Climate change adaptation and sustainable agricultural intensification in developing countries

Doctoral Thesis


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The recent threat of climate change has exacerbated the inherent risks in smallholder farming such as soil degradation, resulting in an unprecedented decline in agricultural yields in developing countries. This has threatened the livelihoods of large segments of populations that are heavily dependent on agriculture for survival in these regions. This dissertation focuses on identifying barriers and enablers of effective management of these risks, with an aim of coming up with potential policy interventions that can reduce vulnerability to the mentioned risks. To achieve this, the dissertation utilizes various methods and approaches as well as diverse datasets in two countries in sub Saharan Africa i.e. Namibia and Kenya. Diversification into non-farm activities is seen by many as a risk management strategy in rural areas where highly variable low farm incomes are transformed into stable high non-farm incomes, thus improving the welfare of the rural populations. While this theory of change is uncontested, the importance that the agricultural sector plays as a source of livelihood for rural populations, as well as food provisioning for urban populations, cannot be downplayed. This is more so given the limited non-farm opportunities in developing countries and the exponential population growth in these countries. The two factors combined impede on the envisioned transformation of rural production sectors and also create a sub-population of food insecure urban poor due to rural-urban migration. To mitigate these problems, rural agricultural development is still paramount and strategies that enhance resilience to risks in the sector are still vital. Chapter 2 of this dissertation focuses on this issue and addresses how farm diversification can be leveraged for improved food security in the rural areas, which has potential spill-over effects to other segments of the population. Focusing on northern Namibia, the study evaluates how different levels of diversification in both crop and livestock farming affect household food security outcomes i.e. per capita food expenditure and dietary diversity score. The study employs relatively new econometric methods in these type of studies to evaluate the joint determinants to both crop and livestock diversification, as well as their singular and joint effect on mentioned food security outcomes. The results show that high levels of diversification in either enterprise leads to high food security outcomes. Combined with climate change adaptation strategies that create resilience of agricultural production to climatic shocks, the use of sustainable agricultural intensification practices can further enhance productivity in the sector. Inputs like inorganic fertilizer, organic manure and improved seeds can further build on resilient systems to improve yields. Chapter 3 of this dissertation addresses this issue by looking at whether changes in the larger agri-food systems can be used to incentivize take up of such practices at the farm level. The study evaluates how the emergence of large traders in smallholder grain markets can drive the uptake of inorganic and organic fertilizer and improved seeds. The study thus expands the intervention space available to policy makers who have in the past resorted to potentially distortionary direct policies in the input markets e.g. through subsidy provision, as well as in the output markets e.g. through regulation of prices. To achieve this, the study uses a large panel dataset from Kenya spanning over a decade to evaluate how engagements between farmers and these market actors can be leveraged to drive adoption of these sustainable intensification inputs. Results show that engagements between large grain traders and farmers enhance use of inorganic fertilizer. There is no evidence that these engagements lead to enhanced use of improved seeds or manure. However, past use of improved seeds and manure are shown to affect their subsequent use, implying path dependency in the use of these sustainable inputs hence low dis-adoption rates. Traditional technology adoption studies show that access to information is a critical success factor for the uptake of new technology. Proxy variables for information access, for example proximity to extension services or frequency of extension contact, have consistently been shown to be positively correlated with technology adoption. In the context of climate change, access to weather information can be a critical factor to adoption of adaptation technology. Chapter 4 of this dissertation deals with this issue and assesses whether provision of weather information to farmers can enhance adoption of improved farming technologies that are resilient to climatic shocks. The study focuses on northern Namibia where access to such information, as the study shows, is very limited. A framed experiment approach is utilised to evaluate how climate change-induced uncertainty affects farmers' decision making in a farming season, based on their elicited behavioural attitudes towards risk and uncertainty. Further, the study tests whether providing weather information that reduces this uncertainty leads to adoption of technologies that are welfare improving. Lastly, the demand for weather information is assessed by eliciting the willingness to pay for information under various levels of weather uncertainty. Results indicate that high levels of uncertainty dampen uptake of welfare improving technologies, regardless of individual attitudes towards uncertainty. Availing of weather information leads to welfare improving technology choice, given the prevailing levels of weather uncertainty. There is also a high demand for weather information which is shown to increase with increase in the level of weather uncertainty. The chapters in the dissertation therefore identify key policy variables that can be used to manage vulnerability to risks emanating from climate change and unsustainable production in smallholder farming. Access to comprehensive climate information encompassing weather information and climate change-specific management information on both crop and livestock farming is shown to be a key factor in the uptake of adaptation strategies like use of resilient inputs and farm diversification. Interventions along the value chain like teaming up with large market actors in a private-public engagement is shown to be a potential pathway towards enhancing uptake of sustainable intensification inputs. Other policy variables like credit provision, high education and access to off-farm incomes are also key in explaining uptake of risk management strategies by smallholder farmers in Namibia and Kenya.