Peruvian farmers experiencing unusually high temperatures during the growing season are adapting their behaviour in ways that will intensify the costs of climate change and exacerbate the long-term damage to their wellbeing.
That is the central finding of research by Francisco Oteiza, Juan Pablo Rud and Fernando Aragón, to be presented at the Royal Economic Society”s annual conference at the University of Sussex in Brighton in March 2018.
Their study finds that the main response of these households to climate change is to increase the amount of land and domestic labour they use, including child labour. They also sell livestock and reduce the number of different crops they grow.
Increasing their reliance on child labour will interfere with their children”s education. And reliance on fewer crops and livestock will make famers” incomes less diversified and expose them to large future losses.
These findings suggest the need for government intervention, possibly including crop insurance, to ensure future wellbeing and food security in rural areas. The same will apply in other parts of the developing world, where small producers face growing challenges of climate change and adaptation.
Estimating the costs of climate change is challenging because it is hard to predict how people will react to it. Researchers often estimate models based on historical weather patterns and agricultural data to arrive at predictions of future crop yields, assuming everything else will remain constant. But it can be difficult to account for adaptation.
Some studies suggest that a reallocation of economic activity, such as migration, changes in trade patterns or sectoral employment should be expected (Colmer, 2016, Costinot et al, 2016, Feng et al, 2012). Other studies, based on farmers” self-stated adaptive strategies, emphasise changes in consumption and savings as potential temporary responses (Akpalu et al, 2015, Di Falco et al, 2011, Gbetibouo, 2009, Hisali et al, 2011).
Typically, it is assumed these models estimate an upper bound of the economic costs of climate change. Future adaptation, it is assumed, will reduce those costs. But adaptation could play a more complex role, and not always a positive one.
How Peruvian farmers adapt and change their agricultural practices in response to high temperatures. The study may be one of the first to examine adaptation to climate shocks in the developing world, and demonstrates how it can exacerbate, as opposed to alleviate, climate change impacts.
Farmers in the sample generally hold fewer than 3 hectares (7.4 acres) of land, and use basic technologies, such as hand-held or animal-drawn ploughs. Their small-scale production of maize, potatoes, fruits and grains is enough to keep their families afloat in good times. But when faced with a significant number of high temperature days (above 36 degrees Celsius) during the growing season, they must adapt.
The study finds that the main response of these households is to increase the amount of land and domestic labour they use, including child labour. Households that own livestock sell their livestock. They also reduce the number of different crops they grow, and increase their reliance on tubers.
This has potentially serious ramifications. Farmers traditionally keep a significant portion of their land fallow in order to break disease cycles, replenish soil nutrients and reduce erosion. Putting fallow land prematurely into production pays immediate expenses and puts food on the table.
In the long term, however, it leads to diminishing returns and is an example of adaptive behaviour that intensifies the costs of climate change. The same is true for the reliance on fewer crops and the reduction of livestock: it makes famers” incomes less diversified and exposes them to large losses in the future.
Increasing their reliance on child labour will have serious implications for the future of the children involved as well, as it could interfere with their education.
These patterns suggest a need for long-term planning and government intervention, possibly including crop insurance, to ensure future wellbeing and food security in rural areas. That would be the case not only in Peru. It would also hold true in other Andean regions of Colombia, Ecuador and Bolivia, as well as other parts of the developing world, where small producers will be faced with the growing challenges of climate change and adaptation.
Climate Change and Agriculture: Farmer Adaptation to Extreme Heat – Francisco Oteiza (Institute for Fiscal Studies), Juan Pablo Rud (Royal Holloway) and Fernando Aragón (Simon Fraser)
Institute for Fiscal Studies | Francisco_o@ifs.org.uk
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