Changes in water availability can be quantified by advanced technology as well as individual perception. People whose livelihoods directly depend on water resources, such as farmers, are likely to perceive changes in water availability and their environment. However, there is mixed scientific evidence regarding the accuracy of this evidence [1
]. Therefore, human perceptions of environmental changes are useful to supplement current environmental data methods and add a qualitative perspective regarding the effects of the changes [4
Perception of the environment describes how a person perceives the environment through the brain´s and their senses’ ability to process and store information. The perceptual process is highly complex, but broken down it consists of six steps: the presence of objects, observation, selection, organization, interpretation, and response [6
]. The selection, organization, and interpretation is personalized and driven by internal and external factors. For example, the motivation, personality, or experience of an individual plays a role in how they perceive their surroundings, but also a continued repetition of being exposed to an object or a situation can alter their personal perception. Observers are often very poor at reporting changes to their visual environment, but sensitivity to change does still occur in the absence of awareness and does not rely on the redeployment of attention. The more acute the change occurs, the more likely it will be perceived by the individual [6
Perception of the environment as a diagnostic tool was first declared by the UNESCO’s Man and the Biosphere program, stating that the study of perception of the environment is a fundamental tool for the management of places and landscapes [7
]. Other studies have shown that perceived changes in the environment are instrumental towards policy design and sustainable resource management, as they may detect socio-environmental issues and interlinkages which other methods neglect [8
]. Thus, an inconsistency between individual perception and scientific “measured” data can be utilized to critically review results and to guide interpretation and management methods [11
Individual perception is an especially effective diagnostic tool for the review of regional environmental deviances on a small scale as present scientific measuring techniques may be too imprecise for a detailed and in particular for an individual analysis [4
]. The effects of change in water availability can be highly succinct in terms of regional deviations and are subject to environmental as well as socio-economic conditions [3
]. Accordingly, an analysis of the link between distance to water sources, the resulting amount of time spent outdoor in the environment, and perceived related environmental change grants insight on why some perceive environmental change more strongly than others.
This research on individual perceptions of water availability and food security in two study areas, in rural semi-arid and in sub-humid Tanzania, investigates the discrepancies between perceived changes in the environment and location across to regions. The objective is to discriminate perceptions between the two study regions and explore the importance of agro-climatic location in terms of the effects of environmental change on the individual perception. Furthermore, it aims to detect differences in perceived changes in water availability and food security based on the time needed by an individual to reach a drinking water source. We hypothesized that both agro-climatic location and distance from water source would influence individual perception insofar that harsher environmental surroundings stimulate sensitivity to change within those surroundings. Furthermore, it was expected that if environmental changes are perceived, measures would be put in place to prevent or reduce expected risks, which in turn could increase long-term water availability and food security.
3.1. Region-Specific Perceptions
The results of the statistical analysis shows that perceptions of change related to climate (Table 1
) and environment (Table 2
) were significantly different between the two regions. While 97% of all farmers from both regions perceived climatic changes over the past 20 years, highly significant differences in perceptions became apparent for changes in temperature, forest, grazing lands, soil fertility, river water levels, food security and coping activities.
The perception of interviewees from Dodoma in regards to changes in temperature revealed that individuals felt less affected by potential changes than interviewees from Morogoro. Individuals from Dodoma more often expressed that they had not perceived any change in temperature as well as lower temperatures during the summer season. Interviewees from Morogoro reported to have suffered more heat days and extreme temperatures than those from Dodoma.
People from Dodoma perceived more severe negative changes in forests and were more likely to notice a negative change in pasture compared to interviewees from Morogoro. While a higher percentage of people from Morogoro found no changes in soil fertility in comparison to those of Dodoma, the survey concludes that populations from both case studies have largely suffered lower yields, suggesting a cause for the extensive negative effects on food security in both regions. In terms of food security, respondents from Dodoma indicated to have suffered negative impacts more frequently, which is in line with their perception of climatic and environmental changes.
Coping activities to approach the declining food security varied strongly between the two regions. While nearly one fifth of interviewees from Dodoma chose to undergo no adjustment in the face of environmental change, even twice as many refrained from doing so in Morogoro. Many interviewees from Dodoma chose to take up non-farm employment. In Morogoro, popular coping mechanisms included growing more crop varieties, taking up non-farm employment, and saving money. Hardly any interviewees coped by migrating to another village or region or by investing in irrigation to cope with the changing circumstances.
3.2. Perception Based on Distance to Water Source
Perceptions based on individual household distances to the closest water source did not show any significant differences between water source distance classes (short distances less than 30 min by foot, long distances between 30 and 240 min’ walk), except for soil fertility. Interviewees from longer distance households tended not to perceive changes in soil fertility compared to shorter distances. Though not significant, we found more rainfall in the early season and longer rainy seasons to be solely perceived by interviewees who only had to overcome short to medium distances to their next source of drinking water, while none of the interviewees with a journey longer than 30 min had noticed a positive change.
5. Conclusions and Recommendations
The results of this study show that environmental surroundings paired with socio-economic factors affect the perception of climatic and environmental changes by rural farmers. Even though perceptions of changes and their effects on water availability and food security were very high, farm level adaptation measures were not applied by a large percentage of interviewees. The type of applied coping mechanism was especially dependent on the respective region of the individual. The lack of utilized adaptation methods underlines the present margin between perception and action. Alerting individuals for early warning signs of adverse environmental changes may be part of the solution. In addition to external activities such as financial aid, social learning activities and policy action, individuals could profit from being informed of cost-effective, long-term adaptation measures that they can implement themselves and that respond best to the mentioned changes of the environment. While farmers with access to urban centers or institutional services are more likely to implement adaptation measures, especially remote locations most vulnerable to environmental changes should be supported with targeted outreach programs with clear targets that need to be regularly monitored.