Smallholder Agriculture and Climate Change

Avery S. Cohn, Peter Newton, Juliana D.B. Gil, Laura Kuhl, Leah Samberg, Vincent Ricciardi, Jessica R. Manly, Sarah Northrop

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

90 Scopus citations


Hundreds of millions of the world's poorest people directly depend on smallholder farming systems. These people now face a changing climate and associated societal responses. We use mapping and a literature review to juxtapose the climate fate of smallholder systems with that of other agricultural systems and population groups. Limited direct evidence contrasts climate impact risk in smallholder agricultural systems versus other farming systems, but proxy evidence suggests high smallholder vulnerability. Smallholders distinctively adapt to climate shocks and stressors. Their future adaptive capacity is uncertain and conditional upon the severity of climate change and socioeconomic changes from regional development. Smallholders present a greenhouse gas (GHG) mitigation paradox. They emit a small amount of CO2 per capita and are poor, making GHG regulation unwarranted. But they produce GHG-intensive food and emit disproportionate quantities of black carbon through traditional biomass energy. Effectively accounting for smallholders in mitigation and adaption policies is critical and will require innovative solutions to the transaction costs that enrolling smallholders often imposes. Together, our findings show smallholder farming systems to be a critical fulcrum between climate change and sustainable development.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)347-375
Number of pages29
JournalAnnual Review of Environment and Resources
StatePublished - Oct 17 2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
We thank John Duncan, Adam Houston, Anja Semanco, and Sydney Stevns for their assistance with the initial literature review. We thank Anil Bhargava, Katharina Waha, and an anonymous reviewer for their comments and suggestions. A.S.C. acknowledges the financial support of the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, grants DGAN/15072858 and DGAN/16099163.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by Annual Reviews. All rights reserved.


  • Adaptation
  • Governance
  • Impacts
  • Mitigation
  • Policy
  • Spatial analysis


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