Agriculture is the most important sector in Sub-Saharan Africa, but it is predicted to be negatively impacted by climate change (Deressa 2006; Moussa et al. 2006; Jain 2006). It is clear that climate change will bring about substantial welfare losses especially for smallholders whose main source of livelihood derives from agriculture. Therefore, there is a need to neutralize the potential adverse effects of climate change if welfare losses to this vulnerable segment of the society are to be averted (Hassan et al. 2008; Molua et al.
2006; Mano et al. 2006). In Ethiopia, climate change features such as drought, flood and soil degradation are among the major factors responsible for the low agricultural productivity (Asrat and Simane 2017c; Yirga 2007). These coupled with heavy reliance on traditional farming techniques and poor complementary services (such as extension, credit, marketing, etc.) reduce the adaptive capacity or increase the vulnerability of smallholder farmers to climate change, which in turn affects the performance of the already weak agriculture (Asrat and Simane 2017d). Climate variability and change also poses a huge threat to smallholder farmers in the Dabus watershed (the study area) due to overwhelming reliance on climate-sensitive small-scale agriculture, which could also be worsened by prevailing social and economic challenges in the watershed (Asrat and Simane 2017d). Agricultural production is apparently affected by climate related shock in the area, which is usually manifested by the occurrence of pest and insect infestations as well as land degradation problems. In this regard, adaptation appears to be efficient and friendly way for farmers to reduce these negative impacts of climate change (Füssel et al.
2006). Following IPCC (2007), adaptation to climate change refers to the “adjustment in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or its effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. Adaptation can be implemented by smallholder farmers themselves (autonomous adaptation) or by governments policies aimed at promoting appropriate and effective adaptation measures (planned adaptation). However, in order to implement appropriate interventions, there is a need to understand location specific opportunities, challenges and the key drivers behind adaptation. Adaptation can also be effected at different scales: individual/farm-level, national level or international level. Although there is some autonomous adaptation at farm-level, it is usually inadequate and requires the intervention of different institutions (Simane et al. 2016 Semenza et al. 2008; Maddison 2007).
Moreover, adaptation at national or international level entails an understanding of the process of location specific autonomous adaptation at farm-level (Bryan et al. 2009). Studies (Deressa et al. 2009; Mideksa, 2009; Bryan et al.
2009) show that use of improved crop varieties, agroforestry practices, soil conservation practices, irrigation practices and adjusting planting dates are the most important adaptation strategies by smallholder farmers. However, adaptation decision is location specific and influenced by key drivers such as socio-economic, environmental and institutional factors. Based on Asrat and Simane (2017a); and Deressa et al. (2009) adaptation at farm-level involves two stages: perceiving a change in climate and deciding whether to adapt or not (including which adaptation strategy to use).
Nevertheless, perception is not a sufficient condition for adaptation since farmers who have perceived the change in climate may not adapt or the nature of their adaptation response may vary as a result of a complex interplay among social, economic, environmental and institutional factors (Maharjan et al. 2011b; Mertz et al. 2009; Maddison 2007). Thus, there is a need to understand location specific drivers of perception and adaptation to climate change among smallholder farmers. This helps to design appropriate policy responses based on the vulnerability and sensitivity level of each location as well as the accessibility of the adaptation methods (Asrat and Simane 2017d; Simane et al. 2016).
In this regard, there is a substantial deficit of location specific information on the process of autonomous adaptation in the developing world including Ethiopia (Asrat and Simane 2017a; McSweeney et al. 2010). There are few research undertakings (Deressa et al. 2011; Di Falco et al. 2011; Deressa et al. 2009), which focus mainly at a large scale (country level, region level and basin level) and overlooked location specific factors that drive perception and adaptation to climate change. The findings of these studies are highly aggregated and are of little help in addressing local peculiarities of perception and adaptation to climate change.
Understanding local perceptions and adaptive behavior provides better insights and information relevant to policy that helps to address the challenge of sustainable agricultural development in the face of variable and uncertain environments (Simane et al. 2016). This study, therefore, will respond to a paucity of empirical information regarding the indicated gaps of knowledge addressing threefold purpose: (i) investigate farmers’ perception and adaptation to climate change in the Dabus watershed (ii) investigates location specific social, economic, environmental and institutional factors that influence farmers’ perception and adaptive decision, and (iii) compares the wet dry lowland parts of the study area in terms of perception and adaptation to climate change.