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Bit by bit, East African smallholder farmers adapting to climate change

Farmers worldwide have always faced challenges related to weather variability, and have necessarily adapted their farming practises in order to survive. But as variability increases to to climate change, and rainfall patterns and average temperatures shift dramatically, farmers may need to change more rapidly and in unexpected ways.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) led an extensive survey of farmers at sites across East Africa, to discover what kind of changes farmers have already made to deal with variability. The goal was to understand what kind of changes are possible in the future, and what compels farmers to make these changes, in order to deal with climate change.

The results of the survey, which were published in the journal Food Security, found that many smallholders have started to embrace climate-resilient farming approaches and technologies. These include strategies that improve crop production such as using improved seed varieties, agroforestry and intercropping, and better livestock management. But many farming approaches, the kind that would actually transform the way smallholders farm, have yet to be adopted. The infographic below illustrates what has, and has not, been commonly adopted.

 

The researchers also found a link between farmers' food insecurity and adoption of climate-adapted approaches. The least food-secure households are also those the least likely to innovate. But it's unclear whether one causes the other or whether they are mutually-reinforcing.

"It stands to reason that households struggling to feed their families throughout the year are not in a good position to invest in new practices that include higher costs and risks,” said Patti Kristjanson, a researcher “Yet not adapting is certainly contributing to food insecurity. Food insecurity means lower adaptive capacity to deal with all kinds of change.”

“So it is critical that we learn more about both the factors that enable and facilitate innovation, and how to lower the often hidden costs and barriers associated with changing agricultural practices,” she added.

 

Read the journal article:

Are food insecure smallholder households making changes in their farming practices? Evidence from East Africa

by Patti Kristjanson, Henry Neufeldt, Anja Gassner, Joash Mango, Florence B. Kyazze, Solomon Desta, George Sayula, Brian Thiede, Wiebke Förch, Philip K. Thornton and Richard Coe. Food Security, Vol 4, 2012. DOI: 10.1007/s12571-012-0194-z (open access)

Press release

Landmark Survey Finds Adaptation to Climate Change on Smallholder Farms Taking Root - 7 September 2012

More about the surveys

Baseline Surveys: CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security


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