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A multi-country analysis of smallholder vulnerability to climate and land-use change in Africa

Authors: Karen M. Bailey*, Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado Boulder, Lin Cassidy, Okavango Research Institute, University of Botswana, Jonathan Salerno, Department of Human Dimensions of Natural Resources, Colorado State University, Andrea E. Gaughan, Department of Geography and Geosciences, University of Louisville, Forrest R. Stevens, Department of Geography and Geosciences, University of Louisville, Narcisa G. Pricope, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of North Carolina Wilmington, Joel Hartter, Environmental Studies Program, University of Colorado Boulder
Topics: Coupled Human and Natural Systems, Human-Environment Geography, Africa
Keywords: climate change, land-use change, smallholder, Africa, vulnerability, resilience
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Across Sub-Saharan Africa, smallholder farming communities face significant threats from climate and land-use change. Identifying scale relevant efficient strategies to mitigate these threats is critical for supporting the wellbeing of these vulnerable populations and achieving conservation and environmental sustainability goals. However, the complex regional and local dynamics that influence smallholder farmer livelihoods and environmental processes make it challenging to identify strategies and leverage points across contexts. To overcome this challenge, we developed a multi-scalar framework to investigate relationships between exposure and sensitivity to changing environmental conditions and associated adaptive capacity. Using multi-country data collected between 2000 and 2018 from households across southern Africa, we identify factors influencing household vulnerability to climate variability and environmental change. We merge cross sectional data with a focus on different types of capital and links to adaptive capacity, within the sustainable rural livelihoods framework. Integrating that data with regional-scale remotely sensed data on rainy season onset and duration, land-cover and land-use change, and long-term temperature variation, we identify broad scale environmental factors that interact with household-level vulnerabilities to understand potential adaptations at multiple scales. Integrated within a modeling framework, we find that increasing household adaptive capacity (via increased social network integration, education) and decreasing vulnerability to inter-annual climate variability (via livelihood diversification, use of varied natural resources) are the most effective strategies for maximizing household wellbeing. We additionally observed that household-level factors are often more important predictors of vulnerability than regional-or country-level variation, with important implications for future interventions and livelihood resilience in southern Africa.

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