4.1. Farmers’ Perceptions of and Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change
The results of this study on the perceptions and adaptation strategies of farmers in the Zou Department of Benin show that farmers are well aware of climate change, as more than 90% of farmers interviewed perceived a change in the climate. Several studies in Africa [5
] and around the world have already yielded similar results. The main changes observed are: rainfall disturbances (rainfall delays, early cessation, bad rainfall distribution etc.), shortening of the small dry season, increasing temperature, sometimes violent winds and other extreme events such as floods. The same perceptions have been reported from several studies in Benin [6
], Niger [15
], Nigeria [12
] and Kenya [16
The shortening of the small rainy season has a real impact on cropping systems in the study area. Indeed, this short dry season allows farmers to dry harvests from the great rainy season. However, this shortening of the small dry season poses a real problem for conservation of cereals and leguminous plants from the great rainy season. This phenomenon has led farmers to rethink their cropping systems (choice of crops, choice of varieties according to the length of their cycle, crop management, etc.). A similar situation in Tanzania and Senegal has been reported [27
The majority of farmers who have perceived (90.8% of respondents) climate change have developed an adaptation strategy (85% of respondents). This is contrary to the findings of Fosu-Mensah [21
] who showed that only a few farmers have developed adaptation strategies. Two hypotheses could explain this difference. First, this difference could be due to the socioeconomic characteristics of the respondents. The more experienced or literate farmers are, the better they adopt climate change adaptation strategies. Unfortunately, Fosu-Mensah [21
] did not present the socioeconomic characteristics of his respondents in his article so that we can analyze the differences.
The second hypothesis that seems to be most likely is that there is now enough communication and training on climate change adaptation strategies, so farmers have begun to adopt these strategies. Indeed, Fosu published his article in 2010. The data have evolved a lot since then.
Comparing the results of this study with those already carried out in Benin, the same trend emerges but with a clear improvement. In fact, more producers are adopting strategies for adapting to climate change today.
The main adaptation strategies of farmers identified include “Crop–livestock diversification,” “Use of improved varieties, chemical fertilizers and pesticides,” “Agroforestry and perennial plantation (oil palm, orchard, tree species)” and “Diversification of income-generating activities.” Similar findings were reported by several authors [15
]. The various strategies adopted by farmers showed that they are seeking to strengthen their farming systems through agrobiodiversity. Whatever the choice, the farmers aim to ensure a minimum harvest for their own food security. This is why maize (most consumed cereal) appears in all mixed cropping in the area. In fact, the yields of the crops grown in association are often less affected by climatic accidents [27
The results of factors influencing the choice of a specific adaptation strategy suggest that farming experience, educational level, gender and farm size are the most significant factors affecting the adaptation choice of farmers. Farming experience facilitates the identification and implementation of any adaptation strategy. This finding is in line with previous work [6
]. The educational level has significantly influenced the choice of all adaptation strategies. This confirmed the results of Assoumana [15
] and Tazeze [22
]. According to Kumari [30
], educated and experienced farmers are expected to have more knowledge and information about climate change and the agronomic practices that they can use in response. Farm size determines the decision to combine multiple strategies to cope with climate change. This is confirmed by Sani & Chalchisa [29
] who reported that large-scale farmers are more likely to adapt to climate change because they have more capital and resources.
4.2. Implications of Farmers’ Choices
Farmers’ choices on adoption of given adaptation strategies could have two purposes; either for expected profit or avoiding risk [16
]. All strategies developed by farmers to adapt to climate change fit into these two purposes. In this section, we analyzed the agroecological implications and the sustainability of the strategies developed.
The mainstream strategy to cope with climate change is the use of improved variety, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. However, important studies have revealed the negative impacts of chemical fertilizers and pesticides (especially the over use) on the environment [30
]. Given the increase in agricultural pests and diseases, some farmers have no choice but must adapt in learning more sustainable farming practices, like organic farming or integrated pest management, because long-term effects of high-input agriculture are contamination of soils and water, water scarcity and losses in biodiversity. According to Kumari [30
], they all have direct negative consequences on animal and human health.
Crop diversification is the practice of cultivating more than one variety of crop belonging to the same or different species in a given area in the form of rotations and or intercropping. Farmers can face growing stress from climate change by implementing a diversified agricultural system which may be a productive way to build resilience into agricultural systems [31
]. Crop diversification is perceived as one of the most ecologically feasible, cost effective and rational ways of reducing uncertainties in agriculture especially among smallholder farmers [32
]. The results of this study show that many farmers use this method to adapt to climate change. Crop diversification improves soil fertility, controls for pests and diseases and brings about yield stability, nutrition diversity and health [31
]. It can also serve as a superior substitute for the use of chemicals to maintain soil fertility and control pests. Certain crops in a rotation system, especially pigeon pea and mucuna, are reputed to control weeds and improve soil fertility [33
]. Diversified cropping systems, in general, tend to be more agronomically stable and resilient [31
]. In addition, several studies have shown that crop diversification, especially in food crops, has positive effects on children’s nutrition [34
Another major strategy is agroforestry and perennial plantation. Many studies have shown that agroforestry may offer many economic and environmental benefits [36
]. According to Zoysa [39
], agroforestry has an important role in climate change adaptation by enhancing resilience to climate impacts on farming systems. Torquebiau [40
] reported that agroforestry has a double potential to address climate change issues: greenhouse gas mitigation strategy through carbon sequestration and sustainable adjustment to changing conditions (because agroforestry systems can be called perennial farming systems). More than an adaptation strategy, agroforestry is a mitigation strategy. Agroforestry is a landscape-scale approach, thus favors synergy between adaptation and mitigation [40
]. Apart from its socioeconomic benefits [38
], agroforestry, through its effects on soil conservation, protection of biodiversity, carbon sequestration [40
] is the most sustainable strategy.
4.4. Influence of Agricultural Policies
The evidence that climate change will adversely affect agriculture in Benin has become a crucial challenge for sustainable development in the country. This challenge is composed of the likely impacts on ecosystem services, agricultural production and livelihoods. Generally, losses in the agriculture sector due to climate change has economy wide consequences, like loss in gross domestic output, a decline in the income/consumption of the most vulnerable population; hence, a general deterioration in household welfare [42
]. To dampen the adverse consequences of climate change, Benin agricultural policies, like in Western Africa, have focused on agricultural intensification through the use of technological packages (improved varieties, diffusion of chemical fertilizers and pesticides, etc.). In Benin, only the cotton sector has benefited from subsidies (fertilizers and pesticides) from the state until the decline in its production in the 2000s. Thus, in order for farmers to benefit from the subsidized input, they were obliged to grow cotton. This put farmers in a precarious situation.
However, after the decline of the Benin cotton sector, agricultural diversification has become a policy priority. Therefore, several projects and programs have been implemented for that purpose. Besides this new agricultural diversification policy, improving productivity remains a priority for the state. To improve farm productivity, extension services provide farmers with information on the use of certified improved seeds, chemical fertilizers and pesticides. The overall cost of implementing such advice in the case of maize, for example, is so high that a poor harvest would be catastrophic for a farmer and his family.
However, for a farming family, the goal is not necessarily to have the best yields but rather to generate sufficient income that will support the family needs [27
In the interviews conducted for our research, some farmers were clearly seeking a certain balance between extension service advice and their know-how. Others were downright reluctant to adopt technology packages.
On the other hand, many of the health impacts of food systems trace back to specific industrial food and farming practices, e.g. intensive livestock production and chemical-intensive agriculture [43
]. In this context, diversified, agroecological systems refer to a model based on diversifying farms and farming landscapes, replacing chemical inputs with organic matter, optimizing biodiversity and stimulating interactions between different species, as part of holistic strategies to build long-term fertility, healthy agroecosystems and secure livelihoods [43
]. This approach has major advantages and can provide strong and stable yields, health-promoting food and farming systems, environmental resilience and secure farming livelihoods, thereby succeeding where current food systems are failing [43
Indeed, agriculture has to simultaneously address three intertwined challenges: ensuring food security through increased productivity and income, adapting to climate change and contributing to climate change mitigation. To address these challenges, food systems have to become, at the same time, more efficient and resilient, at every scale from the farm to the global level [44
]. It is precisely to articulate these changes that the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) has forged the concept of climate-smart agriculture (CSA). CSA is “agriculture that sustainably increases productivity, enhances resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gas (GHG)s (mitigation) where possible and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals” [44
]. In Benin, agricultural sectors must become climate-smart to successfully tackle current food security and climate change challenges. CSA contributes to food security, by addressing different aspects of current and projected climate change impacts through adaptation and mitigation actions. While agriculture contributes significantly to climate change, it also provides opportunities for adapting to and mitigating, climate change effects [44
]. In addition, the FAO is conducting several actions for agroecology around the world and in sub-Saharan Africa in particular. As a set of practices, agroecology seeks sustainable farming systems that optimize and stabilize yields. It is an approach that will help address the challenge of ending hunger and malnutrition in all its forms in the context of climate change adaptation.
It is in this context that the FAO organized the first international symposium on agroecology in 2014 and five regional symposiums that took place between 2015 and 2016; and provided a space for discussion and the opportunity to share experiences, build a consistent database of agroecological initiatives. To bring agroecology on a larger scale, in April 2018 the FAO will host the second FAO International Symposium on Agroecology: Agroecology for Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs)—scaling up.