Vol.2, No.2, 138-145 (2011)
opyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/AS/
Agricultural Science s
Farmers’ perception and knowledge of climate change
and their coping strategies to the related hazards: Case
study from Adiha, central Tigray, Ethiopia
Dejene K. Mengistu*
Department of Dryland Crop and Horticultural Sciences, Mekelle University, Mekelle, Ethiopia.
*Corresponding Au thor: dejenekmh@yahoo.com; dejenekmh@gmail.com
Received 11 February 2011; revised 15 March 2011; accepted 30 March 2011.
Climate change adversely affects Ethiopian eco-
nomy due to heavy dependence of the agricul-
tural sector on rainfall. A decrease of rainfall
and rise in temperature has been increasing the
exposure of the country to frequent drought. The
study was conducted in central Tigray, Adiha
tabia, to examine the perception of farmers on
trends of climate changes and existing coping
strategies. Farmers’ knowledge of various ad-
aptation strategies, drought early warning sys-
tem and weather forecasting were assessed us-
ing focus group discussion (FGD), which con-
sisted of 14 4 sy stema ticall y sampled re spondents.
Temperature is rising while precipitation is de-
clining from time to time. Untimely rain and fre-
quent drought are challenging crop production
in the area. Drought is perceived, both by male
and female respondents, as the primary climate
related hazard which is occurring frequently and
affecting their livelihood. Individual’s vulnerabil-
ity to this hazard varies based on their hazard
coping capacity. Lack of modern early warning
systems, inflexible cropping calendar and nar-
row choice of crop varieties should aggravates
the vulnerability. Hence, improveing forecasting
and dissemination of climate information, de-
veloping drought resistant varieties and promo-
ting farm-level adaptation measures like use of
irrigation technologies and adjusting planting
dates should be prioritized to improve commu-
nity resilience to climate change.
Keywords: Adiha; Knowledge and Perception;
Climate Change; Vulnerability; Coping; Adaptation
Climate variability has attracted much attention in
recent decades, not only because of the globally unpar-
alleled persistence of anomalously low rainfall, but also
because of the low capacity of society and economical
systems to cope with climate change related risks. As a
result of this low capacity, extreme climate variability,
such as drought, is frequently accompanied by ecologi-
cal decline, decimation of livestock herds, widespread
food scarcity, mass migration and great loss of human
life [1]. Climate change with expected long term
changes in rainfall patterns and shifting temperature
zones are expected to have negative effects on agricul-
ture [2]. Ethiopia’s agriculture, which is the mainstay of
the country’s economy constituting more than half the
nation’s gross domestic product (GDP) and generates
more than 85 percent of the foreign exchange earnings
[3], is mainly rainfed and heavily depend on rainfall.
When the rainfall fells, the GDP falls [4]. This depend-
ence makes the country particularly vulnerable to the
adverse impacts of climate change. Literatures showed
that the scope (geographic coverage), frequency and
magnitude of climatic changes and environmental deg-
radation such as deforestation, and soil erosion have
been increasing from time to time in Ethiopia [5]. The
potential adverse effects of climate change on Ethio-
pia’s agricultural sector are of a major concern because
of this dependence [6].
According to the National Meteorological Agency,
long-term climate change in Ethiopia is associated with
changes in rainfall patterns and variability, and tempe-
rature, which could increase the country’s frequency of
both droughts and floods. These climatic hazards, par-
ticularly drought, are becoming the major forces chal-
lenging the livelihoods of most farmers. Thought the
country’s crop production and productivity seem in-
D. K. Mengistu / Agricultural Sciences 2 (2011) 138-14 5
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. Openly accessible at http://www.scirp.org/journal/AS/
creasing since 1980’s [7], the problem of food insecurity
at national level remains the concern because of severity
of food production constraints in some regions, markets
that do not function and vulnerability of farmers to the
The rural population, for whom agriculture is the pri-
mary source of food, direct and/or indirect employment
and income, will be most affected due agriculture’s vul-
nerability to climate changes. As the sector is the largest
consumer of water resources, variability in water supply
has a major influence on health and welfare of agriculture
dependent poor [7]. Vulnerability analysis made across
the different regions of Ethiopia by reference [8] indi-
cated that the exposure, sensitivity and adaptive capacity
of people vary from region to region. The same report
indicated that Tigray is among the most vulnerable re-
gions because of higher frequencies of drough t and fl ood s,
lower access to technologies, fewer institutions dealing
with climate related hazards, and lack of infrastructures.
Vulnerability t o climatic change is hig hly correlated with
poverty and living status of farmers determines their
vulnerabilit y to and adaptation with climatic changes. An
increase in the frequency of climate related hazards could
lead households to lower expected income which in turn
can cause to fall below p overty threshold level [9].
Adaptation to climatic changes requires a combina-
tion of various individual responses at the farm-level
and assumes that farmers have access to alternative
practices and technologies available in their area. But
it mainly involves changes in agricultural management
practices in response to changes in climate conditions
for agrarian community [2]. Adaptation of people to
different hazards vary from household to households
and region to region based on existing support system
to increase the resilience of affected individuals. The
assessment was aimed to generate primary information
from the farming communities of Adiha related to cli-
mate change. This report examined the perception of
Adiha farmers on the trend of climate change and re-
lated anomalities, existing coping strategies in place.
Knowledge of farmers on various adaptation strategies,
drought early warning system and climate forecast
methods was assessed using focus group discussion. It
would also draw implications that would assist policy
makers to decrease the vulnerability of rural farming
communities to adverse impacts of climate change.
2.1. The Site
This study focused on Adiha, which is located in cen -
tral Tigray and characterized by fragile resource base
and varying climate conditions. Th e area is characterized
by erratic rainfall. The main rains occur from June-Au-
gust and sometimes it starts in May and stops in Sep-
tember and the wettest month is July/August. Seven
years rainfall data, measured at Adiha weather station,
indicated that the mean annual rainfall is about 600mm
ranging from 436 - 700 mm [3]. Its maximum and mini-
mum temperatures are 27˚C and 18˚C, respectively.
According to Kola-Temben Bureau of Agriculture
and Rural Development (Figure 1), Adiha is the larg-
est tabia of the Woreda with 10,920 hectares land size.
It has four kueshets (villages) with 1783 households
engaged in rain-fed and irrigated agriculture. The total
population of the tabia is 8494 (males 3910 and fe-
males 4584). The rain-fed farmers constitute 613
households and the irrigators are 1170 households.
The landless households are 28 3.
2.2. Methods
Respondents were systematically sampled from Adiha
tabia populations across all of the kueshets. One hun dred
forty four (144) respondents were sampled from popula-
tion of the tabia. Various factors including gender (male/
female headed farm households), age, access to irriga-
tion water and land holding size were considered during
2.2.1. Focus Group Discussion (FGD)
Focus Group Discussion (FGD) was employed to
generate information on the perception of the farmers on
climate change, its related hazards, vulnerable groups of
the commun ity and existing coping strategies. Six FGDs,
each consisting 24 participants, 12 male and 12 women,
drawn from different kueshets, were held for climate re-
lated hazard identification and characterization, identifi-
cation and prioritization of coping mechanisms, identifi-
cation and ranking of vulnerable groups and climate and
weather forecasting. Tools such as hazard identification
and characterization, hazard behavior story telling (time-
line), hazard ranking matrix, vulnerability group ranking
and experiential stories telling on indigenous technolo-
gies and knowledge were used to acquire information on
farmers’ perception on climate change trends, existing
hazards and their severity and vulnerable groups of the
community. The different coping strategies used by the
community were also identified and analyzed for their
effectiveness. Effectiveness was rated as very satisfac-
tory, satisfactory and not satisfactory and the rating
number converted to percent to assess satisfaction level.
2.2.2. Data Management and Analysis
Information was recorded using worksheets prepared
for each category of discussion. Data collected on each
parameter was expressed as percent of respondents.
D. K. Mengistu / Agricultural Sciences 2 (2011) 138-14 5
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Figure 1. Location of Adiha tabia in the map of Tigray regional state.
Farmer’s perceptions on changes in long-term tempera-
ture and precipitation as well as various coping strategies
being used by farmers were analyzed and presented us-
ing simple descriptive statistics (tables and figures).
3.1. Farmers’ Perception to Climate Change
Change of climate was well perceived by commun-
ities of the study area as most of them have been observ-
ing changes in temperature, precipitation and timing of
rainfall and related frequent drought (Figures 2 and 3).
Perceptions on temperature and precipitation change
were categorized into five and six groups, respectively.
Almost all participants understood that the change of
climatic conditions over the past 20 years was obvious.
The result indicates that most farmers, about 75%, per-
ceive that the temperature of Adiha is increaseing in the
last two decades (Figure 2) (temporal trend not indi-
cated). Only 8% of them noticed the contrary, decrease
in temperature. Very few of the respondents (less than
5%) have not noticed any change in temperature.
On the other hand, 90% of the respondents observed
change in rainfall patterns in the last two decades in the
area, and 70% have noticed a decrease in the amount of
rainfall. About 20% of the informants noticed a change
not in the total amount of rainfall but in the timing of the
rains, with rains coming either earlier or later than ex-
pected. The over all perception is that Adiha and sur-
rounding villages are getting drier (Figure 3) and there
are pronounced changes in the timing of rains and fre-
quency of droughts. It was indicated that drought occurs
more frequent since 1992 than it was before.
It has been occurring more frequently to the level that
two consecutive years remaining dry. The result is in
agreement with the findings reported by references [10,
30,31] which indicated that African climate is highly
variable and unpredictable and prone to extreme weather
conditions, including droughts and floods.
3.2. Climate Related Hazards and
Community Vulnerability
3.2.1. Hazards Identification and
The various hazards, directly or indirectly related to
climate change, identified by the respondents were
presented in Table 1. Both male and female respon-
dents ranked drought (late onset and early cessation of
rain) as the foremost climate related hazard and char-
acterized it as the most disastrous in the area. Similar
result was reported by reference [3]. Untimely rain and
human diseases took the next rank by female and male
D. K. Mengistu / Agricultural Sciences 2 (2011) 138-14 5
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Figure 2. Farmers’ perception on patterns of temperature changes in Adiha.
Figure 3. Farmers perception on the trend of rainfall change in Adiha.
participants, respectively. Hail storm and depletion of
soil nutrients (coupled with soaring of fertilizer price)
were ranked third by female and male respondents, re-
spectively. This indicates that male and female farmers
do not perceive hazards to equal degree.
3.2.2. Vulnerable Groups of the Community
Individuals or regions vulnerability depends on their
adaptive capacity, sensitivity, and exposure to changing
climatic patterns as explained by International Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC). Ability of individuals to adjust
to actual or expected climate impacts or to cope with the
consequence of climate change varies to various degrees.
The study revealed that children, elderly, disabled and
poor farmers were rated as highly vulnerable groups of
the society while landless farmers; female headed
households and non irrigators were classified as medium
vulnerable groups. Wealthy farmers who have good ac-
cess to resources are less vulnerable to changing climate.
Similar findings were reported by references [2,3,9,10].
Such understanding of the local dimensions of vulner-
ability is essential to develop appropriate adaptation
strategies that will mitigate adverse consequences of
climate change.
3.3. Farmers’ Knowledge and Perception on
Climate and Weather Prediction and
The livelihood of agrarian society affected heavily due
D. K. Mengistu / Agricultural Sciences 2 (2011) 138-14 5
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Table 1. Hazard identification, scoring and ranking by Adiha communities.
Male group Female group
Hazards identified Scores RankingScores Ranking
Drought 31 1 29 1
Untimely rain 5 5 16 2
Hail storm 3 4 10 3
Crop pests and diseases 0 - 2 6
Depletion of soil fertility and s o a ring of fertilizer price 13 3 7 5
Human disease 26 2 0 -
Strong wind 2 6 - -
Lack of access to services 1 7 9 4
to climate change. Farmers have indigenous traditional
knowledge to predict and forecast the forthcoming con-
ditions. Knowing such traditional knowledge provides
an entry into understanding how a new type of climate
information might be accepted [11]. Different signs and
signals, of both environmental indicators and cultural
beliefs were enumerated by the participants to predict
the coming weather and climate conditions (Table 2) in
the study area. The behavior of some animals like goats,
insects and bee, is mentioned as the most common envi-
ronmental indicators. Special voice of honey bees rec-
ognized as a special signal for forecasting immediate
rainfall. Similar result was reported by [12]. The most
common cultural environmental indicators were the be-
liefs that the color of the sky, amount and color of cloud
gatherings, and wind directions will indicate whether the
coming season will be wet or dry. Reddish sky color,
sparse cloud on the sky and wind blowing from west to
east are used to warn the dryness of the next cropping
These cultural environments have international ac-
ceptances as similar findings were reported by [13,14].
Environmental indicators and cultural beliefs are not
always consistent, as they are part of each person’s
knowledge and experience and they tend to differ even
within a village [12 ].
Some respondents, particularly elderly and religious
fathers (priests), insisted to accept most of the environ-
mental and cultural signs and signals as indicators for
early warning system. The argument is that the knowl-
edge of knowing future weather and climate condition is
only given to God and anybody who makes an attempt to
predict it is a magic. Their influence on others to tell
what they fully know for weather prediction and forecast
was significant. This in turn will have an impact on ad-
justing tradition al practices to adapt to the ev er changing
climate. As such social milieu has power to prevent new
ideas for change [15] there has to be an effort to influ-
ence the attitude and perception of such people for bet-
terment of the society without ignoring the important
positive role of existing social settings.
3.4. Existing Climate Change Coping and
Adaptation Strategies
The farming industry has a long history of showing it-
self capable of responding to changing influences and of
implementing adaptations and innovations as circum-
stances change. Research findings showed that there are a
number of actions that individual farmer can implement,
some of which are specific to particular enterprisees or
land types and others have a more general application
[2,16,17]. Farmers manage risks, including those related
to climate, regularly as part of their everyday lives. To
make sound decisions that minimize climate risks, such
as adjusting time of p lanting to coin cide with the on set of
rains, and exploiting climate opportunities, farmers should
access climate early warning information.
3.4.1. Coping Strategies
Farmers employ various coping strategies against cli-
mate risks. In the FDG, the coping strategies to protect
against climate related hazards were discussed which
include: food for work scheme, credit, petty businesses
(such as firewood and charcoal selling), reduction of
daily meal in amount and frequency to eat and migration.
Similar coping strategies were reported from various
studies conducted in different parts of the country [2, 18].
There are common as well as different coping mecha-
nisms for male and female respondents. Male respon-
dents rated credit and migration as effective coping
strategies while fem a l e respondent s preferred petty work
and daily meal reduction. However, female respondents
argued that credit, food for work and migration are not
the right type of coping strategies even though they are
preference of male respondents. The difference in pref-
erence of the strategies by the two categories of respon-
dents indicates variation in level of satisfaction (Figure 4)
even though both use the strategy to escape the hazard.
D. K. Mengistu / Agricultural Sciences 2 (2011) 138-14 5
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Table 2. Local techniques for Seasonal forecasting of rainfall occurrence and distribution in Adiha.
Signs and
signals Detailed description of the indicator Time of year when indica-
tor is observed Use of the indicator Reliability (high,
medium or low
Sky color Reddish color of sky from the west
direction indicates shortage of rainfal l
during the main crop growth period during off season Determines the period of rainfall
onset and its distribution during
cropping season Medium
Clouds appearance of cloud on the sky indi-
cate probability of rainfall If appears from February
to March Good rainfall during the main
growing period High
Wind direction Warm wind from west to east direc-
tion near preparation of agri-
cultural lands Less or no rainfall and the sea-
son is dry Medium
behavior Mating period of goats and special
peach of bee colonies sound varies based on the animalsIt indicates as go od rainy season
is coming and predict to have
good cropping seaso n Medium
Plants Early flowering of some plants In the middle of growth
period It indicates as rainfall is going to
cessation early High
The level of satisfaction varies for different coping
strategies. Male respondents are 100% satisfied with
credit as a coping strategy while female respondents get
full satisfaction from daily meal intake reducetion. Level
of satisfaction gained (50%) from labor and livestock
selling is equal for both male and female respondents.
3.4.2. Adaptation Strategies
Adaptation is improved society’s ability to cope with
changes in climatic conditions across time scales, from
short term (e.g. seasonal to annual) to the long term (e.g.
decades to centuries) [2]. The IPCC [19] defines adap-
tive capacity as the ability of a system to adjust to cli-
mate change (including climate variab ility and extremes),
to moderate potential damages, to take advantage of op-
portunities, or to cope with the consequences. The goal
of an adaptation measure is to increase the capacity of a
system to survive external shocks or change. The as-
sessment of farm-level adaptation strategies is important
to provide information that can be used to formulate
policies that enhance adaptation as a tool for managing a
variety of risks associated with climate change in agri-
culture. The FGD identified use of irrigation, planting
early maturing and drought resistant crop varieties and
soil and water conservation practices as the most impor-
tant strategies used by the commun ities of the study area.
Respondents, almost in all FGD, implied that changing
of planting date and crop diversification are not com-
monly used in the area despite the effectiveness of the
strategies in drought prone areas [2,20].
The rainfall of Adiha is getting more erratic both in
distribution and amount. Combined with rising tempera-
ture, it is increasing the vulnerability of the community
to climate hazards particularly drought. Change of cli-
mate with expected long-term changes in rainfall pat-
terns and shifting temperature zones are expected to
have significant negativ e effects on agricultu re, food and
water security and economic growth of the country [2,
21,22]. It was indicated that the intense and frequent
drought that occurring has been negatively affecting
agricultural production and food security of the commu-
nity. Similar case was reported by reference [23]. This
increase the vulnerability of individuals to climate re-
lated risks though the degree of vulnerability v aries from
individual to individual.
The difference in the vulnerability of farmers to cli-
mate related hazards is explained by the degree to which
an individual in a community is affected by extreme
weather conditions and associated climatic variations [8].
The degree of sensitivity of the community as a whole or
part of the community depends on household wealth,
access to and use of resources/technology, ages, gender
and literacy rates. Farmers willing and capability to use
different cultural and environmental signs and signals
for weather prediction and forecast also determines their
level of vulnerability to climate related hazards. Weather
predication and forecast enables to devise appropriate
coping and or adaptation mechanisms. The differential
preference to coping strategies by male and female re-
spondents indicates the importance of designing differ-
ent approaches for male and female headed households
in drought management and risk mitigation plan [2,24,
25]. Improving community’s ability to cope with cli-
matic conditions across time and space needs use of
adaptive measures at different levels.
These adaptive measures adopted or developed based
on the type and nature related risks. Changes in man-
agement activities, institutional settings and infrastruc-
ture that are enable effective response to the changes in
climate that may occur. There is a need to apply options
for diversified production systems and diversified live-
lihood options that can help vu lnerable people cope with
climate variability, more extreme events, increasing
variability of precipitation, and the associated socioeco-
nomic implications of these changes [26,27]. Therefore,
D. K. Mengistu / Agricultural Sciences 2 (2011) 138-14 5
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innovative approaches that influence and improve the
traditional practices such as inflexible sowing time and
developing various adaptation strategies that enable the
farmers survive extreme climatic events are important
area of intervention. So far such skills and approaches
are lacking in most developing countries particularly
Africa [28,29]. Furthermore, climate information which
feed into decision making is not suitable [28] for most
resource poor farmers as they developed for developed
The farming community of Adiha noticed that their
area is getting warmer and drier due to increased fre-
quency of drought and changes in the timing of rains.
Observed trends of temperature and precipitation support
this perception. Hail storm, flooding, frequent droughts
and changing precipitation patterns are among the major
hazards related to climate change. Elderly, disabled,
poor and landless farmers were classified as the most
vulnerable to climate change. Female headed households
are also more vulnerable than male headed ones. Level
of vulnerability related to risk mitigation options the
farmers use to cope or adapt to the hazard.
Farmers identified credit, food for work, labor and
petty works, selling of livestock and reduction of daily
meal intake as coping mechanisms to hazards particu-
larly drought. They also practice some adaptation strate-
gies even though only few crop types such as teff (Er-
agrostis tef), maize (Zea mays) and millets are grown in
the area. This limits the chance of diversification despite
the fact that diversification is among the basic adaptation
options. Moreover, the cropping calendar is not flexible
even though it ensures escaping of sensitive develop-
ment stage of the crop of very harsh climatic conditions
such as late season drought. The implication is that
farmers need to adjust their management practices to
ensure that they make efficient use of the limited rainfall
for better fo o d p r oduction.
Availability of climate information is a prerequisite
for mitigating the adverse effect of climate variability,
and capitalizing on beneficial effect, especially in Ethio-
pia where the livelihood and even lives of its people de-
pend on natural climate. Hence, improving access to
climate information is an imp ortant first step to improve
the livelihood of people in such variable conditions.
Complementary efforts must be made to ensure that the
farmers understand the information and can modify their
agricultural activities. Some part of the community, par-
ticularly, elderly and religious leaders, perception about
traditional climate prediction and forecasts appears
overly pessimistic. Therefore, efforts must be made to
ensure that they understand the use of climate prediction
and forecast as it will have significant impact on deci-
sion making of the community.
Addressing these issues to improve farmers’ knowl-
edge and perception on climate change, climate predic-
tion and forecast and access them with wider choices
adaptation options can significantly help them tailor
their management practices to warmer and drier condi-
tions. It would have a significant potential to increase
and sustain their productivity even under changing cli-
matic conditions. Examples of such policy measures
include developing drought resistant crop varieties, im-
proving the forecasting and dissemination of climate
information, and promoting farm-level adaptation meas-
ures such as the use of irrigation technologies and ad-
justing planting dates. Such policies should treat the
most vulnerable groups in a special way.
The author would like to thank Oxfam America for initiating and fi-
nancing the study on Vulnerability and Capacity Assessment (VCA) in
Adiha, which has been a valuable learning experience for all of us. I
am grateful to the farmers of Adiha for tolerating endless questions and
shared their indigenous knowledge.
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