New paper featured in Ecology and Society explores adaptation strategies used by smallholder coffee farmers in mountainous regions in Ethiopia, Kenya, and Uganda.

This paper arose from research conducted as part of an  MRI Synthesis WorkshopTransformative Adaptation to Climate Change in African Mountains” where the researchers sought to respond to two key synthesis questions 1) Which climate change adaptation strategies are used in African mountain systems? And 2) Which barriers and enabling factors affect transformative adaptation to climatic changes in African mountain systems?

Due to the pandemic, the in-person workshop became a small research project to gather needed information from local farmers. In one year, thanks to the engagement of several local master’s students, field data was gathered from 1,500 respondents in 10 mountains in eight countries. The new paper, “Everyday adaptation practices by coffee farmers in three mountain regions in Africa”, is the first publication coming out of this research project. To the authors’ knowledge, this is also the first cross-country comparative study on the topic to have been carried out so far.

Authors argue that a better understanding of farmers’ adaptation practices and processes at different levels will formulate more targeted and appropriate climate-change adaptation policies (Adger and Vincent 2005) and create an enabling environment to support adaptation of smallholder subsistence farmers (Bryan et al. 2009).

"These three mountain regions are quite different, ecologically, and socially. But a pattern emerges: to facilitate adaptation to predicted changes in climate, local peoples’ realities must be understood, and adaptation must be adjusted to the opportunities and constraints in their everyday lives," said workshop organizer Aida Cuni-Sanchez of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences.  


Mountain environments in East Africa experience more rapid increases in temperature than lower elevations, which, together with changing rainfall patterns, often negatively affect coffee production. However, little is known about the adaptation strategies used by smallholder coffee farmers in Africa. Using the lens of everyday adaptation, semi-structured interviews were carried out with 450 smallholder farmers living near the Bale Mountains in Ethiopia (n = 150), Mount Kenya in Kenya (n = 150), and Kigezi Highlands in Uganda (n = 150). We report similarities in adaptation strategies used (e.g., increased use of improved seeds, inputs, soil-conservation techniques) but also differences across and within regions (e.g., irrigation, coffee-farming abandonment), related to different biophysical, economic, and sociocultural factors. In all regions, access to land, funds, and limited mutual-learning opportunities between farmers and other agents of change constrained further adaptation options. Local people have capacity and means to determine how best they can adapt to climate change, and government agencies and NGOs could implement more participatory engagement with smallholder coffee farmers, attuned to the opportunities and constraints in everyday life to facilitate adaptation to predicted changes in climate.

Paper Highlights

  • Numerous adaptation strategies were used in all three regions, related to farming, animal rearing, and livelihood diversification. There were similar strategies, rather than identical responses, across regions.
  • In all regions, farmers highlighted the gradual, experimental, and everyday nature of adaptation, regardless of if strategies had been externally or autonomously initiated. One study participant in Mount Kenya noted, “if you have the chance to try something new, you try it, but if you are not happy with the outcome, you stop that and maybe try something else next growing season.”
  • Differences were also observed among regions, because certain strategies were more widespread in some villages than in others (g., irrigation). Differences were also observed within regions, driven by local biophysical (e.g., village elevation), economic (e.g., market access), or sociocultural (e.g., exposure to a new strategy initiated by a top farmer) factors.
  • In all regions, land constraints and lack of funds (to invest in improved seeds, inputs, or technologies) were identified as two of three main constraints on adaptation during the focus group discussions. Other important constraints were access to technical skills (the Bale Mountains, Mount Kenya) and lack of access to markets (Kigezi Highlands).
  • In terms of opportunities, awareness of climate change impacts, interest in learning new skills, and a proactive mentality enable creative adaptation options in our three study regions.



Cuni-Sanchez, A., I. Twinomuhangi, A. Berta Aneseyee, B. Mwangi, L. Olaka, R. Bitariho, T. Soromessa, B. Castro, and N. Zafra-Calvo. 2022. Everyday adaptation practices by coffee farmers in three mountain regions in Africa. Ecology and Society 27(4):32.

Read the paper

Cover image: Example of a now widespread disease affecting a coffee plant, Mt Kenya, credit Ben Mwangi.

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