Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Environment and Society

Committee Chair(s)

Zhao Ma


Zhao Ma


E. Helen Berry


Joana Endter-Wada


Roger Kjelgren


Claudia Radel


Climate change poses problems for agriculture in the Global South. Smallholders in the Global South are often considered highly vulnerable to climate change as a result of their farms being located in marginal environments, their insecure land tenure and lack of technology, and their participation in unpredictable regional and world markets. Analyzing how smallholders perceive climate change and attendant risk, the factors that enable and constrain their adaptive capacity, and the social impacts of state led projects designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change may provide crucial insights for developing effective climate adaption projects and policies. This research examined smallholder perceptions of climate change and their ability to adapt to it in the Loess Plateau region of China. The study also investigated the outcomes of the introduction of a drip irrigation project designed to address water scarcity problems in Gansu, China, as well as smallholder farmer perceptions and knowledge of water saving irrigation technologies in general. Data were collected through interviews and a household survey of smallholders in the region. Smallholders were found to have low levels of perceived ability to adapt to climate change without government assistance. Further, it was found that smallholder perceptions of climate change are structured through their observations of and interactions with dynamic, networked socio-natural assemblages. The labor demands of drip irrigation technology are shown to contradict extant irrigation and livelihood practices and the social institutions that underlie them, both creating new vulnerabilities for farmers and causing system abandonment. The dissertation results suggest that adaptation interventions designed to mitigate the impacts of climate change on smallholders in the Loess Plateau region of China should be holistic and address the day-to-day problems and risks that smallholders face if the interventions are to successfully adapt smallholders to future climate change without causing unintended consequences.