The contribution of Theme 1 is an improved understanding of the vulnerability of rural populations and agricultural producers to past and present climate conditions, especially climate variability and extreme events. Assessments of community vulnerability, adaptive practices and governance/policy will produce indicators and observations of sensitivity and adaptive capacity that will enable the integrated assessment of risk in Theme 3.

Theme 1A - Community Vulnerability
(Diaz and Montaña)

Vulnerability assessments of rural communities, households and groups, such as irrigation or water supply associations, will provide knowledge of sources of climate risk and related non-climate stressors, the sensitivities and adaptive capacities of various community members, and relevant institutional conditions such as local governments’ policies and programs that reduce or increase vulnerability. Recent research by members of the proposed network (Diaz et al., 2009; Montaña, 2008, 2009; Santibañez, 2008; Santos et al., 2009) and other scholars (Olesen 2010; Kronik and Verner, 2010; Schipper and Burton, 2009; Adger et al., 2009) has shown that (a) households/rural producers within a community are vulnerable in different. ways to the same conditions due to differential access to resources; (b) the dominant climate hazards are extreme events and departures from expected conditions; (c) vulnerabilities to climate are always linked to other external conditions (economic crises, for example); and (d) external institutions (such as governance systems) have a relevant impact on the sensitivity and adaptive capacity of rural people. Thus vulnerabilities to climate- and water-related conditions should be understood in terms of their complexity and variation among households and communities. This requires a “bottom-up” approach, where the base “observation unit” is the actor or stakeholder (be it a farmer or an organization such as a watershed stewardship group). This approach assesses vulnerability according to how actors perceive their exposures, sensitivities, and adaptive capacity in the context of other stressors and changes (for example, drought can exaggerate vulnerability to falling international market prices). Thus, climate is part of a group of stimuli that defines the vulnerability of actors.

Theme 1B - Adaptive Practices
(McMartin and Da Silva)

An important outcome of the proposed research program is a comparative assessment of adaptive practices and adaptation options for managing the impacts of climate extremes in the selected rural communities. The specific focus of the Adaptive Practices research theme is land and water management practices identified in the community vulnerability assessments. In collaboration with local partner organizations (e.g., watershed advisory committees, producer cooperatives and irrigation organizations), we will assess a) beneficial and integrated land and water management practices; and b) approaches to risk assessment for local agricultural and water institutions and rural communities, as they relate to climate variability and extreme events and associated impacts on natural capital (Ferreira and Silva, 2007; Santibáñez and Santibáñez, 2008). Good water and land use practices help producers and communities meet environmental and economic goals by minimizing risks and impacts, including maintaining the quality of natural capital, valuing ecological goods and services, and ensuring rural economic and agroenvironmental sustainability. However, not all practices have been developed taking climate into consideration, so different practices may have distinct levels of resiliency to extreme climate events. An evaluation of the resiliency of land management practices will be very much assisted by our partner Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. With their collaboration, we will apply their LIRA (Land and Infrastructure Resiliency Assessment; Vemax Management, 2010) process, initially in Canada and then to one or more of the basins in South America.

Theme 1C - Governance and Policy
(Hurlbert and Reyes)

Theme 1C seeks to evaluate a fundamental determinant of adaptive capacity: the institutional context of governance (Adger et al., 2009; Willems and Baumert, 2003; O’Riordan and Jager, 1996). Building on institutional profiles, and data collected in the in-depth interviews and focus groups of the CVA, Theme 1C will document and analyze the influence of governance institutions (as defined by Young, 2008) and policies on the vulnerability of rural people and their capacity to mediate risk and optimize opportunity. The primary data collection instrument will be semi-structured interviews and focus groups with institutional representatives of government agencies (i.e., managers and policy makers), non-governmental organizations (NGOs), and community groups, such as irrigation associations and watershed advisory committees. The governance and policy assessment will focus on salient features identified in the literature on the role of institutions in sustainable development and climate change adaptation, including the dimensions of mandate, awareness, resources and flexibility within the institution to respond to climate change-related challenges (IPCC WGII, 2007; Keskitalo, 2009; Hurlbert et al., 2009a, 2009b). We also will focus on local community values and knowledge reflected in water and land use decisions (Rahaman, 2005; Brooks, 2002), with links to Theme 1B, Adaptive Practices. Theme 1C will provide significant insights about existing institutional adaptive capacity, and specifically the degree to which institutions have a) knowledge of present and future climate-related risks; b) available capital and human resources to address these challenges; c) the ability to adjust their strategies, balance the interests of different stakeholders, and coordinate activities with public and civil society organizations; and d) capacities for establishing a decision-making process able to recognize and evaluate the risks posed by climate change, its impacts, and appropriate adaptive responses (Venema and Drexhage, 2009; Goodin, 1996).