The value in the difference - a new participatory framework to plan and cost local agriculture adaptation

Having local farmers participate in the adaptation planning and costing will make the process more accurate, as local stakeholders tend to place different value on the benefits than experts. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

A new journal paper by Oxford based CCAFS researchers presents a participatory framework for costing agriculture adaptation interventions using varied assumptions of experts and local actors.

Estimating costs of adapting to climate change is unavoidably subjective. It depends on what is counted and what is not, and then what value is given to anything included in the analysis, and what assumptions are made about the adaptation actions. This is the reality, whether global institutions, scientific organizations or local communities make the estimates. Billions of dollars are then allocated to adaptation based on these subjective and imprecise estimates, which entails huge risks for funders and planners as actual costs may be very different, and funds may not match the needs of the local communities.

Researchers from CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security and Oxford University, Environmental Change Institute, have developed a new analytical framework called Participatory Social Return on Investment (PSROI) to address this subjectivity of adaptation costing.

Pilot study in Western Kenya

PSROI is a 5-step structured framework that incorporates many diverse stakeholders, from policy makers to local farmers in the process of planning and costing locally appropriate adaptation measures. The framework and results from a pilot application of the framework in Western Kenya are discussed in a new journal paper recently published in the Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change Journal.

The PSROI application focused on ‘agroforestry’ practice promoted by a local NGO in the pilot site in Western Kenya. The practice entails intercropping trees with crops to help local farmers adapt to soil degradation and improve their crop yields. Despite obvious recorded benefits of agroforestry, the uptake of practices by local farmers was lacking. Government officials blamed this low uptake on farmer apathy, while farmers explained that they found the interventions not very attractive.

Placing different values on different needs

Take agroforestry, for example. An analysis with the PSROI framework shows that local farmers estimate agroforestry interventions to be 70% more expensive than estimates by experts. In the analysis, farmers did not place a high value on the long-term benefits of the agroforestry intervention, given their immediate and pressing needs. This made a long-term agroforestry intervention less attractive, even if farmers recognize the long-term commercial benefits of trees. One 40-year-old farmer in Kenya summed up this sentiment: "If you have a tree and you need to feed the family, you (have to prematurely) cut it and sell it.”

PSROI, although in its infancy, is a promising analytical framework that offers users tools and methods to plan and cost interventions that reflect local realities for adapting to climate change. PSROI empowers local stakeholders to conduct their own analysis and valuations of interventions, by using their strengths as basis. In this way, stakeholders can build their own capacity to adapt to climate change while generating valuable local data to inform global and national decision-making. 

Local stakeholders are part of decision-making

Although PSROI generates quantitative data and information, it is far more than simply a costing tool. Incorporating local knowledge in planning and costing can reveal valuable insights to what local stakeholders think about the planned interventions. In fact, real and important insights accrue from understanding and analyzing the differences in valuations.

While active participation does not guarantee that local stakeholders always choose the most beneficial intervention or adopt the most effective adaptation path, PSROI helps to minimize the subjectivity and influence of external agents by giving local stakeholders responsibility for decision-making. Addressing these challenges and opportunities before implementation can save precious time and resources, leading to better adaptation interventions and strategies.


Chaudhury, AS, Helfgott, A, Sova, C, Thornton, TF. 2014. Participatory adaptation planning and costing. Applications in agricultural adaptation in western Kenya. Mitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change, July 2014. DOI: 10.1007/s11027-014-9600-5

Read previous stories about this research method 

Read more: "If I don't have my health, why bother with agriculture and climate change?"

Read more: What really matters to people experiencing the effects of climate change?

Abrar Chaudhury is a DPhil candidate at Environmental Change Institute at University of Oxford.