Understanding smallholder farmers’ behaviour in terms of adaptation to weather risks provides the means to design policies that will help farmers address weather risks and have an effective impact on farmers’ livelihoods. This study is undertaken with this perspective by analysing how smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacity affects their choice of adaptation strategies to weather risks. The research sought to, i) analyse farmers’ perceived vulnerability to weather risks, their adaptation responses and assess their perceived and adaptive capacities; ii) identify the factors that influence the choice of adaptation strategies; and iii) assess the link between farmers’ adaptive capacity and the effectiveness of their adaptation strategies. Data was collected through survey of 450 cereal farmers (maize, rice, sorghum and millet), and analysed with descriptive statistics, multinomial logit model and maximum simulated likelihood model.

The results indicate that floods, drought, decreasing levels of, and increasing variability of rainfall, late onset of the rainy season are the major weather risks which farmers perceived themselves vulnerable to. Crop management, calendar management, improved seeds, irrigation and soil and water management were the adaptation strategies used, with crop and calendar management being the strategies adopted most frequently. Only 8% of farmers’ adaptation responses were to address vulnerability related to flood and drought even though they perceived themselves to be highly vulnerable to those risks. At least 60% farmers perceived that crop management, calendar management, and use of improved seeds have the potential to address weather risks compared to 25% for irrigation and 8% for soil and water management. Farmers’ adaptation intentions translated into adaptation except for improved seeds and irrigation strategies where only 38% and 32% of farmers who intended to use these strategies, respectively actually applied the strategies. On average smallholder farmers have moderate adaptive capacity to respond to weather risk except for rice farmers who have high adaptive capacity. Farmers’ adaptation intention correlate with strategies that do not require much additional investments; while estimated adaptive capacity determines the choice of strategy that require much additional investments. Other factors like age, experience, education perceived vulnerability to risks, access to credit, land tenure, access to climate information, access to extension services also affect the choice of adaptation strategies. On-farm adaptation strategies used by farmers are effective and have increased yields by about 5% to 35% depending on the strategy used. Farmers with high adaptive capacity achieved the highest impact on yields from the application of improved seed and soil, water and irrigation strategies. The findings suggest that supporting farmers to build their capacity to adapt to climate risks can be a means to reducing smallholders’ vulnerability to weather risks.