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POLICY BRIEF: Climate change adaptation strategies for smallholder farmers in the Brazilian Sertão

Climate models agree that semi-arid regions around the world are likely to experience increased rainfall variability and longer droughts in the coming decades. In regions dependent on agriculture, such changes threaten to aggravate existing food insecurity and economic underdevelopment, and to push migration to urban areas. In the Brazilian semi-arid region, the Sertão, farmers’ vulnerability to climate –
past, present, and future – stems from several factors, including low yielding production practices and reliance on scarce and seasonally variable water resources. Using interpolated local climate data, we show that,since 1962, in the Bacia do Jacuípe – one of the poorest regions in the Sertão of Bahía state – average temperatures have increased~2 °C and rainfall has decreased~350 mm. Over the same time period, average milk productivity – the main rural economic activity in the county – has fallen while in Brazil and in Bahía as a whole milk productivity has increased dramatically.

This publication, Climate change adaptation strategies for smallholder farmers in the Brazilian Sertão, examines the drivers of climate vulnerability of the Bacia do Jacuípe in relation to the rest of Bahía. It presents the results of a suite of pilot projects by Adapta Sertão, a coalition of organizations working to improve the adaptive capacity of farmers living in the semi-arid region. By testing a number of different technologies and arrangements at the farm level, Adapta Sertão has shown that interventions focused on balanced animal diets and efficient irrigation systems can help reduce (but not eliminate) the dependence of production systems from climate. They are thus viable adaptation strategies that should be tested at a larger scale, with implications for semi-arid regions worldwide.

This publication forms part of a series from the CDKN-funded project, Promoting climate change adaptation policies – a pilot approach from semi-arid northeast Brazil, which has been consistently testing and monitoring 16 different arrangements implemented together with small farmers over the past two years to understand their true adaptive and food security potential.

The project has been assigned the award “Celso Furtado” for Regional Development, sponsored by the Brazilian Ministry of Integration. The project won in the category of Innovative Projects to be Implemented in the Territory, thanks to its proposed best practices and their translation into policy-making. The same project has also been acknowledged with a Grant of the Brazilian Climate Fund of the Ministry of the Environment for its innovation in terms of bridging adaptation to climate change and development in one of the most challenging regions of Brazil, which faces serious and long-lasting problems of drought and hunger.

Further reading:
Project homepage: Promoting climate change adaptation policies – a pilot approach from semi-arid northeast Brazil
Policy brief: An integrated approach to family farmer adaptation in Brazil’s semi-arid region: the case of Adapta Sertão

For more information or for help using the one of our toolkits, please contact cdkn@southsouthnorth.org