Local perceptions of and adaptation to climate variability and change: the case of shrimp farming communities in the coastal region of Bangladeshby Masud Iqbal Md Shameem, Salim Momtaz, Anthony S. Kiem

Climatic Change


Atmospheric Science / Global and Planetary Change


Local perceptions of and adaptation to climate variability and change: the case of shrimp farming communities in the coastal region of Bangladesh

Masud Iqbal Md Shameem1 & Salim Momtaz1 &

Anthony S. Kiem1

Received: 3 August 2014 /Accepted: 10 July 2015 # Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Abstract Shrimp aquaculture is the predominant farming practice in the southwest coastal region of Bangladesh and has been under increased pressure from environmental and climatic changes. To date, most of the studies examining farmer’s vulnerability and adaption to climate change have been agriculture-focused with little attention to the impacts on other livelihood systems. Based on a case study approach our study presents: i) how local people perceive climate change and whether it corresponds to meteorological records, ii) what climate change impacts people consider significant, and iii) what strategies the shrimp farmers employ to ameliorate perceived risks. This study was conducted using local climate data, focus groups and household survey in Mongla sub-district. This study shows that local people are aware of the changes in hydro-climatic parameters. Their accounts of climate change mostly diverge from the scientific evidence when long-term climate trends are considered, but on short-term variability, the correlation between scientific evidence and local perceptions is high. Repeated adverse impacts caused by climate stressors on livelihood activities shape people’s climate risk perceptions. In relation to perceived risks, farmers have made adjustments in their aquaculture practices. Yet, the level of responses clearly lags behind the extent to which concerns about climate disturbances are expressed. This is partly due to farmers’ efforts for managing transformation from agricultural livelihood system to aquaculture-based livelihood systems and partly associated with other social factors. This case study recommends governmental support for the shrimp aquaculture sector to facilitate the process of adaptation to changes in the hydro-climatic environment.

Climatic Change

DOI 10.1007/s10584-015-1470-7

Electronic supplementary material The online version of this article (doi:10.1007/s10584-015-1470-7) contains supplementary material, which is available to authorized users. * Salim Momtaz salim.momtaz@newcastle.edu.au 1 School of Environmental and Life Sciences, University of Newcastle, Brush Road, Ourimbah, NSW 2258, Australia 1 Introduction

The fourth assessment report (AR4) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) indicates that the low-lying coastal areas in many Asian countries are facing increasing challenges to a range of stresses and shocks. Although social-ecological systems have evolved over the centuries through coping with and adapting to these pressures, today increased pressure mainly associated with climate and environmental change poses a threat to the resilience of the ecosystems as well as human societies in many coastal areas (Parry et al. 2007; UNEP 2006). This is particularly relevant for coastal communities in Bangladesh who have encountered extreme vulnerability to hydro-climatic hazards (Hedger 2011). These coastal communities, especially those in the southwest coastal region of Bangladesh are amongst the most vulnerable in the country, mostly due to their frequent exposure to tropical cyclones with tidal surge and hydro-climatically driven changes in environment and natural resource base on which they depend for their livelihoods and wellbeing. While exposure to these physical hazards has serious implications for both human and natural systems, other socio-economic factors including poverty, inequality, poor infrastructure and inadequate government capacity often exacerbate this risk situation. The southwest coastal region of

Bangladesh, therefore, presents a unique opportunity to explore how rural households and farmers who are faced with hydro-climatic risks manage their economic production systems and livelihoods.

According to the fifth assessment report (AR5) of the IPCC, there is significant evidence that climate is changing (Cubasch et al. 2013). However, the direction of this change in different parts of the world is uncertain (Cubasch et al. 2013). Whilst knowledge of past changes in climate has advanced over the last few decades, specific local outcomes of changes in climate are still fraught with uncertainty. This motivates researchers and practitioners to investigate local perceptions of climate change from the people who are directly affected. A number of studies suggest that the ways local people understand climate variability, uncertainty and change provide a foundation for adaptation measures at a local level (Arbuckle et al. 2013; Blennow and Persson 2009; Boissière et al. 2013; Thomas et al. 2007; West et al. 2008).

Therefore, this cognitive aspect of adaptation is drawing increasing attention by researchers investigating local adjustments to changes in environmental and climatic conditions. This paper responds to the need for such detailed understandings at the local level and adds to the theoretical frameworks for such investigation by considering the interaction between local and wider knowledge.

In the context of a broader study on climate change adaptation processes in the southwest coastal region in Bangladesh, we examine how local people perceive hydro-climatic change and how they have adjusted their livelihoods to adapt to this change. In doing so, we first document how local people experience and describe changes in hydro-climatic characteristics and compare their narratives with local meteorological data for the past few decades. Second, focusing on aquaculture farmers we identify the kinds of impacts that they consider significant.

Finally, we investigate the strategies that these farmers employ in aquaculture practices to adapt to climate change and identify associated constraints. In examining how local people perceive climate change, this study enhances our understanding of vulnerability of shrimp farming communities to cope with changes in hydro-climatic environment, and provides important insight that can be useful in developing future climate change adaptation policies and strategies.