Sources of vulnerability to a variable and changing climate among smallholder households in Zimbabwe: A participatory analysis

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Vulnerability analysis is essential for targeting adaptation options to impacts of climate variability and change, particularly in diverse systems with limited resources such as smallholder farms in sub-Saharan Africa. To investigate the nature and sources of vulnerability of smallholder farmers to climate variability and change, we analysed long term climate data and interviewed farmers individually and in groups in Makoni and Hwedza districts in eastern Zimbabwe. Farmers' perceptions of changes in climate characteristics matched the recorded data. Total seasonal rainfall has not changed, but variability in the rainfall distribution within seasons has increased. The mean daily minimum temperature increased by 0.2 °C per decade in both Makoni and Hwedza. The mean daily maximum temperature increased by 0.5 °C per decade in Hwedza. The number of days with temperatures >30 °C also increased in Hwedza. Farmers indicated that livestock production was sensitive to drought due to lack of feed, affecting resource-endowed farmers, who own relatively large herds of cattle. Crop production was more sensitive to increased rainfall variability, largely affecting farmers with intermediate resource endowment. Availability of wild fruits and social safety nets were affected directly and indirectly by extreme temperatures and increased rainfall variability, impacting on the livelihoods of resource-constrained farmers. There was no evidence of a simple one-to-one relationship between vulnerability and farmer resource endowment, suggesting that vulnerability to climate variability and change is complex and not simply related to assets. Alongside climate variability and change, farmers were also faced with biophysical and socioeconomic challenges such as lack of fertilizers, and these problems had strong interactions with adaptation options to climate change. Diversifying crops and cultivars, staggering planting date and managing soil fertility were identified as the major adaptation options to stabilize yields against increased rainfall variability. There is need to evaluate the identified adaptation options on farm and with the participation of farmers to provide empirical evidence on the best options for different households.

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