Climate Change and Variability in Semiarid Palapye, Eastern Botswana: An Assessment from Smallholder Farmers’ Perspective

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Smallholder farmers are particularly vulnerable to the effects of climate change and variability in semiarid contexts. Despite the limited adaptation options often used and the largely subsistence agriculture practiced, studies have shown that smallholders have accumulated local knowledge about changes in climatic conditions. Farmers with field experience and an extensive stay in three sites in Palapye, eastern Botswana, were interviewed. This study related farmers’ perceptions of changes in climate with results from analysis of climate data. Major changes perceived are a reduction in rainfall amount, rising temperature, and increasing frequency of drought conditions. Perceived reduction in rainfall amount is confirmed by analysis results as variability in rainfall amount is high throughout the series. Rainfall was poorly distributed and below average at the beginning of the cropping seasons for four years between 2013 and 2017. For 1990, 2003, and 2012, the standardized precipitation index (SPI) was −1.77 (severe drought), −1.37 (moderate drought), and −2.32 (extreme drought), respectively. To minimize impacts on crop production, farmers simultaneously planted different crops based on the perception that climatic impacts on different crops vary and favored crops perceived as drought resistant. Livestock farmers supplemented with livestock feeds, reduced herd size, and moved livestock to areas with better forage. Off-farm incomes from selling products harvested from the wild are important to farmers as a coping strategy, particularly when rain fails. Some female farmers brewed and sold alcohol made locally from sorghum. That local knowledge and perceptions exist and are used by smallholder farmers to adapt to climate change and variability is suggested. Engaging with local knowledge systems is an imperative for climate change policy making.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)349-365
JournalWeather, Climate, and Society
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2017


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