Socio-ecological response and resilience to El Niño shocks :The case of coffee and cocoa agroforestry landscapes in Africa

Lead Research Organisation: University of Oxford
Department Name: Geography - SoGE


In many developing country contexts, rural smallholder agroforestry landscapes are very important sources of livelihoods for millions of households, but are also constrained by ecological and climatic factors. Our understanding of how these landscapes respond to environmental shocks and long-term change is poor, but can be significantly improved by using multidisciplinary approaches that incorporate ecological, climate and social science methods (Fisher et al 2014). Combining these disciplines into manageable research projects as well as finding appropriate funding to support them remains a serious challenge. We are exceptionally well placed to address this dearth of knowledge due to our work monitoring a coffee-farming landscape in Ethiopia and a cocoa-farming landscape in Ghana. Both studies are part of the ECOLIMITS project, funded by the NERC/DfID Ecosystem Services and Poverty Alleviation programme (ESPA). These studies are focussed on gradients of management intensity from natural forest through high shade/low fragmentation to low shade/high fragmentation agroforest farms. We have gained a detailed understanding of the ecological system (how farming is affected by and affects biodiversity, ecosystem processes and ecosystem services) and the social system (how farming relates to rural livelihoods and multiple dimensions of poverty, and how these relationships are modified by local and national institutions). In the last few months, a strong El Niño-associated drought and increased temperatures have affected both regions. This has generated many challenges in both landscapes, but also provides a rare opportunity to study the sensitivity and resilience of agroforestry landscapes to weather shocks. In this proposal, we seek to monitor ecosystem services and crop yields through this El Niño event and beyond to 2017, and survey households to understand the impacts they have experienced as well as identify the key factors that lead to their resilience or vulnerabity. In particular, we plan to explore the relationships between tree cover, crop yields and vulnerability to climate shocks. Our work will directly inform regional and national agendas in both countries to develop climate strategies that are resilient to environmental shocks, and hence maintain crop yields and rural livelihoods in a changing environment.

The proposal is urgent because funds are needed to immediately conduct household surveys and biodiversity measurements during the El Niño, and maintain ecological monitoring to mid-2017 to assess recovery.

Planned Impact

Through our ECOLIMITS lens of assessing socio-ecological resilience of cocoa and coffee systems to climate extremes, the project has a unique opportunity to provide technical guidance on the microclimate thresholds small farmers can avoid through strategic on-farm, tree management as well as the social or governance barriers acting to impede those decisions. To date the relationship between shade and yield has been only described by broad correlatives studies or idealised experiment treatments - by directly quantify the relationship between shade, microclimate and yield during a real climate perturbation we will be able to develop a mechanistic understanding of genuine practical use.

Our intensive socio-ecological monitoring will allow us to show mechanistically the interactions between landscape and household-level dynamics during hot/dry events, which will be pivotal to understand for future resilience of these agroforestry systems under changing climate regimes. Working through our partners in both countries, we have an opportunity to use this knowledge to develop our impact from regional (Ethiopia) to national (Ghana), up to international (global supply chains). In so doing, we have the potential for our work to influence large geographical areas and reach millions of people.

Ethiopia and Ghana are developing ambitious carbon emissions reductions programme focused on the main coffee growing areas in Ethiopia and on the cocoa cropping system in Ghana. These programs are based on transformational approaches to landscape management, which recognise the multi-functional roles landscapes play, and the critically important relationships between landscapes, rural livelihoods and poverty alleviation. The potential for our project to engage with these processes has been developed in both countries through our in country partners. In Ghana our data will be fed into the design of the USD50 million Cocoa Forest Emissions Reduction Program while in Ethiopia our data is being harnessed under the auspices of the Oromia Forest Landscape Program and the Coffee and Tea Development and Marketing Authority to design the National 20-Year Climate Smart Pathway. As such we have harnessed a significant impact opportunity around these developing programmes.

The approach being developed in Ghana and Ethiopia have a number of key elements that track closely to our project and hence the strategic aims of this call:

-Building resilience in cocoa/coffee production systems by developing climate-smart agriculture;
-Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from deforestation and degradation, and improving carbon sequestration and storage in landscapes by increasing tree cover;
-Improving the yields of key agricultural crops, particularly cocoa/coffee, so that a smaller area of land is required for production thereby sparing land for other uses; and
-Maximizing co-benefits for rural livelihoods, biodiversity and other important ecosystem services.

We request funds to accomplish the following events:
-A workshop in Ghana to present the results of our microclimate/tree shade threshold analysis across poverty levels to key players and stakeholders in Ghana's emissions reduction and Climate SMART Cocoa programmes as well as discuss their implications;
-A workshop in Ethiopia involving key players and stakeholders in Oromia State's developing REDD+ programme around the importance of maintaining tree cover for resilience of coffee yields as well as the ecological or social barriers for farmers to realise these recommendations.

Through our existing partnerships with government and non-governmental players in both countries we are confident we are able to help shape the development of Ghana's emissions reduction programme (national impact), and bring the Ghana experience to Ethiopia to help them develop their approach to emissions reduction in a multi-functional landscape context, including incorporating our knowledge and data from Yayu.


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Description Panel: Multi-dimensional poverty and tree crops in African agroforest systems (Organised by Dr. Morel and Dr. Hirons). Association of Tropical Biology and Conservation (ATBC), Montpellier, France, June 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The two PDRAs on this project organised a panel and the 2016 ATBC conference on Multi-dimensional poverty and tree crops in African agroforest systems. The panel inlcuded 2 presentations related to this project and 4 other presentations. The panel sparked discussion concerning the topic in general and potential future work and collaboration. Dr. Morel was invited to ETZ to speak further about the research as a result of this activity.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Presentation at FLARE (Forest & Livelihoods - Assessment, Research and Engagement) Annual Meeting. Edinburgh, UK December, 2016. 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Mark Hirons presented work entitiled: The anatomy of a cocoa-forestry landscape in Ghana - implications for formalising on-farm timber governance at the FLARE annual meeting. About 40 people, mainly researchers and students attended the talk. The presentation precipitated discussions on the issue of formalisation and timber governance, which fed into broader discussions about key forest politicies such as FLEGT and REDD+.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016