CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)



Sieglinde Snapp

Yodit Kebeda

Lini Wollenberg

Sadie Shelton


Burlington | United States of America


A new scientific review of over 10,000 studies finds substantial evidence that agroecological practices – like farm diversification, agroforestry and organic agriculture – can significantly contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation in agriculture in low- and middle-income countries (LMICs).

Here, we present the new report on the impacts of agroecology on climate change adaptation and mitigation. We used the FAO 10 Elements of Agroecology and Glissman's transition levels as a framework for defining agroecology.

The study found that agroecology can play a major role in climate change adaptation and mitigation. So, what does the available evidence tell us? And how can it inform decisions?

Key messages from the review of over 10,000 studies

  • Climate change adaptation can be associated with agroecology practices. However, there are many data gaps.
  • Evidence for agroecology’s impacts on climate change mitigation is modest, except for enhanced carbon sequestration in soil and biomass. Livestock is a major gap.
  • Farmer co-creation and sharing of knowledge consistently supported farmers’ capacity to adapt to local conditions, improving both adaptation and mitigation.
  • Experience in scaling up agroecology involved interventions, enabling conditions and barriers similar to conventional agriculture, although gave more emphasis to farmer co-creation of knowledge and local solutions.
  • Few studies compared agroecology performance against alternatives and cost-effectiveness in LMICs and the tropics.
  • To avoid contention about what is defined as agroecology, the authors recommend an outcome-based approach to assessing performance that integrates agroecological principles and climate change adaptation and mitigation indicators.


What the evidence tells us

Climate change adaptation
  • Farm diversification had the strongest body of evidence for impacts on climate change adaptation, which included positive impacts of diversification on crop yield, pollination, pest control, nutrient cycling, water regulation and soil fertility.
  • Substantial evidence exists for climate change adaptation associated with practices and systems aligned with principles of agroecology. However, more analysis is needed to understand agroecology’s resilience to extreme weather conditions.
  • Some agroecological practices, like agroforestry, have positive impacts on biodiversity, water regulation, soil carbon, nitrogen and fertility and buffering temperature extremes. Others, like organic agriculture, improve regulating (pest, water, nutrient) and supporting services.
Climate change mitigation

The evidence on agroecology’s impact on mitigation is modest, except for enhancing carbon sequestration in soil and biomass.

Where there is strong evidence:

  • Tropical agroforestry had the strongest body of evidence for impacts on mitigation, which had associated sequestration of carbon in biomass and soil.

Where there is weak evidence:

  • As the GHG footprint of outcomes depends on where system boundaries are drawn, more multi-scalar analyses are needed to capture flows of inputs and impacts beyond the farm scale, especially in LMICs where there is almost a complete lack of data on GHG emissions from tropical agriculture.

Where there is moderate evidence:

  • There is a moderate and growing body of evidence for organic agriculture increasing soil carbon sequestration.
  • Evidence of nitrous oxide mitigation was modest for tropical agriculture overall, and data on methane generation or mitigation was also limited.
  • Evidence from the global North suggests that reliance on organic nutrient sources and organic farming will likely avoid increased nitrous oxide emissions compared to use of synthetic nitrogen fertilizer.
Adaptive capacity
  • Evidence suggests that agroecology provides more climate change adaptation and mitigation than conventional agriculture by emphasizing locally relevant solutions, participatory processes and co-creation of knowledge. 
  • Specifically, co-creation and sharing of knowledge supported farmers’ capacity to adapt to local conditions.
  • Multiple lines of evidence show that engaging with local knowledge through participatory and educational approaches are effective at adapting technologies to local contexts, thereby delivering improved adaptation and mitigation. 
  • Evidence for trade-offs exists between yields and climate change adaptation and mitigation, but it was not systematically reported.
  • There are win-win outcomes for yields and climate change mitigation associated with crop diversity and organic nutrient management, but not necessarily for organic farming or agroforestry.
Data gaps
  • There is a clear need for high-quality, long-term, research on farms and at landscape scales that compare agroecology against alternatives like conventional or climate-smart agriculture.
  • A large data gap was found for agricultural GHG emissions and mitigation, with almost no evidence from the global South. There were also evidence gaps for agroecology approaches involving livestock integration, landscape-scale redesign and for multi-scalar analysis.
  • A major concern is to what extent scaling up agroecology may restrict farmers’ options and becomes a poverty trap by maintaining the status quo by not providing access to possible growth through industrial and corporate models.
  • There is a lack of data or scenarios showing the impacts of agroecological transitions on economic development.
Donor investments

Improve investment in agroecology for climate change will require long-term funding modalities, outcome target setting that includes environmental services and climate benefits, and systemic change and incentives to build farmer capacities (Fig 1). Rather than treating climate change adaptation and mitigation as co-benefits, global food systems must be actively managed for climate change benefits.

Key elements of exiting agricultural development programs to increase support for agroecology and climate change outcomes.>Figure 1. Key elements of exiting agricultural development programs to increase support for agroecology and climate change outcomes.

What actions are needed?

Tackling climate change has always required broad cooperation and diverse approaches. Implementing agroecology across organizations with different political visions for development will require transcending the many labels for sustainable agriculture and climate change (e.g., climate-smart agriculture, regenerative agriculture), including agroecology. The point is to spend less time debating what agroecology is, and more time on how it can be used to improve agricultural mitigation and adaptation to climate change.

Recommendations from the review
  • An outcome-based approach is needed to understand the performance of integrating agroecological principles and climate change adaptation and mitigation indicators. 
  • Direct agricultural development investments to agricultural diversification, local adaptation, and pathways to scaling both.
  • Increase investment for research on agroecology’s resilience to extreme weather events and climate change mitigation outcomes.
  • Invest in research to analyze approaches aligned with agroecology relative to other agriculture development approaches, across all scales and regions, for outcomes in multiple dimensions and their trade-offs, including cost-effectiveness.

Originally published on April 22 on the CCAFS website: Agroecology: A key piece to climate adaptation & mitigation?



Review Authors

Sieglinde SNAPP, Michigan State University (MSU)
Yodit KEBEDE, French National Research Institute for Sustainable Development (IRD) and The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT
Lini WOLLENBERG, CCAFS and University of Vermont (UVM) (Corresponding author - lini.wollenberg@uvm.edu)
Kyle M. DITTMER, CCAFS and The Alliance of Bioversity International and CIAT
Sarah BRICKMAN, University of Vermont (UVM)
Cecelia EGLER, University of Vermont (UVM)
Sadie SHELTON, CCAFS and University of Vermont (UVM)

Meet the team

During the indicated periods, one of the team members is available for a video chat.

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Events & Calls




  1. Excelente proyecto, estamos en stand 114

    Hi all,  We just wanted to make you aware of our activities at the stand 114 (Stand 114). We are presenting today our mobile VR app LIFE AMDRYC4. It is available for IOS and ANDROID (https://apkpure.com/es/life-amdryc4/com.UMU.LIFEAMDRYC4 or https://apps.apple.com/es/app/life-amdryc4/id1540739695) and you can also play through the web application at our official site (http://lifeamdryc4.eu/aplicacion/). The application is available in 5 languages (Portuguese, Spanish, Italian, French and English) and allows you to simulate the effects of agricultural practices on the soil productivity, and CO2 emissions. We would love to have your feedback on this and we are happy to answer any question you may have about the LIFE AMDRYC4 project. Maria Jose Martinez (Research Coordinator), Carmen Perez Sirvent (Research Coordinator), Manuel Hernandez (VideoGame Designer and Project Manager).

  2. Good evening. I am Dr. Nandini from BAIF Development Research Foundation, India. We are participating in this virtual EU Fair and have shared our work on 'Soil restoration for achieving sustainable livelihoods, climate change adaptation and mitigation' through stand no 37. Please do visit our stand for understanding the work in India. 

    This is also to share with you all that we have planned a sharing event on 25th May between 14.00 to 15.00 IST (+/- 5.5 UTC). The topic of this sharing event is 'Environmentally sound and climate smart program interventions through BAIF Development Research Foundation', India. It will be based on BAIF, India's efforts on ground to build resilience of vulnerable farming communities against climate change effects by introducing on ground, the multisectorial program interventions for resilient farming system.

    So, please participate for enriching knowledge!  See you there!