Applied Activity Part 3: Farm Resilience Evaluation Using Indicators

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In this lesson, you’ve learned about ecology and the agroecosystem concept. Our understanding of basic ecology, such as the concepts of energy flow, organization of ecosystems, and biodiversity, can be applied to agroecosystems, in order to understand how they can regenerate themselves without outside inputs. Our understanding of ecology and natural ecosystem, and how they resist and are resilient against the effects of climate change, can be applied to create resilient and resistant agroecosystems.

As stated by Clara Nicholls and Miguel Altieri in Climate Change: Agroecological approaches to enhance resilience to climate change, “Detailed analyses of agricultural performance after extreme climatic events have revealed that resilience to climate disasters is closely linked to the level of on-farm biodiversity…In fact, many studies reveal that small-scale farmers who follow agro-ecological practices cope with, and even prepare for, climate change, minimizing crop failure. Results from various studies suggest that these practices provide a higher resistance to climate events, reduce vulnerability and make farms more sustainable in the long-term.”

For this Applied Activity, you will analyze your farm or field site, and look at both the ecological and social resiliency of your site’s system. The following exercise was developed by Paul Rogé et al., who along with farmers in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, Mexico, developed an interdisciplinary methodology for helping small farmers prepare for climatic variability. Below you will find the abstract and an excerpt from his paper to give you some context before starting your Applied Activity.

Excerpt 1: Farmer Strategies for Dealing with Climatic Variability: A Case Study from the Mixteca Alta Region of Oaxaca, Mexico

Rogé et al | Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 2014

This study describes an interdisciplinary methodology for helping small farmers prepare for climatic variability. We facilitated workshops in the Mixteca Alta region of Oaxaca, Mexico, in which groups of small farmers described how they had adapted to and prepared for past climate challenges. Farmers reported that their cropping systems were changing for multiple reasons: more drought, later rainfall onset, decreased rural labor, and introduced labor-saving technologies. Examination of climate data found that farmers’ climate narratives were largely consistent with the observational record. There have been increases in temperature and rainfall intensity, and an increase in rainfall seasonality that may be perceived as later rainfall onset. Farmers also identified 14 indicators that they subsequently used to evaluate the condition of their agroecosystems. Farmers ranked landscape-scale indicators as more marginal than farmer management or soil quality indicators. From this analysis, farmers proposed strategies to improve the ability of their agroecosystems to cope with climatic variability. Notably, they recognized that social organizing and education are required for landscape-scale indicators to be improved. This outcome suggests that climate change adaptation by small farmers involves much more than just a set of farming practices, but also community action to tackle collective problems.

Effective adaptation to climate change requires location-specific under-standings of climate variability (Gamble et al. 2010). This is especially true for small farmers, who often use local climate knowledge for decision mak-ing. While climate may seem an unlikely candidate for management, small farmers are not limited to reacting to it (Wilken 1987). Small farmers have developed innovative farming strategies for withstanding challenging climatic conditions (Altieri and Nicholls 2013). The recovery of traditional management practices from creative and motivated local stakeholders may in fact represent important strategies to prepare for climate change (Astier et al. 2011). Scientific and local knowledge must be bridged to contribute to the well-being of agricultural communities (Valdivia et al. 2010). Moreover, Roncoli (2006) recommends the use of ethnographic and participatory meth-ods to move towards a climate vulnerability and adaptation paradigm led by farmers and institutions.

The proposed methodology documented small farmers’ past strategies for dealing with climatic variability, developed local indicators to assess the ability of agroecosystems to withstand climatic variability, and placed the locally derived indicator framework in the hands of farmers for evaluating the current state of their agroecosystems. Additionally, we put the farmers’ description of climate history in conversation with regional climate records. This latter step of original quantitative climate analysis was not essential to identifying farmer adaptation strategies, but rather may validate farmers’ experiences to scholars, community organizers, and policymakers.

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Lesson 3: Applied Activity

Download the assignment by clicking your preferred version below. The first step of this activity will be to define ten attributes/indicators of a farm that make it resilient or resistant to various challenges. The second step will be to evaluate your farm’s resilience according to the attributes you’ve described in step one. Finally, you’ll answer some questions about your evaluation.

Please use your preferred version of this assignment. Complete, scan (if needed) and upload it using the link at the bottom of this page.

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