Environment, Development and Sustainability

, Volume 16, Issue 1, pp 123–139 | Cite as

Adaptation in a multi-stressor environment: perceptions and responses to climatic and economic risks by coffee growers in Mesoamerica

  • Hallie Eakin
  • Catherine M. Tucker
  • Edwin Castellanos
  • Rafael Diaz-Porras
  • Juan F. Barrera
  • Helda Morales


While climate change adaptation policy has tended to focus on planned adaptation interventions, in many vulnerable communities, adaptation will consist of autonomous, “unplanned” actions by individuals who are responding to multiple simultaneous sources of change. Their actions are likely not only to affect their own future vulnerability, but, through changes in livelihoods and resource use, the vulnerability of their community and resource base. In this paper, we document the autonomous changes to livelihood strategies adopted by smallholder coffee farmers in four Mesoamerican countries (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras, and Costa Rica). Our aim is to gain insight into the process of autonomous adaptation by proxy: through an assessment of how farmers explain their choices in relation to distinct stressors; and an understanding of the set of choices available to farmers. We find that climatic stress is a feature in decision making, but not the dominant driver. Nevertheless, the farmers in our sample are evidently flexible, adaptive, and experimental in relation to changing circumstances. Whether their autonomous responses to diverse stressors will result in a reduction in risk over time may well depend on the extent to which policy, agricultural research, and rural investments build on the inherent logic of these strategies.


Climate change Market volatility Coffee production Livelihood strategies Mesoamerica Autonomous adaptation 



We gratefully acknowledge the many coffee farmers who have participated in this research, and representatives of NGOs and government programs who offered their knowledge, time, and access to archival documents. We thank Sharon Amani and Ana Lucía Solano Garrido for their assistance with the data analysis. The Inter-American Institute for Global Change Research (IAI) (CRN-2060) generously provided funding through U.S. NSF Grant GEO-0452325.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Hallie Eakin
    • 1
  • Catherine M. Tucker
    • 2
  • Edwin Castellanos
    • 3
  • Rafael Diaz-Porras
    • 4
  • Juan F. Barrera
    • 5
  • Helda Morales
    • 6
  1. 1.School of SustainabilityArizona State UniversityTempeUSA
  2. 2.Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Universidad del Valle de GuatemalaGuatemala CityGuatemala
  4. 4.Centro Internacional de Política Económica para el Desarrollo SostenibleUniversidad Nacional de Costa RicaHerediaCosta Rica
  5. 5.El Colegio de la Frontera SurTapachula, ChiapasMexico
  6. 6.El Colegio de la Frontera SurSan Cristóbal de Las CasasMexico

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