Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Food Systems

First Advisor

Meredith T. Niles


This dissertation investigates how social and natural elements of the Puerto Rican food system intertwine in the aftermath of category four Hurricane Maria, and relate to farmers’ adaptive capacity—access to assets and resources people have to navigate the changing climate. The research utilizes a mixed-methods survey that was conducted in 2018 in collaboration with the Extension Service of the University of Puerto Rico. The three article-based chapters use survey data from 405 farmer respondents to assess adaptive capacity through three different approaches that balance individual and structural dynamics in the context of disaster, where disruptions in livelihood activities reflect vulnerability to hazards.

Chapter 1 explores adaptive capacity by assessing how farmers’ climate change perceptions, in light of their experience with an extreme weather event, relate to the adoption of agricultural adaptation strategies. This chapter uses the theory of the psychological distance of climate change—how near or far people perceive climate change to be from themselves in different dimensions, and its relationship to behaviors. A structural equation model demonstrates that farmers generally believe in climate change, and recognize its impacts to be both “close” and “far”. Despite this, climate and adaptation perceptions are poorly linked to adoption of adaptation behaviors, indicating that climate change belief is not a driver of behavior change. Instead, in places facing constant climate shocks, other factors may be more important drivers of action.

Chapter 2 examines how both individual and societal structural attributes affect adaptive capacity. It assesses farmers’ actual and intended adoption of adaptation strategies, in light of the obstacles they faced towards recovery after the hurricane. This chapter’s analysis uses a concurrent mixed-methods approach. Results show that structural elements, such as governance, infrastructure, and social networks, in comparison to individual attributes such as perceptions, demographics and farm characteristics better explain adaptive capacity in the context of disaster. It also shows that adoption of new practices or systems can be catalyzed by disasters, but that these rely on broader structures of support to occur.

Chapter 3 expands its approach of adaptive capacity by exploring food security outcomes of farmer households after the hurricane. It incorporates both farmer survey data and biophysical data to examine how multiple social, political, agricultural, and biophysical factors affected both short-term and longer-term food security. Results demonstrate that 70% of farmers faced at least one month of food insecurity. Individual risk factors, coupled with disruptions in the built and natural environment, affect food security after an extreme weather event. Given that Puerto Rican farmers mostly farm for commercial purposes, strengthening their adaptive capacity is key to safeguard their livelihoods and local food security.



Number of Pages

223 p.