Smallholder farmers are one of the most vulnerable groups to climate change, yet efforts to support farmer adaptation are hindered by the lack of information on how they are experiencing and responding to climate change. More information is needed on how different types of smallholder farmers vary in their perceptions and responses to climate change, and how to tailor adaptation programs to different smallholder farmer contexts. We surveyed 860 smallholder coffee and basic grain (maize/bean) farmers across six Central American landscapes to understand farmer perceptions of climate change and the impacts they are experiencing, how they are changing their agricultural systems in response to climate change, and their adaptation needs.
Almost all (95%) of the surveyed smallholder farmers have observed climate change, and most are already experiencing impacts of rising temperatures, unpredictable rainfall and extreme weather events on crop yields, pest and disease incidence, income generation and, in some cases, food security. For example, 87% of maize farmers and 66% of coffee farmers reported negative impacts of climate change on crop production, and 32% of all smallholder farmers reported food insecurity following extreme weather events. Of the farmers perceiving changes in climate, 46% indicated that they had changed their farming practices in response to climate change, with the most common adaptation measure being the planting of trees. There was significant heterogeneity among farmers in the severity of climate change impacts, their responses to these impacts, and their adaptation needs. This heterogeneity likely reflects the wide diversity of socioeconomic and biophysical contexts across smallholder farms and landscapes.
Our study demonstrates that climate change is already having significant adverse impacts on smallholder coffee and basic grain farmers across the Central American region. There is an urgent need for governments, donors and practitioners to ramp up efforts to help smallholder farmers cope with existing climate impacts and build resiliency to future changes. Our results also highlight the importance of tailoring of climate adaptation policies and programs to the diverse socioeconomic conditions, biophysical contexts, and climatic stresses that smallholder farmers face.