Linking development to climate adaptation: Leveraging generic and specific capacities to reduce vulnerability to drought in NE Brazil

Maria Carmen Lemos, Yun Jia Lo, Donald R. Nelson, Hallie Eakin, Ana Maria Bedran-Martins

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

98 Scopus citations


To respond to climate impact, poor agricultural households in less developed regions rely on different types of assets that define their overall adaptive capacity (AC). However not all assets build capacity equally. In this study we argue that building AC requires a combination of interventions that address not only climate-related risks (specific capacity) but also the structural deficits (e.g., lack of income, education, health, political power) (generic capacity) that shape vulnerability. Focusing on rainfed agriculture in NE Brazil, we investigate how households leverage and combine generic and specific capacities to reduce vulnerability. Particularly we explore: 1) the relative importance of different kinds of capacity in shaping vulnerability on these households and 2) how the level of generic capacities (particularly as a result of Brazil's anti-poverty program Bolsa Família) influences the adoption of specific ones. We find that both kinds of capacity matter, as relatively higher levels of generic capacity (in terms of income in general, and climate-neutral income specifically) are associated with higher levels of specific capacity (irrigation). In addition we find that while Bolsa Família has been positive in increasing income, it has not been sufficient to manage the risk of food insecurity during drought events, suggesting a 'poverty trap' in which families are constantly coping with drought but failing to overcome the conditions that make them vulnerable. Our findings indicate that in order to decrease climate vulnerability of poor agricultural households, development interventions, such as anti-poverty programs, have to go beyond cash transfer and should incorporate risk management policies that enhance synergies between generic and specific capacities.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)170-179
Number of pages10
JournalGlobal Environmental Change
StatePublished - Jul 1 2016


  • Adaptive capacity
  • Drought
  • Livelihoods
  • Poverty

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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