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Research article2021Peer reviewedOpen access

Rural institutions, social networks, and self-organized adaptation to climate change

Fischer, Harry ; Chhatre, Ashwini; Devalkar, Sripad; Sohoni, Milind


Support for rural livelihoods to adapt to climate change is a top policy priority around the world. We advance the concept of "self-organized adaptation" to analyze how long-term pathways of transformation come about as the organic outcome of farmers' incremental and continuous responses to climate and other challenges. Through an analysis of four decades' responses to changing climate conditions in an agricultural system of the Indian Himalayas, we show how several key policy interventions – institutional support for the dissemination of agricultural knowledge, investments in infrastructure, and strengthening of market linkages – have produced favorable conditions for successful, long-term self-organized adaptation to climate change. This has led to the transformation of an agricultural system specialized in apple production to one with a great diversity of fruit, vegetable, and food grain crops. We find that farmers growing these crops cluster into five distinct agricultural portfolios that reflect the constraints and opportunities that different farmers face, and which are patterned by interaction with rural institutions and household social networks. We highlight the role of distributed decision-making in shaping broader trajectories of systemic transformation, and we argue for the need to move beyond pre-defined climate interventions toward the identification of policy mechanisms that can support more effective self-organization over the long-term.


Climate adaptation; rural livelihoods; social networks; rural institutions; development

Published in

Environmental Research Letters
2021, Volume: 16, number: 10, article number: 104002

    Sustainable Development Goals

    SDG13 Climate action

    UKÄ Subject classification

    Human Geography

    Publication identifier


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