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Accessing adaptation: Multiple stressors on livelihoods in the Bolivian highlands under a changing climate

McDowell, Julia Z., Hess, Jeremy J.
Global environmental change 2012 v.22 no.2 pp. 342-352
assets, case studies, climate, climate change, farmers, highlands, household expenditure, households, labor, livelihood, natural capital, rain, social capital, social environment
Smallholder farmers continuously confront multiple social and environmental stressors that necessitate changes in livelihood strategies to prevent damages and take advantage of new opportunities, or adaptation. Vulnerability, meaning susceptibility to harm, is attributable to social determinants that limit access to assets, leading to greater exposure and sensitivity to stressors and a limited capacity to adapt. Stressors and adaptation are intertwined because stressors deplete resources available for adaptation, while adaptation may erode resources available to respond to future stressors. We present empirical evidence demonstrating the interactions of multiple stressors and adaptations over time through a case study of indigenous farmers in highland Bolivia. We examine how farmers perceive the stress on their livelihoods, their strategies for adapting to these threats, and the influence of past adaptation and exposure on vulnerability under increasing climatic change. We find that vulnerability changes over time as multiple stressors, such as land scarcity and delayed seasonal rainfall, compound, simultaneously reducing access and demanding the expenditure of household assets for adaptation, including natural capital (water and land), human capital (including labor), and financial, physical, and social capital. To reduce vulnerability over time, constraints on access to key resources must be addressed, allowing households the flexibility to reduce their exposure and improve their adaptive capacity to the multiple stressors they confront.