3.7M National Science Foundation Award: Climate, Drought, and Agricultural Adaptations: An Investigation of Vulnerabilities and Responses to Water Stress Among Paddy Farmers in Sri Lanka

Dr. Fraser and his colleagues receive an NSF award to study drought, farmer communities, and livelihoods in Sri Lanka. The project will be implemented 2012-2117, and builds on the work already being done during the past two years. For more information see http://www.nsf.gov/awardsearch/showAward.do?AwardNumber=1204685 or contact James Fraser at pavement@vanderbilt.edu.


Abstract: Water scarcity is a growing concern in the U.S. and throughout the world, affecting an estimated one third of the population on every continent. The problem is particularly urgent in developing countries heavily reliant on agriculture, which can account for as much as 85-90% of fresh water usage. Effective water resource management has significant implications for food security, health, and worldwide political stability. This is increasingly important in the face of a growing population, dramatic shifts in land use, and changing climatic conditions. Historically, the world?s farmers have relied on traditional practices to manage water, but now find themselves challenged by new conditions that require adaptation to these farming practices. Understanding the complex array of factors?psychological, social, environmental, and political?that facilitate and constrain effective adaptation requires an integrated research agenda that transcends traditional disciplinary boundaries. This research draws upon the core disciplines of psychology, sociology, hydrology, and engineering in order to investigate these issues among paddy farmers within the Mahaweli River Watershed, Sri Lanka?a largely agricultural region that is a microcosm of the sort of massive changes occurring throughout the world in environmental, institutional, and social systems. These changes include impacts of drought as well as an ongoing national resettlement plan to populate and develop regions of the watershed. The research team will use a multi-level, multi-method approach that incorporates longitudinal farmer surveys, regional level drought indices (coupled with short- and long-term drought forecast methods), key informant interviews, and archival analysis. The research team will investigate how farmers adapt to changing water availability and how these decisions are affected by psychological, social, institutional, and environmental factors. The team will examine water availability and rice yields in light of farmers? adaptive actions, changing rainfall and temperature patterns, land use changes, and water allocation decisions. These multiple streams of data will be integrated using agent-based modeling to generate a rich set of future scenarios to characterize how changes to social and institutional circumstances and in the natural environment may affect farmers' adaptive actions and their effectiveness in managing vulnerability to water scarcity.

This project will not only advance our theoretical knowledge within and across disciplines; it will provide much needed practical information about sustainable water resource management to farmers and decision makers in a developing country where water scarcities have major implications for food security. A recent report from the U.S. National Intelligence Agency looking forward to the year 2040 concludes: ?Water problems will hinder the ability of key countries to produce food and generate energy, posing a risk to global food markets and hobbling economic growth.? This research is directed towards averting the worst of such consequences by furthering the knowledge of farmers, local community leaders, national governmental leaders, and researchers about strategies to reduce water stresses and facilitate adaptation. Additionally, the team has incorporated a major educational aspect in the project to train the next generation of scholars in a thoroughly interdisciplinary framework. As such, they will be mentored not only in theory and methodology but also in how to communicate research to diverse audiences, including policymakers and some of the world?s most vulnerable populations.