Unlike neighboring disciplines, anthropology rarely studies how actual future events affect current behavior. Such studies could lay the groundwork for studies of ethno-forecasting. Psychologists argue that people forecast poorly, but some empirical work in cultural anthropology suggests that at least with weather, rural people might make reasonably accurate forecasts. Using data from a small-scale, pre-industrial rural society in the Bolivian Amazon, this study estimates the effects of future weather on the current collection of planted crops and wildlife. If actual future events affect current behavior, then this would suggest that people must forecast accurately. Longitudinal data covering 11 consecutive months (10/2002-8/2003, inclusive) from 311 women and 326 men ≥age 14 in 13 villages of a contemporary society of forager-farmers in Bolivia's Amazon (Tsimane') are used. Individual fixed-effect panel linear regressions are used to estimate the effect of future weather (mean hourly temperature and total daily rain) over the next 1-7 days from today on the probability of collecting wildlife (game, fish, and feral plants excluding firewood) and planted farm crops (annuals and perennials) today. Daily weather records come from a town next to the Tsimane' territory and data on foraging and farming come from scans (behavioral spot observations) and surveys of study participants done during scans. Short-term future weather (≤3 days) affected the probability of collecting planted crops and wildlife today, although the effect was greater on the amount of planted crops harvested today than on the amount of wildlife collected today. Future weather beyond 3 days bore no significant association with the amount of planted crops harvested today nor with the amount of wildlife collected today. After controlling for future and past weather, today's weather (mean hourly temperature, but not rain) affected the probability of collecting wildlife today, but today's weather (temperature or rain) did not affect the probability of collecting planted crops today. The study supports prior work by anthropologists suggesting that rural people forecast accurately. If future weather affects the probability of harvesting planted crops and collecting wildlife today, then this suggests that Tsimane' must forecast accurately. We discuss possible reasons for the finding. The study also supports growing evidence from rural areas of low-income nations that rural people tend to protect their food production and food consumption well against small idiosyncratic shocks or, in our case, against ordinary daily weather that is not extreme. However, the greater responsiveness of daily foraging output compared with daily farming output to today's weather suggests that foraging might not protect food consumption as well as farming against adverse climate perturbations. © Springer Science+Business Media, LLC 2009.
- Hunter gatherers
- Weather forecasts