Multiple livelihood strategies and high floristic diversity increase the adaptive capacity and resilience of Sri Lankan farming enterprises

Kamal Melvani, Mila Bristow, Jerry Moles, Beth Crase, Mirjam Kaestli

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    Globally farmers are challenged by increasing climate variability and frequency of extreme events. However, traditional farming enterprises demonstrate resilience. To understand the underlying reasons, traditional farming enterprises in Sri Lanka were explored. Eighty-five farming enterprises were sampled across nine locations of the Intermediate agroecological zone using mixed methods. Farming enterprises incorporate On- and Off-farm livelihood components (graphical abstract). On-farm refers to landholdings with land uses including tree-dominant forest gardens (FGs), paddy, cash crops, swidden plots (chenas), plantations and livestock. Off-farm includes employment, trading and grants. We investigated how farming enterprises remained resilient, and which land use had the greatest adaptive capacity and best fulfilled household needs? Farming enterprises were assessed with respect to water availability, farmers' perspectives of climate variability, their socioeconomic characteristics, and land uses in landholdings. Land uses were characterised and compared by floristic diversity, crop: utility benefits, food functions, and those consumed and sold. Results revealed that most respondents were women, had primary school education and engaged full-time in farming. Cultivation was mainly rainfed. Farmers' perceptions of climate variability were supported by meteorological data showing that interannual and seasonal rainfall variability prevailed in the reference and preceding years. Farmers withstood these challenges owing to FGs, which were the oldest and dominant of all land uses, with larger area, highest plant and crop species richness, and crop diversity. Greater numbers of primary and secondary FG crops and products provided multiple household benefits. High floristic diversity, tree-dominance and multifunctionality gave FGs strong adaptive capacity. Nevertheless, farmers adopted multiple land uses with diverse landscape designs and Off-farm livelihood strategies simultaneously because this combination offered greater opportunities, buffered risk and increased resilience in farming enterprises. A clear implication of this study is that policymakers should engage with farmers when planning for a resilient agriculture in a variable climate scenario.
    Original languageEnglish
    Article number139120
    Pages (from-to)1-14
    Number of pages14
    JournalScience of the Total Environment
    Publication statusPublished - 15 Oct 2020


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