Monday, 2 June 2014

Shifting the discourse from adaptation to transformational adaptation

Shallow wells provide protective irrigation during in-season dry spells.
But these coping strategies may not work in an agricultural system that
is intensifying towards water-intensive cash crops. 
There is growing concern that climate change adaptation may have 'somehow lost its edge...lost its spunk and it became just another term for development'. My own research from Pratapgarh, a tribal-dominated rainfed region in Rajasthan, western India, showed that farmers mainly use short-term coping  that help them 'get by' rather than longer-term adaptive strategies that help build resilience to present and future risks. 

There is also a growing call for the need to move from 'mere' adaptation to transformational adaptation. Transformational adaptation places an emphasis on moving beyond coping to long-term sustainable change (on a temporal scale) and shifting from individual or local coping and adaptive strategies to making change across societies and economies (something researchers have said earlier too).

One of the key findings of my research on smallholder farmer vulnerability to water scarcity and climate change pointed to this precisely: there is only so much a farming family can do with individual coping strategies. Agricultural adaptation encompasses a wide range of options from various actors operating at, and embedded in, different scales. Thus, for farmers to 'successfully' adapt to increasing climate variability and future climatic change, they have to move beyond household coping. Such a transformation can only take place if farmers are able to utilise their ecological, social and institutional landscapes effectively and if these landscapes have characteristics conducive to transformational adaptation.



Further reading: 
  • Conceptualizing Transformational Adaptation by Pérez-Català, A. (2014) gives a basic introduction to key papers in a very readable post.   
  • In Informing adaptation responses to climate change through theories of transformationPark et al. (2012) give a comprehensive review of literature on transitions and transformation. 
  • Rickards and Howden (2012) present the debates around transformational adaptation nicely in their (open access!!) paper 'Transformational adaptation: agriculture and climate change'. The authors use case studies from Australian agriculture to explain the potential risks and gains posed by transformational adaptation and point towards the need for a systems-oriented thinking. 

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