Cognitive biases about climate variability in smallholder farming systems in Zambia

Kurt B. Waldman, Noemi Vergopolan, Shahzeen Z. Attari, Justin Sheffield, Lyndon D. Estes, Kelly K. Caylor, Tom P. Evans

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

28 Scopus citations


Given the varying manifestations of climate change over time and the influence of climate perceptions on adaptation, it is important to understand whether farmer perceptions match patterns of environmental change from observational data. We use a combination of social and environmental data to understand farmer perceptions related to rainy season onset. Household surveys were conducted with 1171 farmers across Zambia at the end of the 2015/16 growing season eliciting their perceptions of historic changes in rainy season onset and their heuristics about when rain onset occurs. We compare farmers' perceptions with satellite-gauge-derived rainfall data from the Climate Hazards Group Infrared Precipitation with Station dataset and hyper-resolution soil moisture estimates from the HydroBlocks land surface model. We find evidence of a cognitive bias, where farmers perceive the rains to be arriving later, although the physical data do not wholly support this. We also find that farmers' heuristics about rainy season onset influence maize planting dates, a key determinant of maize yield and food security in sub-Saharan Africa. Our findings suggest that policy makers should focus more on current climate variability than future climate change.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)369-383
Number of pages15
JournalWeather, Climate, and Society
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2019

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Social Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Cognitive biases about climate variability in smallholder farming systems in Zambia'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this