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Risk transfer policies and climate-induced immobility among smallholder farmers


Climate change is anticipated to impact smallholder farmer livelihoods substantially. However, empirical evidence is inconclusive regarding how increased climate stress affects smallholder farmers’ deployment of various livelihood strategies, including rural–urban migration. Here we use an agent-based model to show that in a South Asian agricultural community experiencing a 1.5 oC temperature increase by 2050, climate impacts are likely to decrease household income in 2050 by an average of 28%, with fewer households investing in both economic migration and cash crops, relative to a stationary climate. Pairing a small cash transfer with risk transfer mechanisms significantly increases the adoption of migration and cash crops, improves community incomes and reduces community inequality. While specific results depend on contextual factors such as risk preferences and climate risk exposure, these interventions are robust in improving adaptation outcomes and alleviating immobility, by addressing the intersection of risk aversion, financial constraints and climate impacts.

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Fig. 1: Schematic overview of ABM structure.
Fig. 2: Evolution of household strategy choices and community outcomes under four model layers.
Fig. 3: Drivers of migration outcomes for different risk and climate scenarios.
Fig. 4: Comparison of policy effects on community adaptation outcomes.
Fig. 5: Comparison of policy effects on household strategy distributions at terminal time.

Data availability

The agent-based model from which results are generated is available via a public GitHub repository at:

Code availability

The code for the agent-based model developed in this study is available via a public GitHub repository at:


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We authors thank four anonymous reviewers for helpful comments that improved the quality of this manuscript. N.C.-L. thanks the Center for Policy Research on Energy and the Environment at Princeton University and the Young Summer Scientists Program at the International Institute of Applied Systems Analysis for financial and organizational support, and the National Academy of Sciences and the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (no. 752-2020-077) for financial support.

Author information




N.C.-L. and M.W. conceived of and developed an initial design for the study. M.O. and S.L. proposed modifications incorporated in the final design. N.C.-L. wrote the model code. N.C.-L. and M.W. analysed model results. All authors contributed to drafting the manuscript, responding to reviewer comments and producing the final version. Correspondence and requests for materials should be addressed to N.C.-L. ( or M.O. (

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Michael Oppenheimer.

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The authors declare no competing interests.

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Peer review information Nature Climate Change thanks Roman Hoffmann, Jonathan Gilligan and the other, anonymous, reviewer(s) for their contribution to the peer review of this work.

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Supplementary information

Supplementary Information

Supplementary Sections 1 (additional background material), 2 (methods) and 3 (results), Tables 1–5 and Figs. 1–16.

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Choquette-Levy, N., Wildemeersch, M., Oppenheimer, M. et al. Risk transfer policies and climate-induced immobility among smallholder farmers. Nat. Clim. Chang. (2021).

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