Precipitation variability and adaptation strategies in the southern yucatán peninsula, Mexico: Integrating local knowledge with quantitative analysis

Document Type

Book Chapter


Climatic variability, including droughts, has long affected the Mayan Lowlands. Therefore, farmers have developed coping strategies to mitigate these impacts. In the past, however, records of these effects and responses were largely anecdotal. In modern times, the perceptions of farmers, especially those practicing rain-fed agriculture, combined with the increased availability of accurate historical climatic records and forecasts, can provide useful information regarding periods of decreased precipitation and strategies employed to resist and respond to drought effects. As part of the multidisciplinary and inter-institutional project, New Knowledge about Ecosystem Level Response to Increased Frequency of Large-Scale Natural Disturbance Driven by Climate Change, this chapter outlines the spatial and temporal variability of precipitation across the Southern Yucatán Peninsula, Mexico, and examines Mayan farmers’ adaptations to droughts and other climate perturbations. The authors analyzed precipitation trends and anomalies from 1953 to 2007, using linear regressions and the quintile method to classify meteorological droughts. Authors also conducted 150 household interviews across 10 communities to investigate Mayan farmers’ adaptations to climate perturbations. Results demonstrate a significant decrease in annual and rainy season precipitation across much of the study area, coupled with an increased occurrence of droughts, especially since 1980. Interviewed subsistence maize farmers have adapted to decreasing and irregular precipitation by adjusting agricultural calendars, planting more maize varieties, increasing water storage, and diversifying their practices both within the agricultural system and beyond it. Through this research, the authors demonstrate the importance of incorporating farmers’ local and traditional knowledge into prevention and mitigation policies of governmental and non-governmental institutions in the region.

Publication Title

Climate Change Management

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adaptation, drought, Mexico, precipitation variability, trend analysis, Yucatán Peninsula