Drought adaptation and development: small-scale irrigated agriculture in northeast Brazil

Lauren Herwehe, Christopher A. Scott

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

15 Scopus citations


Water scarcity has intensified in northeast Brazil over the past decade. The same period has brought economic growth, aggressive government-funded social support programmes, and technological advancements. These latter factors have led to widespread, successful, and largely unintended adaptation to increasing climatic stress. With specific focus on the experience of irrigated farmers in Pernambuco during the 2011–2013 drought, the worst in a half century, in this article, we examine how Brazil’s societal changes have led to the emergence of unique climate adaptation strategies. To put this into context, income diversification, particularly in the form of employment in clothing production, provides a stable back-up income for farmers amidst environmental uncertainty. Aggressive poverty alleviation programmes, foundational to the presidential administrations of Lula da Silva and Dilma Rousseff, have had the spillover benefit of decreasing climate vulnerability. Efficient irrigation technology, which farmers have adopted primarily in an effort to decrease erosion and labour needs, saves water and decreases drought vulnerability. In summary, we find that the study area serves as a global example that economic, political, and social developments not aimed at climate adaptation can inadvertently facilitate it and decrease drought vulnerability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)337-346
Number of pages10
JournalClimate and Development
Issue number4
StatePublished - May 19 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Development


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