Climate change poses significant challenges to Southeast Asia. The region is highly exposed to extreme weather events, and both warming and extreme events – high temperatures and heavy precipitation – are projected to increase in future decades. Agriculture, which accounts for more than 10% of GDP in most countries in the region, is highly sensitive to climate impacts, and persistent poverty in rural areas, low levels of education, spatial isolation, and neglect by policy-makers, can amplify those impacts. Vulnerability is particularly high in rural areas, which are home to more than three-quarters of the region’s poor people, many of them smallholders or subsistence farmers.

Building resilience in agrarian communities is thus a priority. Increasing agricultural productivity is central to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries’ efforts to lift rural areas out of poverty. Climate change could undermine those efforts, so effective adaptation is crucial. This review of adaptation readiness focuses on smallholders – defined here as farms of less than 2 hectares, using household labour.

Smallholders are central to Asian agriculture, and their situation can be precarious, their livelihoods and food supplies dependent on the timely availability of water and the absence of hazards that can lead to crop losses and livestock deaths. The review summarized here assessed the steps taken so far to reduce rural populations’ vulnerability, aiming to identify gaps and key concerns for future research and action, and, most important, help policy-makers to more effectively reduce vulnerability.

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