Adapting to Climate Change
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Agriculture, much of it rain-fed, provides the main source of livelihoods in rural communities in Ethiopia. Drought has long been a challenge for Ethiopia’s farmers, but rural communities are facing new adverse effects due to climate change.  A new study published in Agriculture & Food Security investigates how smallholder farmers perceive climate change, what adaptation practices they use, and what factors influence farmers’ adaptation decisions.

The study was conducted in the Central Rift Valley of Ethiopia. Both quantitative and qualitative data were collected through focus groups, key informant interviews, and household surveys. The study uses a multinominal logit model in order to identify the factors that influence smallholder farmers’ adaptation strategies. The study covered a total of 200 randomly selected sample households.

Results of the study show that 90 percent of farmers are aware of climate change; they reported observing shorter and more unpredictable rainfall patterns as well as rising temperatures within the last 20 years.  These changes in weather have negatively impacted farmers by causing prolonged drought and increasing the incidence of pests and diseases. These adverse effects have resulted in a decline  in productivity of major crops in the region, making it difficult for farmers to maintain food security.

In response to these changes, 85 percent of the surveyed farmers have begun using practices like crop diversification, planting date adjustment, soil and water conservation, increased intensity of input use, farm diversification, and tree planting. The majority of the households that have adopted crop diversification reported doing so due to campaigns made by agricultural extension services from the local government and NGOs. 

According to the study, the factors that influence farmers’ choice of adaptation practices include household education, family size, gender and age of the household head, livestock ownership, farming experience, frequency of contact with extension services, farm size, shortage of labor, access to markets, and income. Despite the fact that many farmers have begun to adopt climate-smart practices in response to observed changes in weather patterns, they still face several constraints in terms of fully and efficiently adopting these practices. Lack of sufficient money and education appear to hinder farmers most from getting necessary agricultural inputs or from practicing adaptation practices to their full potential.

From a policy perspective, these findings imply that the role of governments and NGOs is imperative in supporting smallholders’ capacity to adapt to climate change. The authors suggest the need to include climate change information, extension services, and improved access to markets in existing government programs. In addition, efforts should be made to help farmers access non-farm income sources in order to diversify household incomes and protect rural households from climate-related shocks.

By: Jenn Campus

Photo credit:Flickr: Sarah Tz