We conducted focus groups in each of our three study regions in March 2019 to inform revisions planned for the 2019 field campaign. We completed 9 meetings with households in Ariquemes, Cacaulândia, Rolim de Moura and Ouro Preto do Oeste. Our main intent was to learn about the extent to which households have experienced changes in blue and green water and how households invest to reduce vulnerability to these changes.
Using Gladwin’s (1989) method of ethnographic decision tree modeling (EDTM) as a guide, we ordered our proposed activities as follows:
1) present a seasonal calendar of key events, processes, and activities performed by farmers during a year, including key processes related to blue and green water and social interactions;
2) present a timeline of the previous 5 years (extendable to 10 years) to identify any remarkable events or changes in the activities;
3) list key decisions that farmers need to make both on a regular basis and in response to unexpected events; and
4) rank regular (scheduled) decisions and the event-driven problems/responses by order of importance and influence on the farm livelihood.
We learned that farmers recognize the importance of water for rural production and reported changes in blue and green water availability. For example, in recent years they have noticed changes in precipitation patterns, reductions in river volume and changes in soil moisture. In general, to adapt to these changes they change the time of planting, invest in planting clonal varieties (cacao and coffee), intensify aeration in fish tanks, let the forest grow around rivers, and irrigate and build tanks and wells to ensure availability of water for livestock during the dry season. However, the main problem faced is the lack of pasture for cattle. Larger or more technically advanced producers are irrigating pasture, providing silage feed to cattle, renting pasture, investing in more productive grass varieties, and managing livestock by rotating pasture. These larger producers also seem to have a better plan for the year (ie, they plan when calves are born, when they should go to confinement and slaughter), which maximizes production during the dry season. Farmers are starting to use drip irrigation with rural credit access. Small farmers, who often do not irrigate the pasture, release cattle for extensive pasture and sell off the weaker calves and older cows when the dry season arrives and stocking density is not sustainable. Many have reported that it is common to see cattle die due to lack of grazing during the dry season. Some of them are found dead in the tanks because they are looking for food and are too weak from hunger to escape once bogged down while others die because the pasture is dry and overcrowded.
This information allowed us to identify the structure of decision making around farm production systems and responses to water stress. We used this knowledge to revise our survey and define the structure, parameters, and attribute ordering for the discrete choice experiments (DCE) to be included in the survey in order to elicit hypothetical behavioral responses to changes in water availability. The focus groups also provided insight on which unobserved preference parameters vary the most across farm households and therefore are likely to be most influential in the agent-based model and therefore should be included in the household survey.
The research team had the support of several local institutions to hold the meetings and would like to thank:
Ariquemes/Cacaulândia: Associação das Mulheres, EMATER, Secretaria Municipal de Meio Ambiente.
Ouro Preto do Oeste: ASPRUMOP, EMATER, IDARON, Sindicato Rural dos Trabalhadores Rurais de Ouro Preto do Oeste, SENAR.
Rolim de Moura: Associação APROSUL, Conselho Municipal de Desenvolvimento Rural Sustentável, EMATER e CEPLAC.