Can we ignore risk when we study the effects of climate change on agriculture? Research in Zambia tells us that we should not

Climate change is already affecting vulnerable populations in many developing countries and those impacts are projected to progressively expand. In this changing, uncertain environment of rising temperatures, extreme weather, droughts, and other problems, smallholder farmers react by adjusting their production and farm management decisions in ways that attempt to preserve their livelihoods.

Price and yield volatility, and more generally risk, matter in farmers’ decisions and significantly affect their production choices. Economists have known this since the last century. They have developed theories and frameworks to analyze it and they have evaluated its effects. And yet, with the exception of research on crop insurance uncertainty and risk-aversion have been notably absent in studies of climate change. In fact, most studies that investigate the impacts of climate change on agriculture have concentrated on the overall effects of changes in mean temperature and precipitation and have ignored how volatility and risk modify farmers’ behavior and production decisions.

Photo Credit: Swathi Sridharan/ICRISAT