Review of the effectiveness of smallholder farmers’ adaptation to climate change and variability in developing countries

Dula Etana*, Denyse J.R.M. Snelder, Cornelia F.A. van Wesenbeeck, Tjard de Cock Buning

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to JournalReview articleAcademicpeer-review

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The objective of this study is to examine the effectiveness of adaptation. We reviewed and thematically synthesized 42 household-level studies published from 2000–2019 to explain how multiple processes interact to affect the effectiveness of adaptation. The findings show the positive impacts of adaptation in increasing crop yields and income, improving food security, and enhancing environmental protection. Not all adaptation strategies are effective, due partly to differences in sensitivity to climate problems, access to livelihood assets, diversification of adaptation strategies, and flexibility and cultural relevance of institutional support. For households with lower adaptive capacity, limited adaptation choices and reliance on climate-sensitive strategies fail to unshackle them from cyclical vulnerability. Improving adaptive capacity and facilitating diversified adaptation strategies are important to address the livelihood challenges of smallholder farmers. Understanding the complexities underlying the effectiveness of adaptation necessitates evaluation focusing on multidimensional livelihood outcomes to disentangle implications for sustainable livelihoods and socio-ecological resilience.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)759-784
Number of pages26
JournalJournal of Environmental Planning and Management
Issue number5
Early online date26 May 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2022

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2021 Newcastle University.

Copyright 2021 Elsevier B.V., All rights reserved.


  • adaptive capacity
  • impact assessment
  • livelihood
  • resilience
  • vulnerability


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