Regional Environmental Change

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 1127–1140 | Cite as

Comparison of measured multi-decadal rainfall variability with farmers’ perceptions of and responses to seasonal changes in western Uganda

  • Jeremy E. DiemEmail author
  • Joel Hartter
  • Jonathan Salerno
  • Elvira McIntyre
  • A. Stuart Grandy
Original Article


Smallholder farmers in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) are not only dealing with decreased production from land degradation, but are also impacted heavily by climate variability. Farmers perceive decreased rainfall or shortened rainy seasons throughout SSA; however, the link between perceptions and climate variability is complex, especially in areas with increasing land degradation. Moreover, little is known about climate variability and farmers’ perceptions in central equatorial Africa. The purpose of this study is to quantify interannual rainfall variability from 1983 to 2014 in western Uganda and to relate the rainfall variability and associated changes in soil moisture to perceptions and coping strategies of local farmers. Surveys of 308 farming households and 14 group interviews were conducted near Kibale National Park, and daily satellite-based rainfall data for the region were extracted from the African Rainfall Climatology version 2 database. Results indicate a decrease in the long rains by approximately 3 weeks throughout much of the region; thus, soil-water deficits have intensified. Farmers perceived later onsets of both the short rains and long rains, while also reporting decreasing soil fertility and crop yields. Therefore, farmers’ perceptions of rainfall variability in the Kibale region may reflect more the decrease in soil fertility than the shortened rainy seasons and decreased soil moisture. Expanding croplands has been the farmers’ most prevalent coping strategy to decreased yields; however, nearly all the unfarmed land in western Uganda is now in protected areas. Consequently, western Uganda is facing a crisis at the nexus of population growth, land use change, and climate change.


Climate variability Tropical rainfall Africa Smallholder agriculture Perceptions 



This research was supported by a National Science Foundation Coupled Natural-Human Systems Exploratory grant (NSF-EX: 1114977). Makerere University Biological Field Station, Uganda Wildlife Authority, Uganda Council for Science and Technology, and many local government officials provided support and granted permission for this research.


  1. Adger WN (2006) Vulnerability. Global Environ Change 16:268–281. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2006.02.006 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Andersson E, Gabrielsson S (2012) “Because of poverty, we had to come together”: collective action for improved food security in rural Kenya and Uganda. Int J Agric Sustain 10:245–262. doi: 10.1080/14735903.2012.666029 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Antwi-Agyei P, Stringer LC, Dougill AJ (2014) Livelihood adaptations to climate variability: insights from farming households in Ghana. Reg Environ Change 14:1615–1626. doi: 10.1007/s10113-014-0597-9 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Balas N, Nicholson SE, Klotter D (2007) The relationship of rainfall variability in West Central Africa to sea-surface temperature fluctuations. Int J Climatol 27:1335–1349. doi: 10.1002/joc.1456 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Below TB, Schmid JC, Sieber S (2015) Farmers’ knowledge and perception of climatic risks and options for climate change adaptation: a case study from two Tanzanian villages. Reg Environ Change 15:1169–1180. doi: 10.1007/s10113-014-0620-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Brooks T, Balmford A, Burgess N et al (2001) Toward a blueprint for conservation in Africa. Bioscience 51:613–624. doi: 10.1641/0006-3568(2001)051[0613:TABFCI]2.0.CO CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Bryan E, Deressa TT, Gbetibouo GA, Ringler C (2009) Adaptation to climate change in Ethiopia and South Africa: options and constraints. Environ Sci Policy 12:413–426. doi: 10.1016/j.envsci.2008.11.002 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Chauvin ND, Mulangu F, Porto G (2012) Food production and consumption trends in sub-Saharan Africa: prospects for the transformation of the agricultural sector. United Nations Development Programme, New YorkGoogle Scholar
  9. Dai A, Fung IY, Del Genio AD (1997) Surface observed global land precipitation variations during 1900–88. J Climate 10:2943–2962CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dessureault-Rompré J, Zebarth BJ, Burton DL, Georgallas A (2015) Predicting soil nitrogen supply from soil properties. Can J Soil Sci 95:63–75. doi: 10.4141/cjss-2014-057 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Diem JE, Brown DP (2006) Tropospheric moisture and monsoonal rainfall over the southwestern United States. J Geophys Res 111:D16112. doi: 10.1029/2005JD006836 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Diem JE, Ryan SJ, Hartter J, Palace MW (2014a) Satellite-based rainfall data reveal a recent drying trend in central equatorial Africa. Clim Change 126:263–272. doi: 10.1007/s10584-014-1217-x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Diem JE, Hartter J, Ryan SJ, Palace MW (2014b) Validation of satellite rainfall products for western Uganda. J Hydrometeorol 15:2030–2038. doi: 10.1175/JHM-D-13-0193.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Easterling DR, Peterson TC (1995) A new method for detecting undocumented discontinuities in climatological time series. Int J Climatol 15:369–377CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. FAO (2015) The state of food insecurity in the world 2015. Meeting the 2015 international hunger targets: taking stock of uneven progress. FAO, RomeGoogle Scholar
  16. FAO/IIASA/ISRIC/ISSCAS/JRC (2012) Harmonized world soil database (version 1.2). FAO, Rome, Italy and IIASA, Laxenburg, AustriaGoogle Scholar
  17. Goldman A, Hartter J, Southworth J, Binford M (2008) The human landscape around the island park: impacts and responses to Kibale National Park. In: Wrangham R, Ross E (eds) Science and conservation in African forests: the benefits of longterm research. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp 129–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  18. Grandy AS, Kallenbach C, Loecke TD, Snapp S, Smith S (2012) The biological basis for nitrogen management in agroecosystems. In: Cheeke T, Coleman D, Wall D (eds) Microbial ecology in sustainable agroecosystems. CRC Press, Boca Raton, pp 113–132. doi: 10.1201/b12339-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Hartmann DL, Klein Tank AMG, Rusticucci M, et al (2013) Observations: atmosphere and surface. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner G-K, et al (ed) Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp 159–254Google Scholar
  20. Hartter J (2010) Resource use and ecosystem services in a forest park landscape. Soc Nat Resour 23:207–233. doi: 10.1080/08941920903360372 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Hartter J, Ryan SJ (2010) Top-down or bottom-up?: Decentralization, natural resource management, and usufruct rights in the forests and wetlands of western Uganda. Land Use Policy 27:815–826. doi: 10.1016/j.landusepol.2009.11.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  22. Hartter J, Southworth J (2009) Dwindling resources and fragmentation of landscapes around parks: wetlands and forest patches around Kibale National Park, Uganda. Landsc Ecol 24:643–656. doi: 10.1007/s10980-009-9339-7 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Hartter J, Stampone MD, Ryan SJ et al (2012) Patterns and perceptions of climate change in a biodiversity conservation hotspot. PLoS One 7:e32408. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0032408 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Hartter J, Ryan SJ, MacKenzie CA et al (2015) Now there is no land: a story of ethnic migration in a protected area landscape in western Uganda. Popul Environ 36:452–479. doi: 10.1007/s11111-014-0227-y CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Helsel DR, Hirsch RM (2002) Statistical methods in water resources. Hydrologic Analysis and Interpretation. U.S. Geological Survey, Washington, pp 1–510Google Scholar
  26. Hijmans RJ, Cameron SE, Parra JL et al (2005) Very high resolution interpolated climate surfaces for global land areas. Int J Climatol 25:1965–1978. doi: 10.1002/joc.1276 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hoerling M, Hurrell J, Eischeid J, Phillips A (2006) Detection and attribution of twentieth-century northern and southern African rainfall change. J Climate 19:3989–4008CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Jackson B, Nicholson SE, Klotter D (2009) Mesoscale convective systems over western equatorial Africa and their relationship to large-scale circulation. Mon Weather Rev 137:1272–1294. doi: 10.1175/2008MWR2525.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Jacob AL, Bonnell TR, Dowhaniuk N, Hartter J (2014) Topographic and spectral data resolve land cover misclassification to distinguish and monitor wetlands in western Uganda. ISPRS J Photogr 94:114–126. doi: 10.1016/j.isprsjprs.2014.05.001 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Kassie BT, Hengsdijk H, Rötter R et al (2013) Adapting to climate variability and change: experiences from cereal-based farming in the Central Rift and Kobo Valleys, Ethiopia. Environ Manage 52:1115–1131. doi: 10.1007/s00267-013-0145-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kawase H, Takemura T, Nozawa T (2011) Impact of carbonaceous aerosols on precipitation in tropical Africa during the austral summer in the twentieth century. J Geophys Res 116:D18. doi: 10.1029/2011JD015933 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Kirtman B, Power SB, Adedoyin JA, et al (2013) Near-term climate change: projections and predictability. In: Stocker TF, Qin D, Plattner G-K, et al (ed), Climate change 2013: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp 953–1028Google Scholar
  33. Knight JR, Allan RJ, Folland CK et al (2005) A signature of persistent natural thermohaline circulation cycles in observed climate. Geophys Res Lett 32:L20708. doi: 10.1029/2005GL024233 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  34. Knight JR, Folland CK, Scaife AA (2006) Climate impacts of the Atlantic Multidecadal Oscillation. Geophys Res Lett 33:L17706. doi: 10.1029/2006GL026242 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Kosmowski F, Leblois A, Sultan B (2015) Perceptions of recent rainfall changes in Niger: a comparison between climate-sensitive and non-climate sensitive households. Clim Change. doi: 10.1007/s10584-015-1562-4 Google Scholar
  36. Kristjanson P, Neufeldt H, Gassner A et al (2012) Are food insecure smallholder households making changes in their farming practices? Evidence from East Africa. Food Secur 4:381–397. doi: 10.1007/s12571-012-0194-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Maidment RI, Allan RP, Black E (2015) Recent observed and simulated changes in precipitation over Africa. Geophys Res Lett 42:8155–8164. doi: 10.1002/2015GL065765 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Marengo JA, Liebmann B, Kousky VE et al (2001) Onset and end of the rainy season in the Brazilian Amazon Basin. J Clim 14:833–852CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Meze-Hausken E (2004) Contrasting climate variability and meteorological drought with perceived drought and climate change in northern Ethiopia. Clim Res 27:19–31CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Mohino E, Janicot S, Bader J (2011) Sahel rainfall and decadal to multi-decadal sea surface temperature variability. Clim Dyn 37:419–440. doi: 10.1007/s00382-010-0867-2 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Naughton-Treves L, Alix-Garcia J, Chapman CA (2011) Lessons about parks and poverty from a decade of forest loss and economic growth around Kibale National Park, Uganda. P Natl Acad Sci USA 108:13919–13924. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1013332108 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Nicholson SE, Grist JP (2003) The seasonal evolution of the atmospheric circulation over West Africa and equatorial Africa. J Clim 16:1013–1030CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Nober FJ, Graf H-F, Rosenfeld D (2003) Sensitivity of the global circulation to the suppression of precipitation by anthropogenic aerosols. Glob Planet Change 37:57–80. doi: 10.1016/S0921-8181(02)00191-1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Novella NS, Thiaw WM (2013) African rainfall climatology version 2 for famine early warning systems. J Appl Meteorol Clim 52:588–606. doi: 10.1175/JAMC-D-11-0238.1 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Ogalleh S, Vogl C, Eitzinger J, Hauser M (2012) Local perceptions and responses to climate change and variability: the case of Laikipia District, Kenya. Sustainability 4:3302–3325. doi: 10.3390/su4123302 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Osbahr H, Dorward P, Stern R, Cooper S (2011) Supporting agricultural innovation in Uganda to respond to climate risk: linking climate change and variability with farmer perceptions. Exp Agr 47:293–316. doi: 10.1017/S0014479710000785 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Ovuka M, Lindqvist S (2000) Rainfall variability in Murang’a District, Kenya: meteorological data and farmers’ perception. Geogr Ann Ser A Phys Geogr 82:107–119. doi: 10.1111/j.0435-3676.2000.00116.x CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Paeth H, Feichter J (2006) Greenhouse-gas versus aerosol forcing and African climate response. Clim Dynam 26:35–54. doi: 10.1007/s00382-005-0070-z CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Plumptre A, Davenport T, Behangana M et al (2007) The biodiversity of the Albertine Rift. Biol Conserv 134:178–194. doi: 10.1016/j.biocon.2006.08.021 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Rao KPC, Ndegwa WG, Kizito K, Oyoo A (2011) Climate variability and change: Farmer perceptions and understanding of intra-seasonal variability in rainfall and associated risk in semi-arid Kenya. Exp Agr 47:267–291. doi: 10.1017/S0014479710000918 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Roberts G, Wooster MJ, Lagoudakis E (2009) Annual and diurnal African biomass burning temporal dynamics. Biogeosciences 6:849–866. doi: 10.5194/bg-6-849-2009 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Roncoli C, Ingram K, Kirshen P (2002) Reading the rains: local knowledge and rainfall forecasting among farmers of Burkina Faso. Soc Nat Resour 15:409–427. doi: 10.1080/08941920252866774 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Rosegrant MW, Cai X, Cline SA (2002) World water and food to 2025: dealing with scarcity. International Food Policy Research Institute, Washington, DCGoogle Scholar
  54. Rosenfeld D, Lohmann U, Raga GB et al (2008) Flood or drought: how do aerosols affect precipitation? Science 321:1309–1313. doi: 10.1126/science.1160606 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  55. Rowe EC, van Wijk MT, de Ridder N, Giller KE (2006) Nutrient allocation strategies across a simplified heterogeneous African smallholder farm. Agr Ecosyst Environ 116:60–71. doi: 10.1016/j.agee.2006.03.019 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Sanchez PA (2002) Soil fertility and hunger in Africa. Science 295:2019–2020. doi: 10.1002/2014MS000358 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Sanchez PA, Shepherd KD, Soule MJ, Place FM et al (1997) Soil fertility replenishment in Africa: an investment in natural resource capital. In: Buresh RJ, Sanchez PA, Calhoun F (eds) Replenishing soil fertility in Africa. Soil Science Society of America, Madison, WI, pp 1–46Google Scholar
  58. Sierra CA, Trumbore SE, Davidson EA et al (2015) Sensitivity of decomposition rates of soil organic matter with respect to simultaneous changes in temperature and moisture. J Adv Model Earth Syst 7:335–356. doi: 10.1002/2014MS000358 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Simelton E, Quinn CH, Batisani N et al (2013) Is rainfall really changing? Farmers’ perceptions, meteorological data, and policy implications. Clim Dev 5:123–138. doi: 10.1080/17565529.2012.751893 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Stern RD, Dennett MD, Dale IC (1982) The analysis of daily rainfall measurements to give agronomically useful results. 1. Direct methods. Exp Agric 18:223–236CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Stier P, Feichter J, Kinne S et al (2005) The aerosol-climate model ECHAM5-HAM. Atmos Chem Phys 5:1125–1156. doi: 10.5194/acp-5-1125-2005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Tambo JA, Abdoulaye T (2013) Smallholder farmers’ perceptions of and adaptations to climate change in the Nigerian savanna. Reg Environ Change 13:375–388. doi: 10.1007/s10113-012-0351-0 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Thomas DSG, Twyman C, Osbahr H, Hewitson B (2007) Adaptation to climate change and variability: farmer responses to intra-seasonal precipitation trends in South Africa. Clim Change 83:301–322. doi: 10.1007/s10584-006-9205-4 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Thornton PK, Jones PG, Alagarswamy G, Andresen J (2009) Spatial variation of crop yield response to climate change in East Africa. Global Environ Change 19:54–65. doi: 10.1016/j.gloenvcha.2008.08.005 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Ting M, Kushnir Y, Seager R, Li C (2011) Robust features of Atlantic multi-decadal variability and its climate impacts. Geophys Res Lett 38:L17705. doi: 10.1029/2011GL048712 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Todd MC, Washington R (2004) Climate variability in central equatorial Africa: influence from the Atlantic sector. Geophys Res Lett 31:L23202. doi: 10.1029/2004GL020975 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Tosca MG, Randerson JT, Zender CS (2013) Global impact of smoke aerosols from landscape fires on climate and the Hadley circulation. Atmos Chem Phys 13:5227–5241. doi: 10.5194/acp-13-5227-2013 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Trenberth KE, Jones PD, Ambenje P, et al (2007) Observations: surface and atmospheric climate change. In: Solomon S, Qin D, Manning M, et al (eds) Climate change 2007: the physical science basis. Contribution of working group I to the Fourth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA, pp 235–336Google Scholar
  69. Turinawe A, Mugisha J, Drake L (2015) Soil and water conservation agriculture in subsistence systems: Determinants of adoption in southwestern Uganda. J Soil Water Conserv 70:133–142. doi: 10.2489/jswc.70.2.133 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  70. Turner BL, Kasperson RE, Matson PA et al (2003) A framework for vulnerability analysis in sustainability science. Proc Natl Acad Sci USA 100:8074–8079. doi: 10.1073/pnas.1231335100 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Washington R, Kay G, Harrison M et al (2006) African climate change: taking the shorter route. Bull Am Meteorol Soc 87:1355–1366. doi: 10.1175/BAMS-87-10-1355 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Washington R, James R, Pearce H et al (2013) Congo Basin rainfall climatology: can we believe the climate models? Philos Trans R Soc B 368:20120296. doi: 10.1098/rstb.2012.0296 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. West CT, Roncoli C, Ouattara F (2008) Local perceptions and regional climate trends on the Central Plateau of Burkina Faso. Land Degrad Dev 19:289–304. doi: 10.1002/ldr.842 CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Williams AP, Funk C (2011) A westward extension of the warm pool leads to a westward extension of the Walker circulation, drying eastern Africa. Clim Dynam 37:2417–2435. doi: 10.1007/s00382-010-0984-y CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Willmott CJ, Rowe CM, Mintz Y (1985) Climatology of the terrestrial seasonal water cycle. J Climatol 5:589–606CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Zhang R, Delworth TL (2006) Impact of Atlantic multidecadal oscillations on India/Sahel rainfall and Atlantic hurricanes. Geophys Res Lett 33:L17712. doi: 10.1029/2006GL026267 CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • Jeremy E. Diem
    • 1
    Email author
  • Joel Hartter
    • 2
  • Jonathan Salerno
    • 2
  • Elvira McIntyre
    • 1
    • 4
  • A. Stuart Grandy
    • 3
  1. 1.Department of GeosciencesGeorgia State UniversityAtlantaUSA
  2. 2.Environmental Studies ProgramUniversity of ColoradoBoulderUSA
  3. 3.Department of Natural Resources and the EnvironmentUniversity of New HampshireDurhamUSA
  4. 4.Centers for Disease Control and PreventionAtlantaUSA

Personalised recommendations