UEP doctoral thesis: Decisions to Adapt to Climate Change Involve Trade-offs, Maladaptation and Transformations in Nordic Agri-food Systems

Our doctoral candidate Janina Käyhkö will defend her thesis publicly on Wed 25.11. Her research analysis the ongoing climate adaptation in Nordic Agri-food systems, considering both farmer and governance perspectives.

Constant changes in the complex socio-environmental context of food production Europe is expected to drive adjustment processes in the agricultural sector. Recent assessments suggest that in most parts of Europe adaptation measures in the agricultural sector will increase significantly in the coming years.

In her doctoral thesis, UEP member Janina Käyhkö deals with the human decision-making entailing uncertainty, risks and opportunities brought about by climate change and climate policies. The scope of the thesis is climate change adaptation in the context of Northern European agriculture, which is often considered as a beneficiary of climate change due to new opportunities related to longer growing season and more profitable crops. Agricultural production in the region is, however, also challenged with increase in disease, fungi and pests invasions, increased precipitation, extreme weather events and, in general, more variable weather conditions.

Research on agricultural adaptation focuses on climate risks to production and on the development of technical solutions, such as new plant varieties, production environments and cultivation measures. This development draws on understanding that farmers will implement the adaptation measures in order to secure their livelihoods and to sustain the productivity of agricultural soils and lands.

However, the perspective of farmers and other agri-food system practitioners is under-represented in research literature. Moreover, broader societal drivers and outcomes of adaptation are not much studied. Recent research stresses, that although adaptation is aimed at decreasing risks and vulnerability, the farm-scale adaptation measures may have unintended harmful impacts.

The limited research on the practitioner perspectives and outcomes of adaptation presents an important gap in knowledge that challenges governance of the already complex field of adaptation in agriculture and food production sectors.

In her thesis, Janina draws on agri-food system practitioner perceptions with foci on crop farmers and other professionals of the sector in Finland and Sweden. Thesis applies an interdisciplinary approach to 1) identify characterizing features of adaptation measures and their outcomes in agri-food systems and to 2) understand what constitutes adaptation decision-making at farm scale.

The key findings show that the idea of larger scale adaptation measures is recognized while rarely aimed for and that Nordic farmers are taking rather initial steps towards decreasing the perceived agri-food systems’ vulnerabilities. The fluctuating policies and markets are a higher priority for farmers to adapt to than the climate impacts. The findings show that the planned measures can have maladaptive outcomes for different actors and in further reaching temporal and spatial scales.

Climate change adaptation offers a chance to change practices towards the commonly shared sustainability goals. However, it involves risks that are currently not integrated in adaptation planning and management. Adaptation is a ‘wicked’ field of governance that calls for focused attention from researchers on adaptive and reflexive governance. Static and general top-down prescriptions do not fit to the complex reality of adaptation in agriculture that involve a heterogenous group of actors. This highlights a need to complement the current top-down state-led adaptation measures in agriculture with bottom-up measures by different agri-food system actors and social-scientific research.

MSc Janina Käyhkö will defend her thesis ‘Decisions to Adapt: Trade-offs, Maladaptation and Transformations in Nordic Agri-food Systems’ on November 25th at 9.15 am (UTC + 2) in hall 2041, Biocenter 2, Viikki Campus. The defense is live streamed.

Associate Professor Lauren Rickards, Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology, Australia serves as the opponent, and Professor Sirkku Juhola as the custos.

Electronic version of the thesis: http://urn.fi/URN:ISBN:978-951-51-6818-4.

Link to the live stream: