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Unintended outcomes of farmers’ adaptation to climate variability: deforestation and conservation in Calakmul and Maya biosphere reserves

Claudia Rodriguez-Solorzano, Environmental Studies Program, Dartmouth College; Department of Ecosystem Science and Management, Texas A&M University


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Minimizing the impact of climate change on farmer livelihoods is crucial, but adaptation efforts may have unintended consequences for ecosystems, with potential impacts on farmersí welfare. Unintended outcomes of climate adaptation strategies have been widely discussed, however, empirical exploration has been neglected. Grounded in scholarship on climate adaptation, environmental governance, social–ecological systems, and land-use change, this paper studies whether farmers’ climate adaptation contributes to deforestation or forest conservation. The paper draws on interviews with 353 farmers from 46 communities in Calakmul Biosphere Reserve in Mexico and Maya Biosphere Reserve in Guatemala. Farmers in the area of study have implemented adaptation strategies that people around the world have used for centuries, including migration, diversification, savings, and pooling. The findings show that climate adaptation can increase deforestation or support forest conservation depending on the type of adaptation strategy farmers implement. Saving, based on cattle ranching, is a deforestation-driving strategy. The choice of this strategy is influenced by distance to the commercial and administrative center and cash benefits from the forest. Deforestation can have a negative impact on farmers’ welfare, as well as harm biodiversity and contribute to increased climate change. Thus, deforestation-driving adaptation strategies may be ineffective. However, diversification, based on off-farm jobs and operating provision shops, is a conservation-driving strategy influenced by distance as well as by family size. Farmers who choose diversification to adapt may contribute to a virtuous circle in which livelihood improvement in the short term leads to enhanced social–ecological resilience in the longer term. The need for farmers to implement adaptation strategies thus represents great risk but also opportunities.

Key words

climate adaptation; governance; institutions; land-use change; Latin America; protected areas

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087