Farmers must change how and what they grow to adapt to local climate conditions. Depending on the pace of climate change, adaptation could be incremental (e.g. altering planting dates), system-wide (e.g. altering irrigation systems) or transformative (e.g. altering the balance between crops and livestock, or moving out of agriculture altogether).

Thornton et al., 2012

Adapted from Rickard and Howden 2012

Extra facts

  • Most adaptation options build on existing practices and sustainable agriculture, rather than new technologies (Jarvis et al. 2011).
  • Many adaptation options—such as agroforestry— are also beneficial for mitigation, though the exact balance of benefits depends very much on local conditions (Jarvis et al. 2011).
  • Changes to water and soil management will be central to adaptation for most farming systems. Pest and disease management will also be critical (Vermeulen et al. 2012).
  • The selection or development of new crop varieties is an important adaptation response, and entails seeking out or breeding for specific traits depending on the local changes in climatic conditions (e.g. tolerance to heat, water stress, salinity or waterlogging) (Thornton et al. 2012).
  • Breeding—such as breeding beans for drought tolerance—may be a limited adaptation option when climate change is associated with multiple, interacting environmental stresses (drought, heat, and low soil fertility) (Beebe et al. 2008).
  • Breeding for future climates requires access to sufficient genetic variability in farmers’ fields, the wild, and genebanks. About 90% of all genetic traits for rice, wheat, and maize are available in genebanks across the world, but only a much smaller percentage is accessible for many non-staple crops that supply vital micronutrients (Lobell 2009).
  • More work has been done to develop drought-tolerant crops than heat-tolerant crops, even though many crops, including the major cereals, show major reductions in yields when exposed to high temperatures within the range of current and near-term climate change (Lobell 2009).
  • Supplemental irrigation could help to mitigate the negative impacts of water scarcity, the most growth-limiting fact for wheat. It would allow for earlier planting and thus avoidance of (terminal) heat stress during the grain filling period. However, more irrigation water would be required in the future—on average 181 mm per season from 2080 to 2099 compared with only 134 mm historically—to satisfy basic crop water requirements (Thornton et al. 2012).
  • Adapting to long-term climate trends may need different adaptation actions than adapting to increasing climate variability. In general, long-term climate change requires advance preparation such as long-term forecasting, anticipatory policies, and breeding for future climates. Increasing climate variability requires risk management tools such as improved seasonal climate forecasting and crop insurance (Vermeulen et al. 2012).
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Methods, caveats and issues

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  • Beebe SE, Rao IM, Cajiao C, Grajales M. 2008. Selection for drought resistance in common bean also improves yield in phosphorus limited and favorable environments. Crop Science 48(2):582–592. (Available from
  • Beebe S, Rao I, Mukankusi C, Buruchara R. Improving resource use efficiency and reducing risk of common bean production in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean. In: Hershey C, ed. Issues in tropical agriculture—eco-efficiency: from vision to reality. Cali, Colombia: International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT). (Available from Documents/chapter_8_eco_efficiency.pdf)
  • Thornton P, Cramer L, eds. 2012. Impacts of climate change on the agricultural and aquatic systems and natural resources within the CGIAR’s mandate. CCAFS Working Paper 23. Copenhagen: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). (Available from
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  • Jarvis A, Lau C, Cook S, Wollenberg E, Hansen J, Bonilla O, Challinor A. 2011. An integrated adaptation and mitigation framework for developing agricultural research: synergies and trade-offs. Experimental Agriculture 47:185–203.
  • Lobell D, ed. 2009. Climate extremes and crop adaptation. Summary statement from a meeting at the program on food security and environment held on June 16‐18, 2009. Stanford, CA: Stanford University. (Available from kendall_summary_aug1809.pdf)
  • Vermeulen SJ, Aggarwal PK, Ainslie A, Angelone C, Campbell BM, Challinor AJ, Hansen JW, Ingram JSI, Jarvis A, Kristjanson P, Lau C, Nelson GC, Thornton PK, Wollenberg E. 2012. Options for support to agriculture and food security under climate change. Environmental Science and Policy 15(1):136-144.
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