Smallholder Agriculture and Adaptive Capacity in a Changing Climate

Meha Jain
Date and Time: 
Monday, February 10, 2014 - 3:15pm

Department of Anthropology
Main Quad - Building 50
Room 51A (Colloquium Room)


Across the tropics, climate change is predicted to reduce crop yields up to 40% by mid-century, threatening regional food security and the economic stability of farmers. Poorer smallholder farmers are considered to be particularly vulnerable, yet current studies may overestimate climate impacts on agricultural production because many do not consider the capacity of farmers to adapt to a changing climate. My research examines how smallholder farmers in India alter their cropping decisions in response to short-term weather variability. Specifically, I assess 1) which social and economic characteristics improve farmers’ abilities to adapt, 2) whether these adaptation strategies are sustainable considering natural resources, and 3) which types of irrigation may best buffer agricultural production to future climate change. I conduct this research using an inter-disciplinary, multi-scale approach, analyzing data ranging from structured household surveys to remote sensing and national census datasets. My results show that assets, perceptions of climate, and caste play strong roles in determining whether farmers adapt their cropping strategies in response to rainfall variability, and the most profitable adaptation strategy is to increase the amount of groundwater irrigation used. Yet, heavy groundwater use is likely unsustainable, and is resulting in falling groundwater tables and possible soil salinization. My future work will examine how farmers respond to the multiple stresses of climate change and declining groundwater tables, and whether certain technologies, like new seed varieties or sustainable forms of irrigation, can be promoted to enhance farmers’ adaptive capacity across an array of social and economic groups.

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