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CR 33:81-99 (2006)  -  doi:10.3354/cr033081

Ethnographic and participatory approaches to research on farmers’ responses to climate predictions

Carla Roncoli*

Center for Research on Environmental Decisions and South East Climate Consortium, The University of Georgia, Athens, Georgia 30605, USA

ABSTRACT: This article synthesizes the state of the art in the application of ethnographic and participatory methods in climate application research. The review focuses on 2 aspects: (1) the cognitive and cultural landscape in which farmers’ understanding of climate and climate information is grounded and (2) the decision-making processes and environment which shape farmers’ adaptive strategies. The first part analyzes methods to elicit how farmers perceive and predict climate events and how these perspectives relate to scientific forecasts. It addresses the long-standing question of whether and how farmers understand the probabilistic nature of climate forecasts and how they assess the credibility and accuracy of such information. The second part examines approaches to characterizing the vulnerability of decision makers and to elucidating the configuration of options and obstacles that farmers face in using climate forecasts to mitigate risk. The complexities of farmers’ decisions and the difficulties of identifying the exact role that climate predictions play (and, therefore, of directly attributing impacts to them) are taken into account. Finally, the review highlights efforts to transcend the localized focus of farmer-centered approaches in order to capture interactions across sectors and scales. The review concludes by proposing that climate application research move from a ‘technology-adoption’ paradigm to a broader perspective on vulnerability and adaptation. This shift will entail a cross-scale, multi-sited research design and an interdisciplinary mix of interactive and structured tools and techniques. It will also require that the analytical focus be expanded to encompass local communities and their multiple action spaces as well as the higher spheres of decision-making, where policy and science are shaped.

KEY WORDS: Farmer participatory research · Ethnographic methods · Climate forecasts · Risk communication · Livelihood adaptation · Vulnerability

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