Transformational Adaptation: Agrifood Systems Analysis from the Philippines

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Dagli, Winifredo

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University of Guelph


There is a consensus that the global agrifood systems need to transform. But the concept of transformation—a fairly recent addition to the raft of meanings of adaptation—is not well understood in climate change research and action, let alone in agriculture and food systems. This study critically examines what transformational adaptation means from a global to a local agrifood systems perspective. It aims to contribute to a better understanding of the concept using an emergent research approach that combines complex systems thinking with critical social science perspectives. Drawing on a systematic review of recent global adaptation literature and a multi-scalar field research project in the Philippines from January 2021 to August 2022, the thesis is a compilation of three papers that interrogates the bifurcated and conflicting views on transformational adaptation and the ways to integrate them. The first paper rethinks the incremental-transformational change dichotomy and expands the analytical space with recent evidence of multiple types of transformation. The second paper evaluates the assumptions on large-scale change that underpin the academic discourse on transformational adaptation and reveals how framings and practices of transformation differ across scales in the case of the coconut sector in the Philippines. In the third paper, transformational adaptation is presented not as an outcome waiting to happen but as an ongoing socio-technical pathway situated in historical processes of change; as a result, different pathways of transformation interact, with some entanglements producing new uncertainties and maladaptive outcomes over time. Taken altogether, the research findings suggest that transformational adaptation might be far more inexorable and inescapable than is commonly thought, not all transformations are the same, and the goals and values that undergird their means and outcomes are far from neutral; hence, collective reflexivity and agency is key to know which transformations support more equitable, just, and thriving world agrifood systems. Future research and action should pay attention to adaptive transformations, referring to ongoing social-ecological changes in the deep leverage points—divorced from the ideological underpinnings of adaptation—that constitute the community and societal responses to and the outcomes of the intertwined climatic and non-climatic drivers of change.



Adaptation, Agrifood systems, Transformation, Climate change, Adaptation pathways, Leverage points, Philippines, Coconut sector, Multiscalar


Dagli, W. (2022). �??Central�?� and �??peripheral�?� adaptation pathways of entangled agrifood systems transformations. Frontiers in Sustainable Food Systems, 6 (2022), 445. 01-20.