Adaptation in Agricultural Systems

Adaptation in Agricultural Systems

Building climate-resilient agricultural and food systems

How to establish climate-resilient agricultural and food systems in the tropics or in very dry regions of the world? In the face of climate change, agricultural production will become more challenging in many parts of the world, for example, in parts of Africa, Asia and Latin America. Therefore, suitable adaptation strategies are needed to help smallholders cope with current and future climate impacts. PIK’s working group “Adaptation in Agricultural Systems” (AAS) conducts climate risk analyses and evaluates adaptation strategies for the agricultural sector. This work is based on the three pillars of anticipation (the forecasting of climatic changes and related impacts on natural resources, crop yields and livestock production), adaptation (the identification, assessment and recommendation of suitable adaptation strategies for smallholder farmers and pastoralists) and attribution (the identification, quantification and allocation of observed climate impacts to human-made climate change). The working group thus investigates the intersection between climate change and agriculture in a holistic way, aiming to inform adaptation policies and private-sector investments for climate-resilient agricultural and food systems.

The AAS working group is composed of crop modellers, meteorologists, climate physicists, agricultural economists, geographers, social scientists, and conflict and security specialists. Current research activities focus on sub-Saharan Africa, in particular West Africa and East Africa, and South Asia. For dissemination, the working group engages with different stakeholders from the public and private sector, such as representatives from agricultural ministries, local farmer organisations or insurance companies. There is also strong collaboration with the PIK working groups Hydroclimatic Risks, Land Use and Resilience and Climate Change and Health, the PIK FutureLabs on Security, Ethnic Conflicts and MigrationInequality, Human Well-Being and Development and Social Metabolism and Impact, the ISIMIP project, which is also hosted at PIK, as well as different external organisations, both from research and beyond.

The working group is led jointly by

Prof. Dr. Christoph Gornott
Phone: +49 (0)331 288 2655

Lisa Murken
Phone: +49 (0)331 288 2586

Key research areas

  • Anticipation
    • Modelling high-resolution real-time crop losses and seasonal forecasts of crop yields based on statistical crop models and machine learning techniques to inform insurance solutions, early-warning systems and short-term adaptation planning
    • Quantification of medium to long-term future climate change and related impacts on sectors like water or agriculture by combining data from global climate and impact models as well as regional process-based and statistical crop models
  • Adaptation
    • Evaluating suitable adaptation strategies for different types of smallholder farmers to cope with climate-change-related challenges like droughts or flooding, and to address further aims, including food and nutrition security and better livelihoods in rural communities
    • Developing targeted and evidence-based policy advice for decision makers at different levels, in particular in support of the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) and National Adaptation Plans (NAPs)
  • Attribution
    • Quantifying the contribution of climate change to observed crop yield losses on global and regional scales by combining methods from attribution science with crop modelling
    • Developing concepts to integrate attribution science, loss and damage quantification, and existing damage and loss methodologies from disaster risk reduction contexts
    • Scrutinising the roles which attribution results and climate-scientific evidence can and should (not) play for the different pillars of international finance and in society

Research methods, models and data

The effect of weather patterns and climate on natural resources, crop yields and livestock production is analysed using biophysical and empirical impact models combined with (sub-)seasonal forecasting. These methods are complemented with economic, econometric and qualitative approaches, in particular in the evaluation of different adaptation strategies. Our research methods can be divided into: 

  • Climate modelling based on climate data and climate impact simulations from the Intersectoral Impact Model Intercomparison Project (ISIMIP)
  • Hydrological modelling through process-based eco-hydrological models
  • Crop suitability and yield forecasting
    • Suitability models based on machine learning
    • Semi-statistical crop models, e.g. AMPLIFY
    • Process-based crop models, e.g. SWIM, LPJmL, DSSAT and APSIM
  • Economic methods like cost-benefit analyses to weigh the monetary costs for implementing adaptation strategies with their benefits
  • Econometric methods to analyze household survey data and randomized control trials
  • Spatial vulnerability analyses by combining socio-economic with remote sensing data
  • Qualitative methods like in-depth interviews, focus groups and mental models

Selected projects

For an overview of all projects, please click here.

  • Agrica: The goal of this project is to develop comprehensive climate risk analyses for the agricultural sector, covering the entire impact chain from climate impacts on key natural resources and crop production to the assessment of suitable adaptation strategies. These analyses serve as guidance for policy and decision makers in identifying and evaluating effective adaptation strategies. This project focuses on sub-Saharan Arica and is funded by the BMZ and jointly implemented with the GIZ. See also:
    Duration: Sep. 2018-Dec. 2023
  • DecLaRe: DecLaRe aims to develop recommendations for sustainable crop production and animal husbandry with a focus on sustainable land management in northern Benin and northern Ghana. The project combines local scientific knowledge with national/regional models to build a decision support system (DSS) for land use and land management which can guide a variety of stakeholders towards sustainable land management. DecLaRe will bring together science, policy and the private sector to facilitate effective use of the DSS in the partner countries and beyond. The project is funded by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) and the German Aeroscape Center (DLR).
    Duration: Nov. 2022-Oct. 2026
  • AfriValue: The goal in AfriValue is to analyze climate risks for the coffee value chain and identify and evaluate effective adaptation strategies. The knowledge gained in this project provides actors along different agricultural value chains as well as decision-makers from politics and development cooperation with science-based evidence for sound adaptation planning and investment. This project focuses on Eastern Africa (Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Uganda) and is funded by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ).
    Duration: Dec. 2022-Dec. 2026

Master's theses and PhDs

If you are interested in writing a master's thesis or pursuing a PhD on one of the above topics, please reach out to Prof. Dr. Christoph Gornott or Lisa Murken.


Project Coordinator