Environment - Food and Water

Transformational Adaptation of Agricultural Systems to Climate Change

Architesh Panda explores how the usage of the concept of ‘transformational adaptation’ (TA) in the context of agriculture has increased in recent years.

Transformational adaptation (TA) to climate change and its application in the agricultural sector is a recent debate starting to take shape in academics and policy as a response to deal with the increased adverse effects of climate change on global agriculture. In a comprehensive review published in WIREs Climate Change, Architesh Panda explores how the usage of the concept of ‘transformational adaptation’ (TA) in the context of agriculture has increased in recent years.

The review finds that, in the adaptation literature, the idea of transformation has been discussed largely as an eventual necessity and outcome of the limits to current adaptive capacity or of less and less marginal benefits for each additional adaptation action because of increasing impacts from climate change.

However, in agriculture, adaptation actions as transformational can be broadly categorized as five types: (1) adaptation actions adopted at a larger scale; (2) shifting crops and changing agricultural systems; (3) changing business scale, structure and location; (4) creating new croplands/irrigation; and (5) forced farm abandonment and migration. The authors discussed the idea of transformation in agriculture from three perspectives (1) limits to current adaptation (2) substantial changes to agricultural system components such depth, scale and speed of change. (3) and transformational adaptation as continues process.

The author concludes that a large part of the literature has underscored the need for TA in view of large and uncertain changes in the climate without any further critical examination of the concept and its application in agriculture. Many have only suggested TA as a requirement to reduce climate risks and vulnerability in agriculture without any clear road map for doing that at different scales. While the debate on the definition is not yet settled there seems to be a general acceptance of the fact that TA applies to any adaptation measure that changes the characteristics of the system substantially at a particular point or over a period of time and any adaptation measure adopted on a larger scale.

Future research on TA can be directed towards: (1) understanding how the TA debate is different from broader societal transformational change debate such as sustainable development; (2) integrating climate change vulnerability analysis into TA research to understand underlying socio-economic factors; and (3) understanding differences between adaptive capacity and transformational adaptive capacity at different scales and for different actors.


Kindly contributed by Architesh Panda.

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