Adapting to Climate Uncertainty in African Agriculture: Narratives and knowledge politics, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover

Adapting to Climate Uncertainty in African Agriculture

Narratives and knowledge politics, 1st Edition

By Stephen Whitfield


190 pages | 14 B/W Illus.

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pub: 2015-09-08
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Future climatic and agro-ecological changes in Africa are uncertain and associated with high degrees of spatial and temporal variability and this change is differently simulated within divergent climate-crop models and in controlled crop breeding stations. Furthermore, uncertainty emerges in local contexts, not just in response to climatic systems, but to social, economic, and political systems, and often with implications for the appropriateness and adoption of technologies or the success of alternative cropping systems.

This book examines the challenges of adaptation in smallholder farming in Africa, analysing the social, economic, political and climatic uncertainties that impact on agriculture in the region and the range of solutions proposed. Drawing on case studies of genetically modified crops, conservation agriculture, and other 'climate smart' solutions in eastern and southern Africa, the book identifies how uncertainties are framed 'from above' as well experienced 'from below', by farmers themselves. It provides a compelling insight into why ideas about adaptation emerge, from whom, and with what implications.

This book offers a unique perspective and will be highly relevant to students of climate change adaptation, food security and poverty alleviation, as well as policy-makers and field practitioners in international development and agronomy.


"No matter whether you agree with his framing of the issues or his conclusions, this book is essential reading for all working in the broad fields of agricultural research and development studies. Stephen Whitfield breaks new ground in a brave and timely ‘political agronomy’ analysis of the knowledge agenda relating to the impacts of climate variability and change on African smallholder agriculture. You will be challenged to rethink your own approaches and assumptions on issues central to future food production in Africa."Ken Giller, Professor of Plant Production Systems, Wageningen University, Netherlands

"There is a lot of abstract theorising around climate adaptation in the developing world; and competing claims are made about what knowledge or technology is most needed. Stephen Whitfield's Adapting to Climate Uncertainty in African Agriculture is a rich empirical study of what actually happens on the ground among small-scale Kenyan farmers. Woven together through following the thread of knowledge, his arresting account shows that uncertainty, ambiguity and ignorance are the currency of climate adaptation, as much for climate-crop modellers and biotech companies as for the farmers themselves. Whitfield shows that knowledge is only useful when its limitations are exposed."Mike Hulme, Professor of Climate and Culture, King's College London, UK

"Risk, uncertainty, ignorance, ambiguity –these are not simple words of speech but rather conditions of incomplete knowledge. In a lucid analysis of problem-solution storylines of climate impact, the author reveals assumptions that govern high level science and the everyday adaptation of farmers. The book begins with the analysis of the social context within which knowledge bases are framed and, through case studies, moves to unpack climate-crop science and the local knowledge of farmers. Recognising the gaps in both knowledge bases, this book calls for an integrated and participatory approach to climate change. Deeply thought-provoking, the book is an important guide for innovative thinkers in the design and implementation of climate smart agriculture in Africa."Hannington Odame, Executive Director, Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship; and Regional Coordinator, East African Hub, Future Agricultures Consortium, Nairobi, Kenya

Table of Contents

1. Narratives of Change in African Agriculture Part 1: Uncertainty from Above and Below 2. Constructing Uncertainty 'from Above': Knowledge and narratives of climate change adaptation 3. Constructing Uncertainty from Below: Continual adaptation in Kenyan smallholder farming Part 2: Technologies of Agricultural Change 4. Breeding for an Uncertain Future: The case of 'drought tolerant' and 'water efficient' maize for Africa 5. Ciritcal Perspectives on Conservation Agriculture in Zambia and Malawi 6. What is Climate 'Smartness'? A review of case studies of 'climate-smart agriculture' 7. Governing Adaptation in Africa's Agricultural Future

About the Author

Stephen Whitfield is Lecturer in Climate Change and Food Security at the University of Leeds, UK.

About the Series

Pathways to Sustainability

Pathways to Sustainability Series

This book series addresses core challenges around linking science and technology and environmental sustainability with poverty reduction and social justice. It is based on the work of the Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability (STEPS) Centre, a major investment of the UK Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC). The STEPS Centre brings together researchers at the Institute of Development Studies (IDS) and SPRU (Science and Technology Policy Research) at the University of Sussex with a set of partner institutions in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

Series Editors:

Ian Scoones and Andy Stirling - STEPS Centre at the University of Sussex

Editorial Advisory Board:

Steve Bass, Wiebe E. Bijker, Victor Galaz, Wenzel Geissler, Katherine Homewood, Sheila Jasanoff, Melissa Leach, Colin McInnes, Suman Sahai, Andrew Scott

Learn more…

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
BUSINESS & ECONOMICS / Development / Sustainable Development
POLITICAL SCIENCE / Public Policy / Environmental Policy