Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations

Climate Change Threatens Amazonian Small Farmers

Date:
March 27, 2008
Source:
Indiana University
Summary:
A six-year study of Amazonian small farmers and their responses to climate change shows the farmers are vulnerable to natural catastrophes and risky land use practices.

The child of a Brazilian small farmer holds a ripe cacao fruit.
Credit: Scott Hetrick, Indiana University

A six-year study of Amazonian small farmers and their responses to climate change shows the farmers are vulnerable to natural catastrophes and risky land use practices, say Indiana University Bloomington anthropologists Eduardo Brondizio and Emilio Moran.

The researchers report that an increase in climate anomalies like El Nino could ultimately drive many small farmers to ruin, forcing them into Brazilian cities that may be ill-equipped to employ, house and feed them.

The researchers found a rapid decay in farmers' memories even of major climate events. For example, more than 50 percent of the farmers surveyed in 2002 did not recall the El Nino-caused drought of 1997 and 1998 -- the worst drought in recent recorded history.

"Because there's so much variability -- even within a three-year period -- most farmers do not seem to maintain a memory of major weather events unless they had some unusual and specific relevance to their lives," said Brondizio, the paper's corresponding author. "Small farmers' collective memory about past climate events is also impacted by the high rate of turnover as new farmers arrive and others leave for cities or new frontiers. It takes time for farmers to learn about a new environment. High rates of family turnover in rural areas further limit the sharing of knowledge and experiences and forms of collective action, such as preventing the spread of accidental fires, to cope with challenging times."

Increasing vulnerability to fire during extended droughts not only impacts the economy, but the forest environment, too.

"Once dry vegetation is affected by fire, the vegetation that comes back is also more fire susceptible, a process well documented in the Amazonian literature," Brondizio said. "Yet the use of fire for land management continues to be widespread in the absence of agricultural support for small farmers."

Minor climate variation would seem to favor the small farmer, as unlike large-scale farmers, most small farmers plant a wide variety of crops. Variation in rainfall one year might cause low yields of some crops, but may leave the others unaffected. Large-scale farmers are also vulnerable but in different ways. As they tend to plant capital intensive large-scale monocultures, climate change for a given growing season could be innocuous -- or it could be catastrophic.

But small farmers are also limited in what they can do. Not only are Amazonian small farmers less likely than corporate farmers to have access to current weather data and information about a coming drought, they also have less access to equipment that might protect crops from fire during times of unusual dryness or from flood during times of above-normal rainfall.

"Farmers are aware of the climate change discussion," Brondizio said. "But because climate data and forecasts are presented at a regional scale not applicable at the farm level, farmers prefer not to take the risk of changing land use practices."

Emilio Moran added, "They tend to do what they have always done -- but that is a recipe for trouble under conditions of climate change, wherein extreme events will become more common. While some individuals adjust their practices relatively fast, it usually takes a generation to observe changes at the population level."

To avoid the negative human and economic consequences of an even larger exodus of small farmers to the cities, Brondizio says regional and national governments must make an effort to help small farmers cope by producing and disseminating knowledge that is useful to them. He also says small farmers require better provision and access to services commonly available to large-scale farmers. Moran says the number of data-gathering weather stations must be increased.

"What is needed is to maintain roads and to provide appropriate technical assistance, health care, and other services to encourage these farmers to stay in the region," Brondizio said. "As far as climate change is concerned, the lack of extension services is a problem. Small farmers will need people to translate climate information into information they can use to make decisions. We also know there is a need to generate more data about what's going on locally which may help local farmers predict something like drought or their risk of fire."

This research is published in Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society B (now accessible online). Funding for the study came principally from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), with additional funding from NASA and the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. The authors also thank the staff of Brazil's Ministry of Agriculture in the state of Para for their aid and support.


Story Source:

The above story is based on materials provided by Indiana University. Note: Materials may be edited for content and length.


Cite This Page:

Indiana University. "Climate Change Threatens Amazonian Small Farmers." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 27 March 2008. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080326081114.htm>.
Indiana University. (2008, March 27). Climate Change Threatens Amazonian Small Farmers. ScienceDaily. Retrieved July 28, 2014 from www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080326081114.htm
Indiana University. "Climate Change Threatens Amazonian Small Farmers." ScienceDaily. www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2008/03/080326081114.htm (accessed July 28, 2014).

Share This




More Plants & Animals News

Monday, July 28, 2014

Featured Research

from universities, journals, and other organizations


Featured Videos

from AP, Reuters, AFP, and other news services

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

Raw: Sea Turtle Hatchlings Emerge from Nest

AP (July 27, 2014) A live-streaming webcam catches loggerhead sea turtle hatchlings emerging from a nest in the Florida Keys. (July 27) Video provided by AP
Powered by NewsLook.com
Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Trees Could Save More Than 850 Lives Each Year

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A national study conducted by the USDA Forest Service found that trees collectively save more than 850 lives on an annual basis. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
What's To Blame For Worst Ebola Outbreak In History?

What's To Blame For Worst Ebola Outbreak In History?

Newsy (July 27, 2014) A U.S. doctor has tested positive for the deadly Ebola virus, as the worst-ever outbreak continues to grow. Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com
The New York Times Backs Pot Legalization

The New York Times Backs Pot Legalization

Newsy (July 27, 2014) The New York Times has officially endorsed the legalization of marijuana, but why now, and to what end? Video provided by Newsy
Powered by NewsLook.com

Search ScienceDaily

Number of stories in archives: 140,361

Find with keyword(s):
Enter a keyword or phrase to search ScienceDaily for related topics and research stories.

Save/Print:
Share:

Breaking News:
from the past week

In Other News

... from NewsDaily.com

Science News

Health News

Environment News

Technology News



Save/Print:
Share:

Free Subscriptions


Get the latest science news with ScienceDaily's free email newsletters, updated daily and weekly. Or view hourly updated newsfeeds in your RSS reader:

Get Social & Mobile


Keep up to date with the latest news from ScienceDaily via social networks and mobile apps:

Have Feedback?


Tell us what you think of ScienceDaily -- we welcome both positive and negative comments. Have any problems using the site? Questions?
Mobile: iPhone Android Web
Follow: Facebook Twitter Google+
Subscribe: RSS Feeds Email Newsletters
Latest Headlines Health & Medicine Mind & Brain Space & Time Matter & Energy Computers & Math Plants & Animals Earth & Climate Fossils & Ruins