Transformative learning and adaptation to climate change in the Canadian Prairie agro-ecosystem

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Abstract

Agricultural production in the Canadian Prairies is expected to be negatively affected as climate change projections for the region indicate warmer temperatures, greater incidence and severity of extreme weather events, and reduced water availability and soil moisture. To understand climate change adaption, it is important to explore the learning process that underlies farmer’s adaptation practices in the region. Prairie farmers’ learning was analyzed using Transformative Learning Theory whereby learning is categorized into three types: instrumental, communicative, and transformative. All producers learned instrumentally to some degree, but farmers who placed less emphasis on maximizing economic returns generally showed secondary learning outcomes correlating economic and environmental benefits. Communicative learning was mainly limited to producer-producer dialogue to the exclusion of other organizational and institutional players in the agricultural system. Critical reflection was explored as an important precursor to transformative learning. Strong evidence of transformative learning was rare (observed in 11% of farmers), but indicators of transformative learning were diverse and was observed in 43% of farmers. Transformative learning is believed to be important for flexible decision-making and autonomous thinking, making it advantageous for responding to changing environmental conditions. The analysis shows that a large number of information sources, and communication of information in an experiential and observable way, is conducive to transformative learning. Adaptation to environmental uncertainty, resulting from changing climatic conditions, may be most effectively dealt with when individual farmers undergo transformative learning whereby underlying assumptions that govern actions, values, and claims to knowledge are questioned.