Watering tree seedlings HAS Haiti
The Haiti Timber Re-Introduction Program has planted more than four million trees over the past 15 years. | Credit: Frederick Alexis

Advancing Low-Emissions Agriculture and Food Systems (Part 2)

How USAID is Driving Down Methane for Urgent Climate Action
By Caitlin Corner-Dolloff, Alyxandra Ruzevich

Methane accounts for roughly 30 percent of global warming since the Industrial Revolution and presents one of the largest emissions reduction opportunities in agriculture and food systems. Momentum for tackling this challenge has grown, as evidenced by the coalition of 150 participating countries of the Global Methane Pledge to cut methane emissions by at least 30 percent from 2020 levels by 2030. 

Methane is a powerful but short-lived climate pollutant. It is over 80 times as potent as carbon dioxide at trapping heat in a 25-year period. Because agriculture contributes around 40 percent of global methane emissions, urgent methane reduction from the sector is the most effective strategy to limit near-term warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius. 

Analyses of USAID Feed the Future programs revealed substantial opportunities to reduce methane emissions from cattle rearing, rice production, and food loss and waste while increasing incomes and food security. For this reason, USAID and its partners are catalyzing Low Emissions Agriculture and Food Systems (LEAFS) to rapidly reduce methane emissions from key production systems and value chains. 

USAID assessed how several agriculture programs influenced greenhouse gas emissions and outlined how high-impact practices contribute to low-emissions agricultural development. USAID has also produced Feed the Future activity design guidance for Climate-Smart Agriculture and Food Systems and Integrated Natural Resource Management to support safeguarding productivity gains and livelihoods in light of a changing climate and achieving emissions reduction co-benefits. 

Increasing Livestock Productivity to Reduce Emissions

Feed the Future activities can be designed to invest in reducing emissions from livestock and animal source food systems that lead to both climate adaptation and mitigation co-benefits. For example, efforts to enhance dairy and livestock farm productivity and efficiency have the added benefit of transitioning away from more emissions-intensive practices like poor-quality cattle diets and certain manure management practices.

The Kenya Crops and Dairy Market Systems Activity significantly increased dairy productivity to reduce poverty and malnutrition. Within three years of cow diet improvements, milk production increased by 43 percent, while methane intensity (i.e., emissions per liter of milk) decreased by 28 percent. Similar work in Rwanda showed even higher productivity gains, resulting in a 47-60 percent reduction in emissions intensity. 

Advancing Equitable, Low-Emissions Rice Systems

USAID is partnering with the International Rice Research Institute and Bayer Crop Science, with the assistance of National Agricultural Research and Extension Services, to support Scale Direct, a Feed the Future initiative. The project promotes on-farm testing and scaling of direct-seeded rice, which involves seeding rice directly into soil rather than transplanting seedlings into standing water. This practice cuts methane emissions by up to 60 percent, improves soil health, enhances nutrient use efficiency, and reduces women’s labor burden during transplanting season.

Efforts to mitigate methane from rice farming can also be combined with nature-based solutions that improve overall ecosystem health. That is the case with USAID’s new Climate Resilient Agriculture in the Mekong Delta Activity in Vietnam, which works to reduce agricultural emissions and bolster the climate resilience of vulnerable communities. The project supports the conversion of rice-producing lands to horticulture and aquaculture, transition to low-emissions fertilizers, and improvement of water and straw management–all while protecting and restoring the Mekong’s mangrove, wetland, and forest ecosystems.

Reducing Food Loss and Waste

Globally, 30-40 percent of food is lost or wasted in the farm-to-consumer supply chain, emitting methane as it breaks down in landfills. As a result, food loss and waste (FLW) contributes 8-10 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions. USAID’s FLW Accelerator provides catalytic funding to small businesses in low- and middle-income countries to scale innovations that reduce FLW and methane emissions, including upcycling food waste and using black soldier fly larvae to transform it into sustainable animal feed and plant fertilizer. 

The Feed the Future Innovation Lab for the Reduction of Post-Harvest Loss conducts cutting-edge research, testing, and outreach on low-cost tools and practices for post-harvest handling. For example, proper drying and storage of key crops reduces loss from pest or mold damage, thus diverting it from methane-producing landfills and increasing the amount of food that farmers can sell or feed to their families. USAID and partners further identified priority value chains and actions for reducing FLW-related emissions.

The recent BIFAD report, “Operationalizing USAID’s Climate Strategy to Achieve Transformative Adaptation and Mitigation in Agriculture and Food Systems,” highlighted actions USAID could consider to further reduce emissions from agriculture and food systems. Given the urgency and opportunities for methane emissions reduction from the agriculture sector, it is a critical time to assess how to further catalyze emissions reductions through programming and partnerships.

This blog is the second in a four-part series outlining USAID’s approach and efforts towards achieving low-emissions agriculture and food systems. Read the first part here.

Vietnam, Kenya
Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Integration, Mitigation
Agriculture, Climate-Resilient Agriculture, Emissions, Food Security, Indigenous Peoples and Local Communities, Methane, Mitigation, Nature-based Solutions, Nutrition, Systems Change

Caitlin Corner-Dolloff


Caitlin Corner-Dolloff is the Senior Policy Advisor for Climate and Agriculture in REFS and the Co-Chair of USAID’s Low Emissions Agriculture and Food Systems (LEAFS) Advisory Group.

Alyxandra Ruzevich

Alyxandra Ruzevich is a Climate Mitigation and Agriculture Specialist in REFS and a Co-Chair of USAID’s Low Emissions Agriculture and Food Systems (LEAFS) Advisory Group

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