Sustainable small-scale agriculture in semi-arid environments

Katherine A. Spielmann, Margaret Nelson, Scott Ingram, Matthew Peeples

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


For at least the past 8000 years, small-scale farmers in semi-arid environments have had to mitigate shortfalls in crop production due to variation in precipitation and stream flow. To reduce their vulnerability to a shortfall in their food supply, small-scale farmers developed short-term strategies, including storage and community-scale sharing, to mitigate inter-annual variation in crop production, and long-term strategies, such as migration, to mitigate the effects of sustained droughts. We use the archaeological and paleoclimatic records from A.D. 900-1600 in two regions of the American Southwest to explore the nature of variation in the availability of water for crops, and the strategies that enhanced the resilience of prehistoric agricultural production to climatic variation. Drawing on information concerning contemporary small-scale farming in semi-arid environments, we then suggest that the risk coping and mitigation strategies that have endured for millennia are relevant to enhancing the resilience of contemporary farmers' livelihoods to environmental and economic perturbations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2011


  • Adaptive strategy
  • Archaeology
  • Climate
  • Risk
  • Semi-arid environments
  • Small-scale farming
  • U.S. southwest

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Ecology


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