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Developing world farmers too hungry to adapt

Sep 17, 2012

Small farmers in the developing world who are going hungry for long periods of time - in some cases for up to half the year in Ethiopia's Borana region - are failing to find ways to adapt to an increasingly erratic climate, a new survey has found.

The survey, which was conducted just ahead of the severe drought in East Africa in 2011, interviewed 700 households in Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania. It was designed to develop simple, comparable, cross-site household-level indicators to assess if small farmers were able to diversify, adapt and adopt new farming practices in the face of climate change.

The team of researchers involved in the survey found that households that were food secure for longer periods of time were able to experiment with new farming approaches and techniques, such as planting drought- or flood-tolerant varieties of seeds.

"When you are without food, you cannot really innovate," said Patti Kristjanson, agricultural economist for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), which led the study." It stands to reason that households struggling to feed their families throughout the year are not in a good position to invest in new practices that include higher costs and risks.”

Not being able to adapt is contributing to food insecurity, she added. “So it is critical that we learn more about both the factors that enable and facilitate innovation, and how to lower the often hidden costs and barriers associated with changing agricultural practices.”

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