Climate-Smart Land Use Insight Brief No. 1- Integrated Agriculture-Aquaculture (IAA) Systems for Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation and Livelihoods

Submitted by Cynthia Nitsch | published 6th Oct 2021 | last updated 5th Jan 2023
Rice field, men farming the feild in the bottom half of photo


As climate change is continuously presenting hazards across the globe, Southeast Asia (SEA) is especially burdened with sea-level rise resulting in saltwater intrusion, more variable precipitation, rising temperatures, and ecosystem degradation. These hazards are jeopardizing food security and livelihoods in the region. Implementing alternative farming techniques to diversify food systems, reduce waste, increase productivity, and reduce dependency on chemical fertilisers and other agro-industrial products can build climate change resilience. Integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) systems may offer the agriculture sector of SEA sustainable adaptation and mitigation strategies. 

IAA links aquaculture with plant crop or livestock farming systems in one of two ways: on-farm or direct integration, and indirect integration, using off-farm by-products as inputs into aquaculture systems. IAA is common in extensive and semi-intensive culture systems. IAA can be highly productive: a semi-intensive system can produce fish yields of up to 10 tonnes per hectare. In extensive systems, inputs are primarily provided by natural foods such as plankton, molluscs, and insect adults, and larvae, while in semi-extensive systems, natural or supplementary feeds are used. 

A key advantage of IAA is that it uses fewer pesticides and chemical fertilisers than conventional agriculture. The overall use of land and water can also be more efficient than separate systems would be, improving ecosystem health and reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  

*Download the full publication from the right-hand column. A summary of the key findings is provided below. See the full report for more details.


Adaptation and Mitigation Methods

There are several ways in which IAA can contribute to adaptation and mitigation methods. A few examples are rice-fish systems, integrated fish, pond, and livestock (VAC), and fish-livestock systems. Rice-fish systems are a method used that maximizes resources, such as land and water while providing carbohydrate and protein sources. Higher cash investment is needed for this method, but fish production provides additional income and reduces labour and material inputs. This method can aid in adaptation efforts by improving farm water management and allowing for income diversification. It can also increase the output of rice and fish while reducing the need for fertilizers and pesticides. For mitigation efforts, rice-fish systems reduce emissions by using livestock manure as fish feed, avoiding the emissions released from decomposing animal waste, and emissions associated with fertiliser and feed.

Integrated fish, pond, and livestock (VAC) consists of three integrated components: garden (V), pond (A), and livestock pen (C). Food waste and animal manure are used as fertilisers and as feed for fish. For adaptation efforts VAC uses pond water for irrigation, resulting in farmers relying less on rainfall, and making more efficient use of resources. By enabling several production systems to occur simultaneously, land use is being maximized. For mitigation efforts, like rice-fish systems, the use of animal waste as fertiliser and fish feed reduces emissions. Also, the garden component of this system can absorb carbon from the atmosphere.

By using fish-livestock systems farm effluents and waste are recycled in fishponds and contribute to the production of animal protein. This recycling method provides added nutrients reducing pressure on natural aquatic resources; therefore, making farm systems more resilient as an adaptation method. For mitigation efforts, properly managing manure can decrease emissions. Replacing fish feed with manure will also reduce emissions, similar to rich-fish systems and VAC.

Gender and Social Inclusion

IAA is particularly beneficial to smallholder farmers whose livelihoods are experiencing the most impact from climate change. It is essential that implementation of IAA systems is done carefully and inclusively to ensure that vulnerable households truly benefit, and no one is left behind, and avoid any unintended consequences. Using IAA to enhance smallholders’ resilience will require deliberate policy support, finance, and capacity-building programmes tailored to the needs of the communities that are most affected by climate change. These are also populations that are likely to have the greatest difficulties accessing resources and information to implement IAA. Gender and social inclusion have been highlighted as key components for adaptation measures by ASEAN member states. Integrating and implementing IAA into policy and capacity building needs to reflect these objectives.  Extension programmes, public awareness programmes, and enabling policies will all be needed to maximize capacity building among farmers. The Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, the ASEAN Framework Action Plan on Rural Development and Poverty Eradication, The Strategic Plan of Action for the ASEAN Co-operation in Fisheries (2016–2020), and the ASEAN Public-Private Partnership Regional Framework for Technology Development in the Food, Agriculture and Forestry (FAF) Sectors can all be useful tools for guidance, management and implementation of inclusively integrating IAA systems into the region.

Key Messages

Integrated agriculture-aquaculture (IAA) systems, a strategy used throughout the region for thousands of years, require limited resources by recycling nutrients.  IAA systems do not rely on fertiliser, pesticides nor animal feed. These systems have been known to improve household diets, increase income, and enrich the soil. Because IAA systems can diversify livelihoods, use scarce water more efficiently, and offer other productive use for the land in coastal areas experiencing saltwater intrusion, these systems offer an effective climate change adaptation mechanism. While the mitigation potential still needs to be quantified, IAA systems can also help reduce greenhouse emissions by avoiding methane and nitrous oxide from decomposing animal waste, for example.  

As a result of the growing intensification of both agriculture and aquaculture in recent decades, the use of IAA systems has been declining. For the benefits to be understood and utilized, regional support and integration of IAA systems into adaptation planning must occur. The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) has started to create guidance and policy frameworks that can support regional cooperation on IAA. For IAA systems to be an inclusive and useful tool for alleviating inequalities and poverty, approaches need to focus on the local context of the farmers. The goal of integrating IAA systems should be not only to build technical capacity but to also build on the broader principles behind integrated systems and their effective management. 

Priorities for Future Studies

  • As IAA techniques are further explored as climate-smart land use approaches, it is crucial to study and better document how these systems can contribute to adaptation and especially to greenhouse gas emission reduction. Those findings then need to be synthesised in clear, easy-to-understand formats to guide policymakers and practitioners. In this context, it is also important to consider trade-offs and synergies between mitigation and adaptation needs.  

  • More research is needed on how IAA can be used to produce chemical-free and/or organic products, including through integration of organic rice fields and fish culture, aquaponics, and other techniques.  

  • Develop approaches to integrate agro-ecological principles in using IAA as a tool to promote climate-smart land use by addressing reliance on industrial inputs such as fertilisers and promoting synergies among plant, animal, human and environmental systems (see, e.g., Beveridge and Dabbadie 2019). 


For policymakers: 

  • IAA should be integrated as part of agriculture and food policies and programmes at the national level, giving priority to initiatives that target low-income and resource-poor smallholder farmers, with support from agricultural extension programmes.  

  • Ensure that national policies are translatable at the local level and ensure that the most resource-poor small-scale farmers can access the training, resources, and finance needed to implement IAA. National policies should also reflect the diversity of local circumstances and farmers’ own livelihood strategies.  

  • Promote the adoption of suitable types of IAA, especially rice field and earthen-pond-based systems, as alternatives to conventional pellet fed aquaculture, thus offering a more sustainable and resource-efficient option to operators of intensive farming and aquaculture systems. It is important to recognise, however, that in the absence of stronger environmental regulations and enforcement, IAA may not always be economically attractive to those farmers. 

For donors and project implementers: 

  • Development partners and international funders should promote and support IAA implementation as a strategy for poverty alleviation, livelihoods diversification, food security and climate change adaptation and mitigation, providing project finance, policy support, capacity-building, and strategic investments in research and development.  

  • Relevant organisations and networks should work with ASEAN Member States to integrate IAA fully into national food security policies, therefore, securing its integration into broader development planning. 

  • Promote and support opportunities for practitioners and policymakers across ASEAN Member States to share their experiences, knowledge, and best practices through the work of key regional institutions and networks, including the ASEAN Climate Resilience Network (ASEAN-CRN), the Network of Aquaculture Centres in Asia-Pacific (NACA) and the Southeast Asia Fisheries Development Centre (SEAFDEC).  

  • Work at the community level to identify opportunities to incorporate IAA into local development planning and climate change adaptation, such as in the design of local adaptation plans.  

  • Ensure broad participation by women and other marginalised groups by designing IAA trainings tailored to the needs and contexts of those specific groups, setting targets for participation and outcomes for different groups, and collecting disaggregated data. Developing a Gender Action Plan to ensure that women and men have equal access to resources, training, decision-making, and job opportunities is an important step towards ensuring true gender equality in IAA .

Recommended Citation

Anschell, N., and Salamanca, A. (2021) Integrated Agriculture-Aquaculture Systems for Climate Change Adaptation, Mitigation and New Livelihood Opportunities. ASEAN Climate-Smart Land Use Insight Brief 1. Jakarta: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

About the Climate-Smart Land Use Insight Brief Series

This Insight Brief is part of a series prepared by the Stockholm Environment Institute on behalf of the Climate-Smart Land Use (CSLU) in ASEAN project, which receives funding from the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) and is implemented by the Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH in close cooperation with the ASEAN Secretariat. The Insight Briefs aim to raise awareness on the mitigation and adaptation potential of selected climate-smart land-use practices and approaches in order to contribute to their application in Southeast Asia as well as to enhance the technical knowledge exchange among ASEAN Member States (AMS).