This paper analyzes the responses enacted by families of the Central Plateau in Burkina Faso during the year that followed a severe drought in 1997. We illustrate the agro-ecological and socio-economic contexts that shape livelihood options and constraints in an area characterized by high levels of climatic risk and low natural resource endowment. A description of farmers’ perceptions and official accounts identifies key criteria whereby farmers formulate evaluations and predictions of a season. We document how food procurement and management practices are shaped by household resource access profiles and livelihood portfolios. Livelihood diversification, encompassing migration, non-farm work and social support networks, in addition to livestock production, is shown to be a critical dimension of adaptation. Livelihood and production adjustments entail costs and risks for most, but also gains for those who have the resources needed to take advantage of distress sales and high prices of agricultural commodities. Household livelihood and risk management increasingly hinge on efforts by household members who traditionally have had marginal access to resources, especially women. The research points to the need for closer integration of drought preparedness efforts, farmers’ understanding of climate-crop interactions and interventions that bolster the capacity of resource-limited households to respond. Affordable grain, locally adapted seed varieties, labor saving technology and flexible credit are among the most needed inputs.
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