Scale, context, and decision making in agricultural adaptation to climate variability and change

  • James Risbey
  • Milind Kandlikar
  • Hadi Dowlatabadi
  • Dean Graetz


This work presents a framework for viewing agricultural adaptation, emphasizing the multiple spatial and temporal scales on which individuals and institutions process information on changes in their environment. The framework is offered as a means to gain perspective on the role of climate variability and change in agricultural adaptation, and developed for a case study of Australian agriculture. To study adaptation issues at the scale of individual farms we developed a simple modelling framework. The model highlights the decision making element of adaptation in light of uncertainty, and underscores the importance of decision information related to climate variability. Model results show that the assumption of perfect information for farmers systematically overpredicts adaptive performance. The results also suggest that farmers who make tactical planting decisions on the basis of historical climate information are outperformed by those who use even moderately successful seasonal forecast information. Analysis at continental scales highlights the prominent role of the decline in economic operating conditions on Australian agriculture. Examples from segments of the agricultural industry in Australia are given to illustrate the importance of appropriate scale attribution in adapting to environmental changes. In particular, adaptations oriented toward short time scale changes in the farming environment (droughts, market fluctuations) can be limited in their efficacy by constraints imposed by broad changes in the soil/water base and economic environment occuring over longer time scales. The case study also makes the point that adaptation must be defined in reference to some goal, which is ultimately a social and political exercise. Overall, this study highlights the importance of allowing more complexity (limited information, risk aversion, cross-scale interactions, mis-attribution of cause and effect, background context, identification of goals) in representing adaptation processes in climate change studies.

adaptation agriculture climate change decision-making variability 


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Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1999

Authors and Affiliations

  • James Risbey
    • 1
  • Milind Kandlikar
    • 1
  • Hadi Dowlatabadi
    • 1
  • Dean Graetz
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Engineering and Public PolicyCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghUSA

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