How smallholder farmers are scaling up local ecosystem-based climate adaptation solutions

As we capture and scale up the productive ways in which forest and farm producers in northern Viet Nam are adapting to climate change, IIED and partners call on authorities and organisations that support smallholder producers to match smallholders’ investments and help scale up their solutions. 

Kata Wagner's picture
Insight by 
Kata Wagner
Researcher in IIED’s Natural Resources research group
11 April 2024
A multi-tiered agroforestry landscape.

Multi-tiered, climate adapted agroforestry landscape in Yen Duong, Bac Kan province, Viet Nam (Photo: Đỗ Thị Hường)

Smallholders around the world face significant exposure to the impacts of climate change. Despite having limited capacity to buffer harvest losses or repair damages, farmers everywhere are adapting, developing and practising their own local ecosystem-based adaptation (EbA) solutions. 

But, as a 2023 IIED-led survey exposed, they are having to invest a significant amount of their own scarce resources in climate change adaptation. We call on partners and authorities to give them the support they need.

Supporting smallholders to drive change

Forest and farm producer organisations (FFPOs) are associations of smallholder producers created to help and organise their members, helping them improve their livelihoods and face the challenges posed by climate change. 

Working together in cooperatives, members create networks for mutual assistance, business links, information sharing, economies of scale, attracting finance, building capacities, supporting marketing and increasing smallholder voices in policymaking. 

IIED is involved in several initiatives supporting FFPOs as agents of change that can help drive a paradigm shift away from large-scale monocultural systems and support their members as they adapt to climate change. 

FFPOs in northern Viet Nam

Since 2014, the Forest and Farm Facility, IIED and the Viet Nam National Farmers Union (VNFU) have been helping FFPOs in northern Viet Nam adapt to climate change through agroforestry production systems and natural forest conservation. 

The following two case studies illustrate ways in which smallholders in the mountainous regions of northern Viet Nam are adapting to the changing climate.

How are smallholders adapting?

The minority ethnic population of Yen Duong commune, Bac Kan province, has long relied on rice, maize and cassava farming. But increasingly intense rain events are eroding their plots, occasionally washing away entire slopes. To stop the loss of farmland and protect the local population and its infrastructure, the national government has been supporting forest restoration in landscapes at risk since 2010. 

Using biodiversity and ecosystem services to reduce vulnerability and bolster resilience against the impacts of climate change, farmers in Yen Duong vary their land use according to elevation level and exposure.

On the commune’s upper slopes, they plant forests as protection against landslides, growing ginseng under the forest canopy for medicine and additional income. On the middle slopes, diverse and sustainable food production systems in climate-hardy rice paddies and multifunctional agroforestry plots provide a scenic backdrop for new ecotourism businesses. And on the lower slopes, organic crops protect soil ecology, biodiversity and water resources. 

In Thinh Hung commune, Yen Bai province, where farmers have practised forest plantation since the 1990s with support from the government's afforestation programmes, the Thinh Phat Cooperative manages 50 hectares of acacia forest for timber production. 

This fast-growing species is prone to falling during storms, which have become more frequent and severe due to climate change. Allowing trees to mature for longer results in stronger, more resilient wood, which can better withstand extreme weather events, and therefore has higher value. But leaving trees standing for longer periods means momentary income gaps, posing significant challenges for smallholder households. 

Local farmers used to harvest and sell their acacia trees every five years. But when they started keeping bees beneath the forest canopy, they gained a new revenue stream, allowing them to extend this to every eight to ten years. This enhanced the value of their timber and therefore their household incomes.

They also established forest gardens, where they raise small livestock under the fruit trees, increasing the diversity of flowering plants to improve beekeeping outcomes. 

They have created a highly effective climate-adapted land use system, where the forests regulate the microclimate, prevent soil erosion, protect water resources and offer long-term income prospects, while the fruit trees, bees and livestock increase mid- to short-term income and resilience, buffering against the risks associated with climate change.

Scaling up EbA

FFPOs have significant reach – both downwards to their smallholder members and upwards to national decision makers – making them ideal for scaling up EbA-type solutions.

An IIED survey of FFPOs in northern Viet Nam highlighted knowledge exchange, access to markets and access to finance as the biggest challenges to scaling up community-led EbA activities in forest and farm landscapes. Supported by the Global EbA Fund, we are now running a project with VNFU to scale up EbA approaches by tackling the key barriers identified in the survey.

To improve access to markets, we are working with VNFU and technical support partners to develop an innovative eco-labelling scheme that values the application of EbA principles in smallholders’ products and provides a competitive advantage in the national market, which is increasingly marked by consumers’ conscious choice for sustainably produced goods. 

To address smallholders’ need for finance for product development, value-addition and quality assurance, we will explore financial tools and services that could support EbA upscaling. 

A call to partners and authorities

To improve the enabling environment and allow smallholders to thrive despite the climate challenges they face, we call on partners and authorities to:

  • Develop clear land use plans that are based on equitable and secure land tenure 
  • Provide accessible and reliable information services, such as weather forecasts and flood warning systems
  • Adapt extension services to incorporate appropriately modified harvesting schedules and methods, quotas for sustainable harvesting, and so on
  • Ensure smallholders can access high-quality, resistant and locally-adapted seeds for forest plantation, as well as enrichment planting and agroforestry practices
  • Build adequate transportation infrastructure to connect remote rural areas with more distant, more profitable markets, and
  • Facilitate contractual agreements with agribusinesses and financial service providers.

Providing this support will constitute an important first step in matching the substantial investments smallholders are making in climate-adapted production practices.

Further reading