Reducing subsistence farmers’ vulnerability to climate change: evaluating the potential contributions of agroforestry in western Kenya
Subsistence farmers are among the people most vulnerable to current climate variability. Climate models predict that climate change will lead to warmer temperatures, increasing rainfall variability, and increasing severity and frequency of extreme weather events. Agroforestry, or the intentional use of trees in the cropping system, has been proposed by many development practitioners as a potential strategy to help farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate change. This study explores whether and, if so, how agroforestry techniques can help subsistence farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate change. From field research conducted in western Kenya, we find that households are not currently coping with climate-related hazards in a sustainable way. Farmers are aware of this, and believe that the most effective way to adapt to climate-related shocks is through improving their general standard of living. We evaluated agroforestry as one possible means of improving farmers’ well-being. By comparing farmers engaged in an agroforestry project with a control group of neighboring farmers, we find that involvement in agroforestry improves household’s general standard of living via improvements in farm productivity, off-farm incomes, wealth and the environmental conditions of their farm. We conclude that agroforestry techniques can be used as an effective part of a broader development strategy to help subsistence farmers reduce their vulnerability to climate-related hazards.