FEATURE: How climate researchers and businesses began speaking the same language – A case from Senegal
Lancelot Soumelong Ehode, Mamadou Diop, Cheikh Tidiane Wade, Rajeshree Sisodia and Kaia Ambrose describe how a research team at first struggled to engage Senegal’s private sector with vital information about climate vulnerability and resilience. But after persevering and changing strategy, the team built new knowledge partnerships that are now making development more environmentally and economically sustainable. Here’s how they did it.
Senegal’s private sector is increasingly faced with the impacts of climate change, including drought, heavy rain and flooding. These changes threaten economic productivity and are likely to affect critical infrastructure – for example, by damaging roads and hindering the product delivery.
Oumar Sow, a farmer in Léona, in the Louga region, recently observed: “I experience changes every day on my farm. Indeed, I have noticed a recurrence of strong heat and this phenomenon seriously harms the cattle. For example, as part of the cattle breeding improvement programme, I spent a lot of money to import cattle, but most of them died within a few months, mainly because of the frequency and intensity of heat waves.”
“I have also experienced failures with artificial insemination and I am sure that the heatwaves are contributing, because the cattle cannot stand the strong heat. People say it’s climate change, but we’d really like to understand what’s going on.”
In Senegal, Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) form a critical part of the private sector and operate primarily in the agriculture, livestock, fisheries and tourism sectors.
Much research in developing countries and semi-arid areas such as Senegal has focused on climate change adaptation solutions in key economic sectors. However, SMEs are seen to lack the knowledge and capacity to plan for climate change.
Businesses’ short investment horizons, with their need for quick returns and short-term growth, are often blamed for the limited financial capacity – or willingness – of SMEs to cover the high, upfront capital costs of investing in long-term adaptation measures.
Yet, SMEs play a critical role in contributing to Senegal’s development and its population’s wellbeing. To address the impact of a changing climate, SMEs and other private sector actors need high quality information to accompany their decision-making processes.
PRISE: An ‘action research’ and engagement project
In this context, researchers from the Grantham Research Institute on Climate Change and the Environment at the London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE), and Innovation, Environnement, Developpement en Afrique (IED Afrique) in Senegal have been working on understanding how private sector actors are affected by climate change, and can contribute to and become key agents of change for inclusive, climate-resilient economic development. They have been working as part of the Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies (PRISE) project.
Major findings on the links between Senegal’s development and its climate risks include: Senegal Country Situation Assessment (2015).
The first steps of the research and consultation proved difficult yet informative. The project initially identified large companies as key stakeholders. However, they showed limited interest and willingness to engage with PRISE, despite their obvious contribution to the economic development of Senegal and their exposure to climate risks. In short, large companies did not send participants to PRISE project workshops!
PRISE researchers realised that there were many other types of important private sector agents – including SMEs, whose contribution to national GDP is very important. They could be open, if they had the right support, to using research findings to assess their exposure to climate risks.
The research team decided to adapt its engagement approach. Researchers began to target SMEs rather than big businesses. As a result, IED Afrique is now experiencing growing demand for relevant information and support for private sector adaptation to climate change.
Imaginative ways to open a climate change conversation
IED Afrique developed a new information-sharing mechanism with private sector stakeholders – through phone calls and emails – including the Union of Women Business Leaders in Senegal (UFCE) and SMEs in the region of Louga and Saint-Louis. In addition, they held individual face-to-face meetings and direct visits with selected umbrella business organisations, civil society organisations, state technical services, and policy-makers who are affiliated with SMEs.
For example, they have now had many intensive interactions with the Senegal National Confederation of Employers (CNES), the Regional Chamber of Trade and the Directorate of Small and Medium Enterprises.
Since PRISE adapted its private sector stakeholder engagement strategy, the private sector has increased its participation in project activities. For instance, the Chamber of Commerce of Louga and leaders of producer organisations supported data collection in the Louga region. They showed their interest in research results and requested PRISE to organise a validation workshop. Joint products, as a result of the action research and dialogue, include:
- How do African SMEs respond to climate risks: Evidence from Kenya and Senegal (2018)
- Policy briefs and working papers (French, multi-year)
Now, leaders of socio-professional organisations, including SMEs, understand climate risks better and have asked for support to integrate climate considerations into their business plans. For example, the Regional President of the House of Breeders of Saint Louis requested a workshop with all members of his organisation who suffer from the impacts of climate change.
SME entry point has helped create wider connections
Importantly, now that SMEs are in active dialogue with PRISE researchers, we see early signs of growing relationships among the private sector and other key stakeholder groups, such as governments, parliamentarians and other research institutions. This points to the growth of a networking and enabling environment among a wide variety of Senegalese stakeholders – focused around the issue of climate risk and resilience.
This project was part of the Collaborative Adaptation Research Initiative in Africa and Asia (CARIAA). Occasionally CDKN invites guest bloggers to share their views on climate compatible development. These do not necessarily represent the views of CDKN or its alliance partners.
Editing by Mairi Dupar.
Image: Senegal, credit World Bank.