Climate change affects the productivity of agricultural ecosystems. Farmers cope with climate change based on their perceptions of changing climate patterns. Using a case study from the Middle Yarlung Zangbo River Valley, we present a new research framework that uses questionnaire and interview methods to compare local farmers’ perceptions of climate change with the adaptive farming strategies they adopt. Most farmers in the valley believed that temperatures had increased in the last 30 years but did not note any changes in precipitation. Most farmers also reported sowing and harvesting hulless barley 10–15 days earlier than they were 20 years ago. In addition, farmers observed that plants were flowering and river ice was melting earlier in the season, but they did not perceive changes in plant germination, herbaceous vegetation growth, or other spring seasonal events. Most farmers noticed an extended fall season signified by delays in the freezing of rivers and an extended growing season for grassland vegetation.
The study results showed that agricultural practices in the study area are still traditional; that is, local farmers’ perceptions of climate change and their strategies to mitigate its impacts were based on indigenous knowledge and their own experiences. Adaptive strategies included adjusting planting and harvesting dates, changing crop species, and improving irrigation infrastructure. However, the farmers’ decisions could not be fully attributed to their concerns about climate change. Local farming systems exhibit high adaptability to climate variability. Additionally, off-farm income has reduced the dependence of the farmers on agriculture, and an agricultural subsidy from the Chinese Central Government has mitigated the farmers’ vulnerability. Nevertheless, it remains necessary for local farmers to build a system of adaptive climate change strategies that combines traditional experience and indigenous knowledge with scientific research and government polices as key factors.