Understanding socio-ecological vulnerability to climatic change through a trajectories of change approach: A case study from an Indigenous community in Panama

2019 May 13

Li, A. and Ford, J.D. (2019). Understanding socio-ecological vulnerability to climate change through a trajectories of change approach: A case study from an Indigenous community in Panama. Weather, Climate and Society, article online.


This paper identifies and characterizes vulnerability to climatic change in the Ngöbe-Buglé Indigenous community of Playitas, Panama, using a trajectories of change approach. Playitas is a community composed of swidden forest farmers that is undergoing rapid rates of change due to demographic shifts, regional development, and climate change. Working in collaboration with a community organization, various methods were used to identify and characterize livelihoods, social-ecological dynamics, environmental change, and behavioral responses to change, with the aim of informing future planning in the community. Qualitative methods included semi-structured interviews (n=26), community workshops, and participant observation. Causal-loop diagrams based on field data and the perceptions of community members were created to model trajectories of change. The research reveals that change is driven by both internal and external factors and the responses of community members create both reinforcing and balancing feedback loops that overall generate increased stress in agricultural systems, social structures, and environmental components. While community members historically relied on social relationships, Indigenous knowledge, and remoteness as sources of resilience to external disturbances, climate change is acting as a ‘multiplier’ of their existing vulnerabilities, undermining their capacity to adapt to current and future climatic changes.

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