees
Once the trees are of merchantable size, they store value, like a bank, where deposits can be withdrawn in times of personal difficulties. For example, after a crop failure or a family member gets sick when a household is desperate for income, a household with merchantable trees can harvest some to cover their urgent needs. Such harvests are part of Taking Root’s planting design and carbon calculations so they do not affect the carbon offsets generated by the program.
Planting trees are only the first step in Taking Root’s comprehensive program design. Our program promotes long-term and sustainable livelihoods for farmers by linking them and their forests to markets for the goods and services provided by trees, notably carbon sequestration markets and timber markets for the trees that are sustainably removed from thinnings so that other trees can keep growing.
With careful planning and design, Taking Root ensures that tree planting does not displace other livelihood activities but rather increases farmers’ resilience to climate change. Finding a win-win scenario between climate change mitigation through reforestation and improving farmers’ livelihoods is at the heart of what Taking Root does. After all, if farmers do not directly benefit from growing trees, they will never adopt tree-growing practices at the scale required to have a serious impact on climate change.
 Morton, J. (2007). The impact of climate change on smallholder and subsistence agriculture. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), 104 (50), pp. 19680–19685
Kahlil Baker is the Co-founder and Executive Director at Taking Root. He is also a Ph.D. Candidate in Forestry Economics at The University of British Columbia. His research focuses on international forestry and economic development.