Prosocial preferences improve climate risk management in subsistence farming communities

Nicolas Choquette-Levy, Matthias Wildemeersch, Fernando P. Santos, Simon A. Levin, Michael Oppenheimer, Elke U. Weber

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Several governments have tested formal index-based insurance to build climate resilience among smallholder farmers. Yet, adoption of such programmes has generated concerns that insurance may crowd out long-established informal risk transfer arrangements. Understanding this phenomenon requires new analytic approaches that capture dynamics of human social behaviour when facing risky events. Here we develop a modelling framework, based on evolutionary game theory and empirical data from Nepal and Ethiopia, to demonstrate that insurance may introduce a new social dilemma in farmer risk management strategies. We find that while socially optimal risk management is achieved when all farmers pursue a combination of formal and informal risk transfer, a community of self-interested agents is unable to maintain this co-existence under rising climate risks. We find that a combination of prosocial preferences—moderate altruism and solidarity—helps farmers overcome these concerns and achieve the social optimum. In our model, behavioural interventions that cue such preferences can reduce farmer expected losses by 26% and save approximately 5% of community agricultural income through reduced premium subsidies under climate risk levels likely to emerge in the coming decades.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)282-293
Number of pages12
JournalNature Sustainability
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Food Science
  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Ecology
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
  • Urban Studies
  • Nature and Landscape Conservation
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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