This paper was commissioned by the World Bank Group’s Climate Change Cross-Cutting Solutions Area and is a background paper for the World Bank Group’s flagship report: “Shock Waves: Managing the Impacts of Climate Change on Poverty.” It is part of a larger effort by the World Bank to provide open access to its research and make a contribution to development policy discussions around the world.
How much do poor rural households rely on environmental extraction from natural ecosystems? And how does climate variability impact their livelihoods? This paper sheds light on these two questions with household income data from the Poverty and Environment Network pantropical data set, combined with climate data for the past three decades. The study finds that extraction of wild resources (from natural forests, bushlands, fallows, etc.) provides on average as much income (about 27 percent) as crops across the smallholder sample. The cross-section data on past reactions to household self-perceived economic shocks and observed production reactions to climate anomalies can, respectively, provide hints about livelihood vulnerability to current climate variability, which is likely to worsen with climate change. Forest extraction did not figure among the most favored response strategies to households selfperceived economic shocks, but households undertake subtle substitutions in sector production in response to weather anomalies that accentuate suboptimal climatic conditions for cropping. By relying more on forest extraction and wages, households compensate quite successfully for declining crop incomes. This paints a cautiously optimistic picture about fairly flexible rural livelihood reactions to current climate variability, and featuring forests as potentially important in household coping strategies.