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The link between smallholders’ perception of climatic changes and adaptation in Tanzania


Farmers’ subjective perceptions of climatic changes are not always in line with historic climate observations. Adaptation decisions based on these perceptions thus remain controversial. The paper therefore relates to the following questions: First, what are farmers’ perceptions of climatic changes? Second, do they correlate with observations from climatic data? Third, how do farmers respond and what are the factors determining adaptation? The analysis is based on household survey data from a sample of 900 farmers in rural Tanzania and secondary data from local meteorological stations. We find that farmers’ perception of a rising average temperature over time is generally confirmed. This is not the case for rainfall: farmers perceive that annual rainfall amount decreased, while climate data rather shows no change in the amount, but indicates a change in the rainfall pattern. However, we do find only a weak link between farmers’ perception and their behavior. Although farmers perceive climatic changes to happen and to affect them, some choose to not adapt at all and many only react in an evasive way, i.e., by coping measures that will not protect their household from future damage. Only a small share of farmers chose investment-intensive long-term strategies such as irrigation systems. Results confirm that a limited adaptive capacity plays a role, but also reveal the intention to adapt as a relevant factor. This is represented by the farmers’ loss experience due to climatic shocks and personality traits. This approach gives a more complete picture of the farmers’ adaptation decision.

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  1. 1.

    The sample in the follow-up survey was reduced to 820 households mainly due to migration.

  2. 2.

    The use of a wealth proxy is indicated, as the generation of asset value through surveys of farm households in developing countries is susceptible to measurement errors, which may lead to biased results (Morris et al. 2000).

  3. 3.

    Figures 3b and 4b show distributions of precipitation amounts per day for the two historical periods. If the blue line had been in line with the dark gray–dashed line, low precipitation events would have been as likely as heavy precipitation. As the blue lines follow a concave curve, lower precipitation amounts (0–40 mm per day) are more often than daily precipitation amounts above 40 mm. For Dodoma (Fig. 3b), the curve for 1991–2010 (light blue) indicates that heavy precipitation events have grown more frequent relative to 1970–1990 (dark blue curve).


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Correspondence to Kathleen Brüssow.

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Brüssow, K., Gornott, C., Faße, A. et al. The link between smallholders’ perception of climatic changes and adaptation in Tanzania. Climatic Change 157, 545–563 (2019).

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  • Climatic changes
  • Adaptation
  • Tanzania