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Department ofEconomics


Towards Smallholder Food and Water Security: Climate Variability in the Context of Multiple Livelihood Hazards in Nicaragua

Christopher Bacon, William A. Sundstrom, Iris T. Stewart, Edwin Maurer, Lisa C. Kelley

World Development

Climate variability and change affect both food and water security, but so do other hazards, such as shifting food prices, plant pathogens, and political economic changes. Although household food and water insecurity affect billions, most studies analyze them separately. This article develops a relational approach to explaining household access to food and water in a multi-hazard context. We identify pathways linking hazards to livelihood vulnerability and assess the relative importance of climate- related hazards, analyzing longitudinal data collected from repeated surveys of the same 311 smallholder households in northern Nicaragua, conducted in 2014 and again in 2017. We find that peak seasons of food and water stress are asynchronous across the agricultural calendar, resulting in a total of five to six months of food or water stress. Across households, we find a significant relationship between water and food insecurity, even after adjusting for household fixed effects. Households experienced less food and water insecurity in 2017 than in 2014, due in part to the end of a severe drought in 2016, but remained concerned about damage from a severe coffee leaf rust outbreak and unfavorable agrifood prices that reduce income and threaten food security. Higher incomes and larger farm areas correlated with improved food and water security. We propose a generalizable approach for the joint assessment of household food and water security, which foregrounds the influence of seasonality and climate variability in the context of multiple hazards. This approach and our findings can contribute to developing integrated risk reduction strategies, building resilient livelihoods, and informing policy changes and partnerships with organized smallholders to improve resource access and sovereignty. 

LSB Research, ECON, William Sundstrom, Forthcoming,