Climatic Change

, Volume 77, Issue 3–4, pp 343–361 | Cite as

Human Strategies for Coping with El Niño Related Drought in Amazônia

  • Emilio F. MoranEmail author
  • Ryan Adams
  • Bryn Bakoyéma
  • Stefano Fiorini T.
  • Bruce Boucek
Open Access


This article reports on findings of a research project examining farmers' coping strategies in the Brazilian Amazon in response to El Niño related weather events. We examine the extent of vulnerability of small and large farmers to these events in a tropical rainforest environment. Little attention has been given to the impact of ENSO events in Amazônia, despite evidence for devastating fires during ENSOs. Although we found a range of locally developed forecasting techniques and coping mechanisms, farmers have sustained significant losses, and we suggest that increased access to scientific forecasts would greatly enhance the ability of the farmers in our study area to cope with El Niño related weather events.

In Amazônia the El Niño phase of the El Niño-Southern Oscillation (ENSO) climate pattern leads to an extended period of reduced rainfall (Hobbs et al., 1998). This period of reduced rainfall can result in significant agricultural losses for farmers and ranchers in the area and in increased forest flammability. We have found that the majority of our study population uses several methods of forecasting, coping with, and adapting to drought events – and they recognize the economic losses they can experience and the loss of forests through the accidental spread of fire. The poorest farmers in our study area experience El Niño related drought events as a serious threat to their livelihoods. Their vulnerability is heightened during extreme climate events and our observations revealed that all of the farmers in our study would benefit from increased availability of improved forecast information relevant to their locality and their current farming strategies. This paper examines the availability and use of forecasts, the occurrence of accidental fires and techniques to prevent fire related losses, and the coping mechanisms for dealing with El Niño related drought in the agricultural regions surrounding the cities of Altamira and Santarém, in Pará State, Brazil. Distribution of an El Niño Prediction Kit at the end of the study and a series of workshops may lead to better local information on rainfall variability and create a farmer-maintained grid of collecting stations to sensitize farmers to the variability of precipitation in the region, and on their property.


Drought Event Social Vulnerability Amazon Basin ENSO Event Forecast Information 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


  1. Alencar, A., Nepstad, D., Mendonza, E., Brown, I., and Lefevre, P.: 1997, Uso do Fogo na Amazônia: Estudos de Caso ao longo do arco de desmatamento. World Bank, unpublished report.Google Scholar
  2. Alencar, A., Lolorzano, L., and Nepstad, D.: 2004, ‘Modeling forest understory fires in an eastern Amazonian landscape’, Ecological Applications 14(4) Supplement: S139–149.Google Scholar
  3. Alexander, S. W.: 2002, Santarém Riverboat Town: Santarém, Amazon Turismo, Ltda., Santarém.Google Scholar
  4. Bento, A. A. O.: 2002, Estágio atual da mecanização agrícola nos municípios de Santarém e Belterra, Estado do Pará. Tese de Maestrada, Curso de Engenharia Agrícola. Santarém, Pará, Brasil, Instituto Luterano de Ensino Superior de Santarém.Google Scholar
  5. Changnon, S. A. and Bell, G. D.: 2000, El Niño, 1997–1998: The Climate Event of the Century, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  6. Cochrane, M. A. and Schulze, M. D.: 1998, ‘Fire as a recurrent event in tropical forests of the Eastern Amazon: Effects on forest structure, biomass, and species composition’, Biotropica 31, 2–16.Google Scholar
  7. Cochrane, M. A., Alencar, A., Schulze, M. D., Souza, C. M., Lefebvre, P. Jr., and Nepstad, D. C.: 2004, Investigating positive feedbacks in the fire dynamic of closed canopy tropical forests’, in Wood, C. H. and Porro, R. (eds.), Deforestation and Land Use in the Amazon, University of Florida Press, Gainesville, pp. 285–298.Google Scholar
  8. Gaiser, T., Krol, M., Forschkorn, H., and de Araújo, J. C. (eds.).: 2003, Global Change and Regional Impacts: Water Availability and Vulnerability of Ecosystems and Society in the Semiarid Northeast of Brazil, Springer, New York.Google Scholar
  9. Gash, J. H. C., Nobre, C. A., Roberts, J. M., and Victoria, R. L. (eds.): 1996, Amazonian Deforestation and Climate, Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  10. Hewitt, K. (ed.).: 1984, Interpretations of Calamity, Allen and Unwin, Boston.Google Scholar
  11. Hobbs, J. E., Lindesay, J., Bridgman, H. A.: 1998, Climates of the Southern Continents: Present, Past, and Future, Wiley, New York.Google Scholar
  12. Holdsworth, A. and Uhl, C.: 1997, ‘Fire in Amazonian selectively logged rain forest and the potential for fire reduction’, Ecological Applications 7(2), 713–725.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Johnson, B. B.: 1993, ‘Advancing understanding of knowledge's role in lay risk perception’, RISK: Health, Safety & Environment 4, 189–212.Google Scholar
  14. Katz, R. W. and Murphy, A. H.: 1997, Economic value of weather and climate forecasts. Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  15. Lefevre, P. and Stone, T.: 1994, ‘Monitoring Selective Logging in eastern Brazilian Amazônia using multitemporal Landsat TM imagery’, in Proceedings of Brazilian Remote Sensing Congress 7, p. 326.Google Scholar
  16. Meggers, B.: 1994, ‘Archeological evidence for the impact of mega-niño events on Amazônia during the past two millennia’, Climate Change 28, 321–338.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Molion, L.: 1990, Debates, in Desafio Amazonico: O Futuro da Civilizacao nos Tropicos, S. Brito (ed.), Editora da Univ. de Brasilia, Brasilia.Google Scholar
  18. Moran, E. F.: 1981, Developing the Amazon. Indiana University Press, Bloomington.Google Scholar
  19. Moran, E. F., Brondizio, E. S., and McCracken, S.: 2002, ‘Trajectories of land use: Soils, succession, and crop choice’, in: Wood, C. H. and Porro, R. (eds.), Deforestation and Land Use in the Amazon. Univ. Press of Florida, Gainesville, Pg. 193–217.Google Scholar
  20. National Research Council: 1996, Learning to Predict Climate Variations Associated with El Niño and the Southern Oscillation: Accomplishments and Legacies of the TOGA Program, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  21. Nelson, D. and Finan, T.: 2000, ‘The emergence of a climate anthropology in Northeast Brazil’, Practical Anthropology 22(4), 6–10.Google Scholar
  22. Nepstad, D., Moreira, A., and Alencar, A.: 1999a, Flames in the Rainforest: Origins, Impacts and Alternatives to Amazon Fire: Pilot Program for the Conservation of the Rainforests of Brazil, World Bank, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  23. Nepstad, D., Verissimo, A., Alencar, A., Nobre, C., Lima, E., Lefebvre, P., Schlesinger, P., Potter, C., Moutinho, P., Mendoza, E., Cochrane, M., and Brooks, V.: 1999b, ‘Large-scale impoverishment of Amazonian forests by logging and fire’, Nature 398, 505–508.CrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  24. Nobre, C. and Renno, N.: 1985, ‘Droughts and Floods in South America due to the 1982–83 ENSO Episode’, Proceedings of the 16th Conference on Hurricanes and Tropical Meteorology, American Meteorological Society, Houston, pp. 131–133.Google Scholar
  25. Orlove, B., Chiang, J., and Cane, M.: 2000, ‘Forecasting Andean rainfall and crop yield from the influence of El Niño on Pleiades visibility’, Nature 403, 68–71.PubMedCrossRefADSGoogle Scholar
  26. Ribot, J. C., Magalhães, A. R., and Panagides, S. S.: 1996, Climate Variability, Climate Change and Social Vulnerability in the Semi-Arid Tropics, Cambridge University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  27. Roncoli, C., Ingram, K., and Kirshen, P.: 2002, ‘Reading the rains: Local knowledge and rainfall forecasting in Burkina Faso’, Society and Natural Resources 15, 409–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Saldarriaga, J., West, D., Tharp, M., and Uhl, C.: 1988, ‘Long term chronosequence of forest succession in the upper Rio Negro of Colombia and Venezuela’, Journal of Ecology 76, 938–958.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Sanford, R., Saldarriaga, J., Clark, K., and Uhl, C.: 1985, ‘Amazon rainforest fires’, Science 227, 53–55.ADSGoogle Scholar
  30. Stern, P. C. and Easterling, W. E. National Research Council: 1999, Making Climate Forecasts Matter, National Academy Press, Washington, D.C.Google Scholar
  31. Uhl, C. and Kaufman, J.: 1990, ‘Deforestation, fire susceptibility, and potential tree responses to fire in the Eastern Amazon’, Ecology 71, 437–449.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Uhl, C., Kauffman, J., and da Silva, E. D.: 1990, Os Caminhos do Fogo na Amazônia, Ciencia Hoje 11, 25–32.Google Scholar
  33. White, G. F.: 1974, Natural Hazards, Local, National, Global, Oxford University Press, New York.Google Scholar
  34. Wuethrich, B.: 2000, ‘Combined insults spell trouble for rainforests’, Science 289(5476), 35–36.PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media, Inc. 2006

Authors and Affiliations

  • Emilio F. Moran
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
    • 4
    Email author
  • Ryan Adams
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Bryn Bakoyéma
    • 1
    • 2
    • 3
  • Stefano Fiorini T.
    • 1
    • 3
  • Bruce Boucek
    • 1
    • 4
  1. 1.Anthropological Center for Training in Global Environmental Change (ACT)Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  2. 2.Center for the Study of Population, Institutions, and Environmental Change (CIPEC)Indiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  3. 3.Anthropology DepartmentIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA
  4. 4.Geography DepartmentIndiana UniversityBloomingtonUSA

Personalised recommendations