Strengthen the ‘five capitals’ to adapt to climate change
Strengthening the capital assets of households minimises their vulnerability to climate variability and extremes, according to a recent study in the Philippines, says Tessa Beyer
Dr Rodel Lasco and colleagues, who measured the vulnerabilities of three, upland, forest-edge villages near the Sibalom Natural Park in the Philippines, found that greater access to education, government support, income sources, crop production and basic infrastructure would improve the asset base of households and consequently lessen the impact of climate-associated risks on their livelihoods.
Dr Lasco, who is the coordinator of the World Agroforestry Centre Philippine program, said that they found that communities had some strategies already in place for adapting to stresses to their livelihoods. However, it was essential to further strengthen their capacity to cope with variable and extreme weather events, which could be done through using the concept of the ‘five capitals’: natural, social, physical, financial and human.
The researchers found that most of the farmers relied on natural capital, which was not surprising since their livelihoods were based on agriculture. However, climatic changes directly threatened productivity and there was also widespread erosion from paddy rice fields that saw increasing levels of sedimentation in waterways. To reduce the vulnerability of the communities’ natural capital, the researchers recommended adopting soil and water conservation methods to combat erosion and siltation; boosting the current yield and diversity of crops and animals to fill seasonal gaps in food supply; continuing government programs on forest restoration and conservation incorporating climate adaptation and mitigation initiatives; and promoting locally abundant non-timber forest products to diversify income sources.
Social capital performs a critical role in livelihoods’ strategies because it widens opportunities and narrows the gap between aid from external groups and internal links. The research team found that the social capital of the communities was low because social and political networks remained mostly based on relationships with family and friends.
Social barriers to communication within and between communities also involved physical capital. Improved basic infrastructure—roads, bridges, power and communications—would provide greater access to resources and networks, transforming communities in the process and enhancing their wellbeing.
Financial capital was another key area recommended for improvement by Dr Lasco and colleagues, who examined the regularity, level and diversity of household income. According to the researchers, income diversification allows ‘engagement or investment in other livelihoods’ activities and […] assets such as human capital’ while increasing human capital through improving education and skills widens opportunities for livelihoods’ options that were more profitable and stable.
A recent story by Kate Langford highlights agroforestry’s ability to boost food production and also provide climate-adaptation benefits for smallholders. The evidence is strong: well-managed agroforestry systems can help farmers adapt and build resilience to an uncertain climate while increasing crop yields and incomes.
Read the journal article
Saldajeno PB, Florece LM, Lasco RD, Velasco MTH. 2012. Vulnerability assessment of upland communities in Sibalom Natural Park, Antique, using capital-based approach. Journal of Environmental Science and Management 15(2):1–12.
This work is linked to the CGIAR Research Program on Forests, Trees and Agroforestry