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Insights into perceptions and priority settings about risks can help to channel adaptation and mitigation actions down to local communities



There is scientific consent that human influence has been the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century. For this reason 97% of scientists are convinced now that we need urgently take in place mitigation and adaptation actions to handle the consequences of a disturbed climate system and wait-and-see will reduce our options for climate-resilient pathways in the future.

In recent years, plenty of scientific assessments have quantified vulnerability of smallholder’s agriculture systems to climate change for different regions of the world and they have shown the consequences agriculture systems might face without adapting to a progressively changing climate and to increased inter-annual climate variability. Governments with their institutions, international development organizations and scientists are developing and promoting feverishly actions for adaptation to and mitigation of global climate change. A so far little-asked question is, if farmers’ will adopt these actions?

In a contrast to the scientific consensus, there is still widespread misunderstanding and confusion on causes and risks of climate change among the public and yet, most people do not differentiate between weather and climate resulting in public’s missing capacity to perceive climate variability as distinct from change. People’s learning about climate change is best from personal experience living in a particular climate and for many people climate change still happens to be a small probability problem at this point in time.

A first crucial step before promoting adaptation and mitigation actions to the general public, including subsidence farmers in developing countries, is to understand perceptions that shape these actions. Once understanding people’s mental models abut climate change, a communication strategy can be designed which considers the local context of livelihoods.

What actions do you propose?

In 2014, we developed a methodology for understanding perceptions related to risks. As a point of departure we used the Structured Mental Model Approach (Binder & Schöll, 2009) and enhanced the approach by adding main worries, barriers and motivations for adaptation to the risk concept and we assessed perceptions and priority rankings for the four dimensions. We started doing expert interviews to define the risk concept, followed by farmer’s interviews to uncover mental models of risk perceptions of Coffee farmers in Colombia. As a first result we compared both, experts and farmers priority settings for risks related to the agricultural production process.

Here we propose to crowdsource perceptions of risks related to agricultural production within a larger region. Risk perception are context and therefore site specific, a one fit all communication strategy would probably fail for rural areas in developing countries characterized by high eco-diversity and different ethnical groups.

Action 1: Crowd source risk perceptions of farmers using voice-response surveys

We use priority risk settings from the previous study in one municipality of the Cauca department in Colombia. We carry out phone based response surveys with farmers from Cauca, random sampled within all municipalities.

Action 2: Map risk perceptions

We use data outputs from the phone surveys and analyze spatial distribution of rankings in the geographical extension of the Cauca department. Maps will show differences in risk rankings of farmers in geographical regions of Cauca.

Action 3: Develop communication strategies with national Climate Change Actors and local authorities

Results will be shown as hot-spot maps of main worries, risks, barriers and motivation for adaptation on a GeoCitizen platform, an interactive tool for participatory spatial planning and shared with national Climate Change actors. During a workshop with national stakeholders solutions for different communication strategies will be discussed

Who will take these actions?

The Climate Change, Agriculture and Food security Research program (CCAFS) is building a Climate Smart Village in Cauca department, together with the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the local NGO Ecohabitats have been carried out the first pilot in 2014. The follow up Crowd Sourcing project covering all Cauca department will be carried out in a partnership of Academic, Agricultural Research, governmental Institutions, Community board and a local NGO for implementation. The CEC Foundation developed a Geo-Citizens platform that merges geo-web technologies and social media in one single, comprehensive, and interactive tool for participatory spatial planning. It allows citizens and communities to collaboratively report observations, discuss ideas, solve and monitor issues in their neighborhoods (Atzmanstorfer, 2014), AgroNet is a phone based network of farmers in Colombia initiated by the Minitry of Agriculture, Ecohabitas as local NGO in southern Colombia provides many years of experience in participatory work with communities.

Where will these actions be taken?

Colombia experienced the more than 40 years of an internal conflict and is just about entering in a post-conflict era. This will implicate more investments by the national government in the development of rural areas. The South-Western department Cauca, one of the most effected regions through the conflict, is characterized by high rate of climate related risks in agriculture, low capacity of farmers because of lack of extension work and investments, a low level of agricultural infrastructure and market access and mostly small scale subsidence and family farming. The rural areas of its capital Popayan has been selected for implementing the proposed actions to increase farmer’s resilience to climate shocks. In this area farmers typically grow coffee or sugarcane on plots between 1-3 hectares, most of them lack access to financial capital because of missing land titles and are exposed to natural risks like high erosion prevalence, climate variability and a long term shift of crop suitability through progressive climate change (Ramirez-Villegas et al., 2012; Ovalle et al., 2015).

How will these actions have a high impact in addressing climate change?

After understanding the spatial distribution of risks perceptions, the local authorities and Climate Change actors can target better their communication strategies to respond to misunderstandings and confusion on causes and risks of climate change. 

What are other key benefits?

Currently in Colombia there is a strong focus on the development of rural areas within the post conflict rural development initiative of the national government. Institutions and local actors need support for developing local adaptation plans in co-creation with communities within the upcoming years. Disagreements in perceptions and priority settings between experts and farmers lead more likely to failure of national climate change action plans. Our proposed methodology will help the actors of national authorities and local institutions to better co-designed actions between experts and farmers and purposeful for the local livelihood context. Communication can be designed to present information about climate change and possible solutions in appropriate ways. Gained experience and lessons learned can be shared globally and will contribute to a network of Best practices for climate change adaptation related to a specific context.

What are the proposal’s costs?

USD 26.000, including phone surveys, analysis and map service development, 1 day workshop

Time line

6 month for Cauca department

Related proposals

Seeding Science Knowledge by engaging local experts:


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