Maya subsistence farmer decision-making under climatic uncertainty in Belize, Central America

The Maya population in Belize, like millions of Central Americans, decides when to cut, burn, and plant their crops based on experience as to when seasonal rains will begin, and misjudgements can be catastrophic (Rodríguez et al., 2015). Maize, the staple crop of Maya farmers, is already grown near its temperature and moisture threshold, making it highly vulnerable to warm and drought episodes (Richardson, 2009). Climate change means more frequent drought, floods, and destructive storms and less predictable precipitation seasonality.

Although climate change is a threat to agricultural productivity around the world, little to no data exists on how smallholder farmers in the Central American region, confronted with abrupt climate change, make immediate and strategic decisions to mitigate potential food security stressors resulting from crop loss and economic depression (Richardson, 2009). Understanding and predicting how climate instability can and will affect rainfall dependent populations at the regional to local scale is critical for preparedness. This study provides the opportunity to record patterns of decision making in direct response to climate variability and extremes including moderate to strong phases of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) to inform models of resilience and response to climate events by small-scale farmers relying on rain-fed agriculture.

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