Integrating urban agriculture and forestry into climate change action plans: Lessons from Sri Lanka

Case Summary: 

Sri Lanka is an island nation off of the Southern coast of India. Sri Lanka is home to approximately 21 million people and is rapidly urbanizing, especially in the Western province where 6 million people live on 5% of the country’s land area. This urbanization has caused a number of problems on the local ecosystem, the agricultural sector, and rapid growth in greenhouse gas emissions (GHGs). Large swaths of agricultural land have been converted to housing and commercial uses, altering water ways and increasing transportation costs and pollution.

Sri Lanka has decided to take a different approach from many nations to deal with its urbanization challenges in its national climate change action plan. Conservation and climate change literature has often focused on increasing urban densities to make transport and service systems more efficient. Sri Lanka is seeking to incorporate better ecosystem design principles to reduce urban density and incorporate local resources. Two pilot programs have launched to facilitate paddy rehabilitation and urban agriculture. Paddy rehabilitation restores abandoned paddies to a crop producing state while adding crops that are more resistant to saltwater. Urban gardening provides resources for citizens to start their own gardens in the limited space of an urban environment. In building these pilot programs several lessons learned have been identified by the Sri Lankan government which include:

  • Adopting practices that prioritize local resources over imported products. In the case of urban agriculture this came from crop selections that can replace international imports such as gourds, cucumbers, and eggplants. Local crops help support local economies and reduce the GHGs produced in transporting goods.
  • Monitoring program impacts with feedback from government leaders. Government leaders were asked to weigh-in on how monitoring should be conducted. This allowed for near instant incorporation of feedback into the policy making process and increased policy maker support. For example, the rate of paddy rehabilitation was deemed a useful metric by policy makers. After monitoring the pilot program, the monitoring technique was expanded to include: plant types chosen after rehabilitation, resources needed per hectare, and GHG mitigation per hectare. Policy makers expanded the program to the provincial level because these metrics were deemed so valuable.
  • Establishing partnerships and capacity building. Resources were committed and used to establish partnerships between local NGOs, civil society, government, universities, and international organizations. These partnerships were used to assess policies and related impacts before they were enacted.
  • Finding common language. Part of this project addressed reporting research in ways policy makers and local leaders could understand. A ton of GHG emissions sounds impressive but has little meaning to policy makers. Instead, translating GHG emission reductions into ‘the emissions equivalent of X number of urban households’ helped policy makers understand how well the program functioned and how it compared to other GHG reduction efforts. Linking food grown to percentage of urban production and land use was also found to be meaningful.
Sri Lanka
South Asia
Action Area 
Planning and Implementation Activity 
Developing Strategies and Plans, Analysis and Data Collection, Developing and Implementing Policies and Measures, Governance and Stakeholder Engagement, Financing Implementation, Long-Term Strategies
Sectors and Themes 
Agriculture, Disaster Risk Reduction
Climate and Development Knowledge Network (CDKN)
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