Farming system evolution and adaptive capacity: Insights for adaptation support

Farming system evolution and adaptive capacity: Insights for adaptation support

Farming systems are an example of complex, social and ecological systems that are dynamic, and operate across multiple temporal and spatial scales – from individual to global levels. Unlike typical studies of climate impacts on agriculture and adaptation, which make current or future assessments – often ignoring historical contexts – this investigation considers how historical trends have influenced farming system adaptive capacity in two administrative districts of Uganda, Soroti and Jinja, from 1960 to 2012. Since farming systems such as these in sub-Saharan Africa are likely to be impacted by future climate change and variability, due to their dependence on rainfall and low adaptive capacity, this paper assesses these impacts on a range of crops and livestock at a range of spatial scales. For this study, the researchers developed an integrated adaptive capacity framework that draws on concepts from resilience and vulnerability literature, among other sources. Primary empirical data was organised and analysed through a farming systems framework; data was collected (January–September 2012) via household surveys, semi-structured interviews, focus-group discussions and observations made by researchers. The findings of this study include that reflecting on the similarities and differences between the farming systems provides insight into the specific interventions needed to strengthen adaptive capacity – both within the study area, as well as farming systems more broadly:

  • Similar trends in farming system evolution have had differential impacts on the diversity of farming systems;
  • Trends have contributed to the erosion of informal social and cultural institutions and an increasing dependence on formal institutions; and
  • Trade-offs between components of adaptive capacity are made at the farm-scale, thus influencing farming system adaptive capacity.

Areas where specific action is needed to build adaptive capacity as a means to maintain and strengthen farming system resilience, as well as reduce vulnerability, include shifting away from a one-size-fits-all approach, and adopting a greater focus on building inclusive formal and informal institutions. Recommendations for further research include investigating further how climate changes may impact crop yields, and also how they will impact other components of adaptive capacity – specifically diversity and the natural resource base. The authors also recommend future research oriented toward gaining a better understanding of the trade-offs between short-term productivity and longer-term adaptive capacity; and, within this, the role and decision-making processes of influential actors.

  1. How good is this research?

    Assessing the quality of research can be a tricky business. This blog from our editor offers some tools and tips.