Date of Award


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Food Systems

First Advisor

Meredith T. Niles


Smallholder food systems in sub-Saharan Africa and other tropical regions are at the crux of the “triple threat” of the Anthropocene: climate change, biodiversity loss and food insecurity. At the same time, they are considered pivotal to the global food system transformation needed to address these challenges. However, while there have been many proposed pathways to achieve desired outcomes, smallholders are often constrained in their ability to adapt and transform. Therefore, in this three-article dissertation, I use mixed methods to study traditional food security coping strategies and apply socio-psychological behavioral intention theories to understand the cognitive factors behind farmers’ decisions within a context of extreme vulnerability and uncertainty.Each chapter highlights a dimension of resilience in rain-fed small-scale subsistence farming systems in relation to the proposed food system adaptation and transformation pathways of agricultural diversification (Chapter 1), climate-resilient agriculture (Chapter 2) and sustainable intensification (Chapter 3). Specifically, chapter 1 examines household food security among park-adjacent communities, explores detrimental coping strategies as a result of persistent stressors, and problematizes the theory of diversified farming systems in the context of small and scattered agricultural plots. Chapters 2 and 3 take a behavioral approach to understanding farmer decision-making as it relates to climate-resilient agricultural practices and adoption of sustainable intensification techniques, respectively. Chapter 2 applies Protection Motivation Theory to understand farmer intention to adapt practices in response to observed changes in temperature and rainfall. Chapter 3 uses a blended Theory of Planned Behavior – Technology Acceptance Model Framework to examine farmer adoption of an agroecological rice-growing practice and philosophy developed in Madagascar. As gender equality is central to food systems transformation, we also examine the role that gender plays in smallholder farmer decision-making across chapters. In the concluding chapter, I first summarize the lessons learned vis-à-vis smallholder food system change. I then use the 7 C’s resilience framework to highlight the elements of resilience within smallholder food systems which emerged in Chapters 1 – 3; notably 1) coping, 2) connection, and 3) confidence/control. Lastly, I consider vulnerabilities embedded within smallholder farming systems which impact resilience and adaptive capacity.



Number of Pages

286 p.