Smallholder Farmers’ Adaptive Capacity and Choice of Adaptation Strategies Against Weather Risks in Northern Benin



Understanding smallholder farmers’ behaviour in terms of adaptation to weather risks provides the means to design policies that will help farmers address weather risks and have an effective impact on farmers’ livelihoods. This study is undertaken with this perspective by analysing how smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacity affects their choice of adaptation strategies to weather risks. The research sought to, i) analyse farmers’ perceived vulnerability to weather risks, their adaptation responses and assess their perceived and adaptive capacities; ii) identify the factors that influence the choice of adaptation strategies; and iii) assess the link between farmers’ adaptive capacity and the effectiveness of their adaptation strategies. Data was collected through survey of 450 cereal farmers (maize, rice, sorghum and millet), and analysed with descriptive statistics, multinomial logit model and maximum simulated likelihood model. The results indicate that floods, drought, decreasing levels of, and increasing variability of rainfall, late onset of the rainy season are the major weather risks which farmers perceived themselves vulnerable to. Crop management, calendar management, improved seeds, irrigation and soil and water management were the adaptation strategies used, with crop and calendar management being the strategies adopted most frequently. Only 8% of farmers’ adaptation responses were to address vulnerability related to flood and drought even though they perceived themselves to be highly vulnerable to those risks. At least 60% farmers perceived that crop management, calendar management, and use of improved seeds have the potential to address weather risks compared to 25% for irrigation and 8% for soil and water management. Farmers’ adaptation intentions translated into adaptation except for improved seeds and irrigation strategies where only 38% and 32% of farmers who intended to use these strategies, respectively actually applied the strategies. On average smallholder farmers have moderate adaptive capacity to respond to weather risk except for rice farmers who have high adaptive capacity. Farmers’ adaptation intention correlate with strategies that do not require much additional investments; while estimated adaptive capacity determines the choice of strategy that require much additional investments. Other factors like age, experience, education perceived vulnerability to risks, access to credit, land tenure, access to climate information, access to extension services also affect the choice of adaptation strategies. On-farm adaptation strategies used by farmers are effective and have increased yields by about 5% to 35% depending on the strategy used. Farmers with high adaptive capacity achieved the highest impact on yields from the application of improved seed and soil, water and irrigation strategies. The findings suggest that supporting farmers to build their capacity to adapt to climate risks can be a means to reducing smallholders’ vulnerability to weather risks.


1.1   Background


Climate change, defined as any change in mean and variability of climate properties over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity(IPCC, 2014), has been recognized by the scientific community as the main threat to economic development, food security and poverty reduction in the world since the adoption of the United Nation Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) in 1992 and the 2001 publication of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC,2001). Several authors have contributed to the understanding of climate change and variability by showing the way it happens and at the same time, demonstrated measures to reduce its negative impact on livelihoods (IPCC,2001; IPCC, 2014). Others have estimated the impact of climate change and variability on economic activities to identify the most vulnerable communities or countries (Fankhauser and Tol, 2005; Tol, 2009). These contributions by climate scientists show that developing countries, especially African countries are the most adversely affected by the impact of climate change and variability, due to the over reliance of their economies on agriculture (Kurukulasuriya et al., 2006; Mendelsohn, 2009), and limited economic and institutional capacity to cope with, and adapt to climate change and variability (Roudier et al., 2011).

Agriculture is the main livelihood of many people and it contributes up to 20% of GDP Sub-Sahara African countries (Roudier et al., 2011; Waha et al., 2013). Agricultural production in sub-Sahara Africa is manly rain-fed with traditional cropping system


characterized by multiple cropping, and dominated by maize, millet, sorghum, cassava (FAO, 2014).

Increases in temperature and decreases in annual precipitation are the manifestations of climate change in Africa (IPCC, 2014) which has resulted in a decrease in the length of the growing season and consequently lower agriculture production (Barrios, Ouattara, and Strobl, 2008; Waha et al., 2013).

The impact of climate change and variability on agriculture varies across countries because farmers are not facing the same challenges (Adger, 2006; Barnett and Adger, 2007) and pre-existing inequalities within countries can intensify the vulnerability of farmers to the phenomenon (Barnett & Adger, 2007). This therefore requires specific policies by each country to reduce smallholder farmers’ vulnerability to climate change and variability.

The agriculture sector contributes 30% of GDP and employs 75% of labour force in Benin, a West African country (INSAE, 2009; PAM, 2009). However, agriculture production essentially depends heavily on rainfall and is characterized by smallholder farmers who farm on average 1.7 hectare of land (MAEP, 2011). Other Challenges facing the agricultural sector include access to markets, low use of production inpust and soil infertility (MAEP, 2011; PAM, 2009). The sector is also affected by climate change as is observed in the trend in high concentration of rainfall over a short period, decrease in rainfall and increased in temperature (Boko, Kosmowski, & Vissin, 2012).

Assessments of the effect of climate change reveal that fluctuation of the onset and duration of rainfall, variation of annual rainfall amounts, drought, late and violent rains and floods are the major climate risks faced by farmers in Benin. Northern Benin has been identified


as the agro-ecological area most vulnerable to climate risks since it has been affected by all extreme climatic events that occurred in Benin from 1984 to 2010 (Boko et al., 2012; MEHU, 2011; Yabi & Afouda, 2012).

Benin’s agricultural policy recognizes climate change as a threat to the agriculture sector because of its contribution to the declining rainfall and soil fertility, decreases in productivity and production (MAEP, 2010). Smallholder farmers have developed some adaptation strategies to reduce the effect of climate change and variability, based on their indigenous knowledge and availability of resources (Boko et al., 2012). Although farmers have experience because of their local knowledge in the management of climate variability, the unprecedented level of variability associated with long-term climate change is beyond the capabilities of traditional coping strategies (Pettengell, 2010). There is therefore a need to design and implement policies that support farmers to reduce their vulnerability to climate risks.



1.2   Problem Statement


Production risks, defined as the possibility of adverse outcome, is one of the main challenges facing by smallholder farmers. Major production risks include and it is due to pest and disease outbreaks, market shocks, and weather risks. Climate change is expected to increase smallholder farmers’ production risks because it will induce more weather risks (Boko et al., 2007; IPCC, 2014). Policies to support farmers to reduce their vulnerability to weather risks require an understanding of farmers’ behaviour in terms of adaptation and farmers should have some level of adaptive capacity (ability to adopt adaptation measures) (Twomlow et al., 2008).


Adaptive capacity for weather risks is the characteristics of communities, countries and regions, which influence their propensity or ability to adapt to climate risks (IPCC, 2014). It refers to the ability to cope with weather risks in order to moderate potential damage, take advantage of emerging opportunities, and cope with its consequences (Reidsma et al., 2010). Adaptive capacity represents the set of resources available within which the farmer expresses his adaptation decision to reduce the effect of climate change. It is unequally distributed within nations, communities and among farmers (Adger et al., 2007) and determines whether a farmer can take adaptation decision (Grothmann and Patt, 2005). Therefore identifying how farmers’ adaptive capacity evolves can give insight into how to improve their adaptation to weather risks (Adger et al., 2009) and thus reduce their vulnerability to climate risks.

Adaptive capacity to climate change has benefitted from research aimed at defining and measuring specific adaptive capacity at different levels since the publication of the IPCC third assessment report in 2001 (Adger and Vincent, 2005; Brooks, Adger, and Kelly 2005; Bryan et al., 2015; Defiesta and Rapera, 2014; Engle, 2011; Haddad, 2005; Vincent, 2007; Yohe and Tol, 2002). Most of these studies have been at country or regional level using various indices to measure and compare capacities of countries or regions within a country, to adapt to climate change (Adger and Vincent, 2005; Vincent, 2007).

Many studies have evaluated adaptive capacity at country level to identify the most vulnerable while the assessment at individual level is limited. Adaptive capacity to weather risks at country level identifies factors which affect the country’s ability to respond to climate change and does not focus on the elements of farmers’ adaptive capacity, which are important for farmers’ autonomous adaptation decisions.


Because of the nature of adaptive capacity which is latent, not observable and does not have indicator to measure it (IPCC, 2007; Engle, 2011), researchers generally design indices to operationalise the concept. The use of indices to evaluate adaptive capacity at various levels follows either the data driven approach or theory driven approach. Both approaches rely on expert judgements to select and assign weights of determinants of adaptive capacity (Below et al., 2012; Gbetibouo, Hassan, and Ringler, 2010; Haddad, 2005). There is some bias related to these approaches because of the subjective selection of determinants, the basis of which is not clearly specified (Adger & Vincent, 2005; Vincent, 2007). Also, it is not clear whether the determinants are really the underpinning factors of adaptive capacity (Adger and Vincent, 2005; Nelson, Adger, and Brown, 2007; Vincent, 2007). Although there have been some evaluations of adaptive capacity at farmer level, they did not consider farmers’ views to identify what is important to them to improve their adaptive capacity.

It has been established in climate change literature that adaptation to weather risks is the expression of adaptive capacity and represents the ways through which adaptive capacity affects the vulnerability of countries or individuals to climate change (Engle, 2011; O’Brien et al., 2007). There is little empirical evidence on how farmers’ adaptive capacity to climate change affects the process of their adaptation to climate change, specifically farmers’ decisions to adapt, their choice of adaptation strategies and the effectiveness of those strategies.

In fact, empirical studies on farmers’ decision to adapt to weather risks generally focused on farmers’ perception of the risks and some socio-economic characteristics as keys factors which explain farmers’ decision to adapt (Deressa et al., 2009; Roco et al., 2014). Farmers’


perceptions of climate change and variability represent cognitive factors and help to capture their comprehension of probability of being exposed to the impacts of risks and how harmful these impacts would be to the things the farmer values (Carlton and Jacobson 2013; Debela et al., 2015; Patt and Schröter 2008; Tam and Mcdaniels 2013). Little attention has been given to other cognitive factors like farmers’ perceived adaptive capacity, which represents their judgment of how well they are expected to cope with the impact of weather risks (Grothmann and Patt, 2005; Lockwood et al., 2015; Moser et al., 2015). Farmers’ perceived adaptive capacity is an important factor in adaptation decisions because the higher the farmer’s perceived vulnerability to risks and perceived adaptive capacity, the higher the farmer’s motivation to respond (Grothmann and Patt, 2005; Moser et al., 2015).

Farmers’ choices of weather risks adaptation strategies have been widely analysed to identify adaptation measures used by them and factors which determine those choices (Bryan, Deressa, Gbetibouo, & Ringler, 2009; Deressa et al., 2009; Gbetibouo, Ringler, & Hassan, 2010; Yegbemey, Yabi, Tovignan, Gantoli, & Kokoye, 2013). Although attention has been paid to components of adaptive capacity and farmers choice of adaptation strategies, there is little empirical research on the link between farmers’ adaptive capacity and the type of adaptation strategies used (Keskitalo, Dannevig, Hovelsrud, West, & Swartling, 2011; Nelson et al., 2010). Thus, there is no much information on farmers’ adaptive capacity and their choices of adaptation strategies.

Smallholder farmers in their response to weather risks apply various adaptation measures (Below, Artner, Siebert, & Seiber, 2010; Hassan & Nhemachena, 2008). Knowledge about the effectiveness of those adaptation measures to reduce vulnerability to weather risks is


important for policymakers in targeting which strategies to promote with their limited resources and have high rate of adoption among smallholder farmers. Di Falco, Veronesi, and Yesuf (2011), and Di Falco & Veronesi (2013), provide the evidence of the effectiveness of on-farm adaptation strategies but there is not much information on farmers’ adaptive capacity and the effectiveness of the on-farm weather risks adaptation strategies farmers used which is important for policy orientation.

1.3   Research Questions


The main research questions of the study are:


  • What are farmers’ level of adaptive capacity to weather risks?


  • How do farmers’ adaptive capacity affect their adaptation behaviour?


The specific research questions are:


  1. What are farmers’ perceived vulnerability to weather risks, and what are the levels of their adaptive capacity?
  2. How do smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacity affect their choice of adaptation strategies to weather risks?
  • Do smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacity determine the effectiveness of weather risks adaptation strategies they used?

1.4   Objectives of the Study


The main objective of the study is twofold. The first aims is to evaluate smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacity to weather risks, and the second aims is to analyse how smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacity influence their adaptation behaviour to weather risks. But the specific objectives are:


  1. analyse farmers’ perceived vulnerability to weather risks, adaptation measures used and evaluate their adaptive capacity from their perspective;
  2. analyse how smallholder farmers’ perceived and estimated adaptive capacities affect their choice of adaptation strategies to weather risks;
  • determine the effectiveness of adaptation strategies to weather risks used by smallholder farmers’

1.5   Relevance of the Study


This research contributes both methodological and empirical contributions to the existing literature. The methodological value is that it is a better evaluation of adaptive capacity to climate change by using farmers to determine weighting scheme of component of adaptive capacity which departs from previous studies which have used statistical methods to assign weights to components of adaptive capacity. The study will contribute to our understanding of farmers’ adaption decision process by demonstrating how cognitive factors (perception of vulnerability and perceived adaptive capacity) affect farmers’ decisions to adapt and verify whether higher level of adaptive capacity at farmer level is always associated with good adaptation practices and lead to lower vulnerability. Climate change scientists always argue that small farmers in developing countries are vulnerable to climate change due to the lack of adaptive capacity (Boko, Kosmowski, and Vissin 2012; Kurukulasuriya et al., 2006; Roudier et al., 2011) but there is not much empirical evidence on how adaptive capacity contributes to vulnerability reduction, or if farmers with higher adaptive capacity are less vulnerable to climate change than farmers with low adaptive capacity.


1.6   Conceptual Framework of the Study


Figure1.1 presents the conceptual framework of the study. It shows that farmer’s adaptation to weather risks is a process made up by two steps. The first step is the decision to adapt to climate risks which is affected by his socio-economic characteristics, his cognitive factors, and institutional factors. The farmer’s cognitive factors, perception of their vulnerability and perceived adaptive capacity to climate risks, among others, is determined by his socio- economics characteristics and institutional factors. The second step is the choice of adaptation strategies that will be applied. The adoption of strategies is also determined by the farmer’s socio-economic characteristics, institutional factors, and his objective capacity to successfully apply the strategy. The outcomes of application of adaptation strategies by the farmer are increased yields which in turn builds farmer’s adaptive capacity.


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