Climate-Smart Land Use Insight Brief No. 4- Silvopastoral systems for climate change mitigation and adaptation

Submitted by Cynthia Nitsch | published 6th Oct 2021 | last updated 3rd Jan 2023
Face of water buffalo surrounded by green vegetation


Deforestation and forest degradation have become especially prevalent in Southeast Asia (SEA). It is estimated that between 2005 and 2015, 79.5 million hectares were lost in the region (Estoque et al. 2019). This loss contributes to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. Livestock production, a key part of SEA food systems, also contributes to GHG emissions in the region. Part of the deforestation is a result of clearing land for pastures and space for growing feed to support the livestock industry. Agriculture in the region is also facing many threats from the changing climate; sea-level rise, saltwater intrusion, variable precipitation, rising temperatures, etc. Sustainable livestock practices, especially ones that integrate livestock with crop production and forestry, can reduce environmental impacts and provide potential climate adaptation and mitigation strategies. 

A practice being implemented in SEA, called silvopastoral systems (SPS), integrates trees and forage with animal grazing as a distinct form of agroforestry. SPS can be implemented in many methods making it versatile, from planting scattered trees in pasturelands, to intensive high-density cultivation of fodder shrubs with improved grasses with tree or palm species. SPS optimizes land use and promotes healthier ecosystems. If SPS are implemented in an inclusive and applicable manner, they can offer farmers adaptation and mitigation strategies to help build capacity and resilience to climate change.

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Methods of Adaptation and Mitigation

SPS presents several adaptation and mitigation strategies. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) acknowledges that SPS provides strong mitigation and adaptation potential to secure food systems. For mitigation efforts, soil carbon storage is increased with the implementation of these systems. Having multiple layers of vegetation increases overall biomass and above-ground carbon storage. Leguminous-based systems offset emissions from fertilisers. Higher feed conversion significantly reduces greenhouse gas emissions per unit of animal product. When SPS is used alongside wildlife and conservation efforts land degradation and deforestation can be reduced. For adaptation efforts, SPS increases productivity, water conservation, biodiversity and promotes ecosystem health. Trees and vegetation can provide shade and shelter for livestock. When the right combination of crops, livestock, and trees is chosen, sustainability and resilience is increased even more. 

Gender and Social Inclusion

It is important to understand how environmental, economic, and social benefits are spread across a community when evaluating the impacts of sustainable agriculture practices. Women, men, people of different social and economic backgrounds, abilities, and identities may not be benefitting from the implementation of SPS equally. Within the region, women are known to be heavily involved in the agriculture sector. While their role is strongly apparent, they lack recognition or documentation. Without women’s involvement in policy implementation, they are often left out of potential benefits. Implementation of sustainable land practices, such as SPS, often falls short in their inclusion of Indigenous Peoples’ traditional ecological knowledge, which can prevent or prohibit some small-scale farmers from utilizing these systems. To avoid creating or reinforcing existing inequity, inclusive engagement in the implementation of SPS is necessary. Technical, financial, and educational support, especially for low-income farms, may also help to reduce inequalities.  

Priorities for Future Studies

  • Examples of SPS and agrisilvopastoral systems in Southeast Asia are underrepresented in the literature, with a majority of research coming from Latin America. More research focusing on regional examples, including the integration of traditional practices with modern SPS, could aid further implementation of SPS in the region. A related priority is the identification of particularly effective practices in common Southeast Asian settings. 

  • Conduct new and synthesise existing research on SPS implementation, particularly in ASEAN Member States and highlight best practices for policymakers, finance institutions, and sustainable business initiatives.  

  • Enhance understanding of the carbon sequestration potential of SPS and work with ASEAN Member States to integrate SPS into their climate change mitigation plans and strategies.  

  • Enhance the knowledge base of the gendered implications of SPS and how to ensure that all farmers have equal access to the resources and trainings, with a focus on specific challenges within Southeast Asia. 


For Policymakers 

  • Given that SPS can significantly reduce carbon dioxide emissions, SPS should be part of national climate change strategies and plans. Farmers should be provided with support and incentives to implement them. Additionally, existing SPS practices should be recognised and included in local planning.  

  • Payments for ecosystem services (PES) should be offered at the national level to support the uptake of SPS methods, and farmers should be supported also in accessing finance through international programmes such as REDD+.  

  • ASEAN policymakers should promote knowledge sharing and mutual learning about SPS implementation across countries and promote SPS upscaling at the national level.  

  • ASEAN should work with international organisations to realise the objectives of the Global Agenda for Sustainable Livestock and the Global Network on Silvopastoral Systems.  

  • Agricultural extension programmes should receive funding and training to support SPS implementation, through specialised units, and be given a mandate to promote SPS. 

For development partners and project implementers 

  • Provide information, trainings, and financial support to farmers establishing SPS, given the increased labour and input needs as well as advanced knowledge to adequately harvest and sell all farm products. Farmers may also need access to supplies and machinery.  

  • Work with farmers to conduct a financial risk assessment and a detailed financing plan to ensure there is a thorough understanding of cash flows. 

  • Ensure that SPS projects do not exacerbate social inequalities but rather provide opportunities for meaningful participation and benefit-sharing among different stakeholders.  

  • Provide opportunities for information exchange among farmers to share experiences of implementing SPS locally.  

  • Financing institutions should be encouraged to offer finance that supports the addition of livestock to forestry systems, as this can generate yearly revenue from the outset – and, conversely, should provide finance for livestock producers to shift to SPS systems. Insurance schemes are also needed to reduce financial risks and encourage the implementation of SPS. 

Key Messages

Silvopastoral systems (SPS), a type of agro-foresty in which livestock graze on the edges or understories of forests or plantations, or vegetation is grown within or alongside pastures, is a type of agro-forestry that benefit farmers more economically while also contributing to biodiversity. The use of resources in a more efficient manner gives farmers the opportunity to generate more income. SPS have several environmental benefits. The combination of vegetation can improve soil and increase carbon storage and water absorption. The boost to biodiversity creates more resilient landscapes to drought and landslides. SPS is versatile and can be practiced at any scale. In fact, it has been used by indigenous peoples throughout Southeast Asia for many years, despite lack of recognition from government entities.  

SPS approaches prove to be valuable mitigation and adaptation strategy in the region, as the livestock industry is rapidly growing.  For efficient implementation of SPS, farmers’ knowledge of the systems through technical support will need to be enhanced, incentives for adopting and assisting with access to financial support will need to be provided. Understanding the local context is crucial to social inclusion and gender equity as SPS is advocated for. Project implementers must consider inequalities in education, resources accessibility, and the decision-making process to ensure equal opportunities for all participants. 

Recommended Citation

Anschell, N., Salamanca, A., Nanda, E., and Davis, M. (2021) Silvopastoral systems for climate change adaptation, mitigation and livelihoods, ASEAN Climate-Smart Land Use Insight Brief 4. Jakarta: Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ).

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).