• Mozambique;
  • economic globalisation;
  • environmental change;
  • risk;
  • vulnerability

This paper examines how double exposure to economic and environmental stressors – and the interaction between the two – affect smallholder farmers in Mozambique's Limpopo River Basin. Studying two case study villages we find that people, in general, are resilient to environmental stressors. However, most households show less resilience to the socioeconomic stressors and shocks that have been introduced or intensified by economic globalisation. Our findings indicate that economic change brought about by structural adjustment policies pressures rural people to alter their approach to farming, which makes it more difficult for them to respond to environmental change. For example, smallholder farmers find it difficult to make a transition to commercial farming within the Limpopo Basin, in part because farming techniques that are well adapted to managing environmental variability in the region – such as seeding many small plots – are not well suited to the economies of scale needed for profitable commercial agriculture. People use a variety of strategies to cope with interactive environmental and economic stressors and shocks, but many face considerable constraints to profitably exploiting market-based opportunities. We conclude that economic stressors and shocks may now be causing small-scale agriculture to be less well adapted to ecological and climate variability, making smallholders more vulnerable to future climate change. Some local level policy interventions, including those that support and build on local environmental knowledge, could assist rural agricultural societies in adapting to future environmental change in the context of economic globalisation.