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Ethiopian Highlands with Children
From Climate Smart Agriculture to Climate Smart Landscapes

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© 2012 Scherr et al.; licensee Biomed Central Ltd.

This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (
), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.

From Climate-Smart Agriculture to Climate-Smart Landscapes



August 1, 2012

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Short Summary

This article explains the concept of climate-smart landscapes, enumerates the benefits, identifies key components, and recommends concrete actions to scale them up around the world.


To achieve climate-smart landscape initiatives widely and at scale will require strengthened technical capacities, institutions and political support for multi-stakeholder planning, governance, spatial targeting of investments and multi-objective impact monitoring.


Background and Methods

Agriculture will face serious challenges from climate change impacts, including crop yield decreases from elevated temperatures, water scarcity, and more frequent and severe weather events like droughts, floods, and storms. At the same time, almost one third of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions come from land use; from deforestation for agricultural purposes, from cropping systems themselves, and from livestock-related uses. So it is critical to address agriculture with regard to climate change as neither villain nor victim.

As the understanding around the links between climate change and agriculture has strengthened, a research agenda for ‘climate-smart agriculture’ has emerged. Much of this work has focused on the farm and field level practices that can contribute to climate change mitigation and adaptation, but there is growing recognition of the need for a broader geographic scope and the inclusion of institutional elements. This article reviews research around climate change, agriculture, and integrated landscape management to elucidate the mechanisms by which to implement climate-smart agriculture at a landscape scale.

Key Messages

In the review, three key components are identified that characterize a climate-smart landscape:

  • Climate-smart practices at the field and farm level. These include mixed crop and tree systems, more efficient water and nutrient use, improved soil management that builds fertility and structure, and livestock practices to reduce emissions.
  • Diversity of land use across the landscape to provide resilience. A variety of cropping systems, vegetation types, and upstream and downstream land uses can help mitigate risk, provide reserves of food and habitat for wildlife, and increase the carbon sequestration in a landscape.
  • Management of the interactions between different land uses to achieve social, economic and ecological benefits. Because ecosystems and land uses don’t exist in a vacuum, it is critical to consider how each affects the other. Spatial planning at a landscape level can help tap into the synergies between different land use and cover types, and improve the ability to adapt to stressors.

Beyond these management strategies, certain institutions and processes are needed to implement climate-smart agricultural landscapes with these features. Multi-stakeholder planning is critical to include all the voices and perspectives with vested interests in the landscape. This also means working across sectors. Strong and transparent governance and tenure regimes, financing mechanisms that support integrated projects, and indicators of success to measure impacts at a landscape scale are all critical to bringing climate-smart landscapes from concept to reality.

Examples of initiatives in Madagascar’s Highlands, the African Sahel and the Australian Wet Tropics illustrate the application of these elements in contrasting contexts.

Next Steps

Climate-smart landscapes, where they exist, are still in their infancy. To overcome the challenges ahead, particularly as climate change itself becomes more and more of a hurdle, certain concrete actions can help. Networks and platforms to share knowledge and experience, further innovations, or even exchange seeds can build capacity of those on the ground. Strong political and financial support is also important. Fora to facilitate better alignment of different divisions and sectors within government, and improve linkages between climate and agriculture funding sources, can work towards this end. And finally, more work needs to focus on developing integrated metrics that monitor not only carbon storage, but also water quantity and quality, biodiversity, and other ecosystem services that increase the adaptive capacity of agricultural production and natural systems.

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