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Reducing subsistence farmers’ vulnerability to climate change: evaluating the potential contributions of agroforestry in western Kenya

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Subsistence farmers are among the people most vulnerable to current climate variability. Climate models predict that climate change will lead to warmer temperatures, increasing rainfall variability, and increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events. Agroforestry, or the intentional use of trees in the cropping system, has been proposed by many development practitioners as a potential strategy to help farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate change. This study explores whether and, if so, how agroforestry techniques can help subsistence farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate change. From field research conducted in western Kenya, we find that households are not currently coping with climate-related hazards in a sustainable way. Farmers are aware of this, and believe that the most effective way to adapt to climate-related shocks is through improving their general standard of living. We evaluated agroforestry as one possible means of improving farmers’ well-being. By comparing farmers engaged in an agroforestry project with a control group of neighboring farmers, we find that involvement in agroforestry improves household’s general standard of living via improvements in farm productivity, off-farm incomes, wealth and the environmental conditions of their farm. We conclude that agroforestry techniques can be used as an effective part of a broader development strategy to help subsistence farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate-related hazards.
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Thorlakson and NeufeldtAgriculture & Food Security2012,1:15 http://www.agricultureandfoodsecurity.com/content/1/1/15
R E S E A R C HOpen Access Reducing subsistence farmersvulnerability to climate change: evaluating the potential contributions of agroforestry in western Kenya 1 2,3* Tannis Thorlaksonand Henry Neufeldt
Abstract Subsistence farmers are among the people most vulnerable to current climate variability. Climate models predict that climate change will lead to warmer temperatures, increasing rainfall variability, and increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events. Agroforestry, or the intentional use of trees in the cropping system, has been proposed by many development practitioners as a potential strategy to help farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate change. This study explores whether and, if so, how agroforestry techniques can help subsistence farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate change. From field research conducted in western Kenya, we find that households are not currently coping with climaterelated hazards in a sustainable way. Farmers are aware of this, and believe that the most effective way to adapt to climaterelated shocks is through improving their general standard of living. We evaluated agroforestry as one possible means of improving farmerswellbeing. By comparing farmers engaged in an agroforestry project with a control group of neighboring farmers, we find that involvement in agroforestry improves households general standard of living via improvements in farm productivity, offfarm incomes, wealth and the environmental conditions of their farm. We conclude that agroforestry techniques can be used as an effective part of a broader development strategy to help subsistence farmers reduce their vulnerability to climaterelated hazards. Keywords:Africa, Agroforestry, Climate change adaptation, Food security, Smallholder development, Vulnerability
Introduction Climate models predict that climate change will lead to, among other things, an increase in unpredictability of rainfall, warmer temperatures, and an increase in the se verity and frequency of extreme weather events [1]. These changes are expected to decrease agricultural productivity in the developing world by 10% to 20% over the next 40 years [2]. Subsistence farmers in the developing world find it particularly difficult to cope with such climate related hazards, as they do not have the capital to invest in new adaptive practices with which to protect their homes and families [3]. Especially sensitive to climatic changes are those households that rely almost entirely on rainfed agriculture for their livelihoods. There has been a recent
* Correspondence: H.Neufeldt@cgiar.org 2 World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), Nairobi, Kenya 3 CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) Full list of author information is available at the end of the article
focus in the international development community and lit erature on strategies to help subsistence farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate change [4,5]. How communities cope with exposure to current climaterelated shocks and stresses can give us insight into their ability to deal with future variability brought on by climate change [6]. Scholars are calling for a more inter disciplinary combination of academic fields and farmer perceptions to understand the effects of climaterelated hazards on the complex systems of rural farmers [3,5,7]. Agroforestry has been proposed as one potential strat egy for helping subsistence farmers reduce their vulner ability to climate change [810]. Research suggests that agroforestry improves farmer wellbeing through improv ing farm productivity and incomes [9,11,12]. Yet there are few studies that explicitly examine how agroforestry tech niques can reduce vulnerability to climate change [13]. In addition, many agroforestry analyses assess the impacts of scientistmanaged agroforestry plots, while
© 2012 Thorlakson and Neufeldt; licensee BioMed Central Ltd. This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.