The dynamics of rural vulnerability to global change: The case of southern Africa

Robin M. Leichenko, Karen L. O'Brien

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

245 Scopus citations


Research on the agricultural impacts of global change frequently emphasizes the physical and socioeconomic impacts of climate change, yet global changes associated with the internationalization of economic activity may also have significant impacts on food systems. Together, climate change and globalization are exposing farmers to new and unfamiliar conditions. Although some farmers may be in a position to take advantage of these changes, many more are facing increased vulnerability, particularly in the developing world. This paper considers the dynamics of agricultural vulnerability to global change through the example of southern Africa. We demonstrate that the combination of global and national economic changes is altering the context under which southern African farmers cope with climate variability and adapt to long-term change. We find that farmers who formerly had difficulty adapting to climatic variability may become less vulnerable to drought-related food shortages as the result of trade liberalization. At the same time, however, removal of national credit and subsidies may constrain or limit adaptation strategies of other farmers, leaving them more vulnerable to climate variability and change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-18
Number of pages18
JournalMitigation and Adaptation Strategies for Global Change
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2002

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Ecology


  • Agriculture
  • Climatic change
  • Economic globalization
  • Vulnerability


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