You know your adaptation programme's going well when...

You know your adaptation programme's going well when...

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Date: 17th November 2013
Type: Feature
Country: Africa
Tags: adaptation, agriculture

Mairi Dupar, CDKN’s Global Public Affairs Coordinator, attended a rich knowledge exchange on climate adaptation among Global Environment Facility (GEF) managers at the Development and Climate Days 2013 in Warsaw. The discussion revealed how one success breeds another.

An old saying goes ‘imitation is the highest form of flattery’. That’s certainly the view from the arid West African country of Niger, where Safi Solange Bako is running a programme to promote climate-friendly agriculture. The programme is yielding so many pay-offs for participants, that the new farming practices involved are spreading spontaneously beyond project boundaries and into other parts of the country.

As Niger is exposed to longer dry periods and more erratic rainfall, Ms Bako’s team is training farmers to grow more drought-resistant varieties of millet, sorghum, and cowpeas : the staple crops.  Where once depleted forests were the sign of an exhausted environment, now extension workers and communities have planted out tree saplings and re-injected life.

Tinderbox conditions can increase the risk of forest fires, so teams have opened more than 1000 fire breaks across agriculture and forest land, and trained 250 community fire fighters. Community radio stations broadcast information about climate impacts and solutions on the airwaves.

Demonstrate success and others will follow

Ms Bako’s programme aims to increase the climate resilience of agricultural systems in Niger, and in so doing, to strengthen rural people’s food security. It is set to benefit up to a quarter of a million people in this country of 15 million, the vast majority of whom are farmers. The ambitious effort has been funded by the Global Environment Facility (GEF). The programme is not without its challenges, but programme leaders knew they must be doing something right, said Ms Bako, when they saw farmers outside the project area adopting some of their new, low-cost methods.

Ms Bako shared her experiences at the Development & Climate Days 2013, a gathering of policy makers, scientists and development practitioners concerned with climate change adaptation, and meeting  in parallel with the UN climate negotiations in Warsaw, Poland.  Development & Climate Days participants returned time and again to that climate finance puzzle (akin to ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?) They asked: which comes first, the climate action or the finance?  Ms Bako’s case study inspired a new way of looking at this conundrum. If you can demonstrate that a climate adaptation approach really works, then the approach – or elements of it – might spread without further external investment.

Ms Bako concluded that the programme’s learning-by-doing approach, dialogue among communities and local government, and use of cereal and animal feed banks have built capacity and even helped to stem the exodus of people from rural to urban areas.  The use of community radio stations to spread the word was a particularly successful  measure, and one that is already adopted by other districts of Niger because of its low cost.

Promoting climate adaptation: in people’s own language

Communications took centre stage as participants debated the opportunities and challenges of climate adaptation. From Afghanistan, where a recent scarcity of rain and snowfall has starved agriculture of its water resources, to Uruguay, where erosion and saline intrusion is affecting coastal resources, adaptation managers are keen to broader participation in their initiatives through effective communications. They are also eager to capture lessons about what works and communicate their insights more widely to inspire change. For Ms Bako, community radio was transformational in mobilising communities in rural Niger. But elsewhere, other forms of knowledge management and communications are proving to be more effective.

Gebru Jember Endalew has been involved in a GEF-supported programme called Coping with Drought and Climate Change, across Ethiopia, Kenya, Zimbabwe and Mozambique.

In Ethiopia’s South Wollo zone,  Mr Endalew and his team have fostered strong ownership among communities for climate-smart water management by holding massive public gatherings. “We organise a climate hearing with the permission of local government – 1000 people on a field, with lots of ceremonies,” said Mr Endalew,  explaining that a mass ceremonial approach increases credibility, but also gives residents the chance to have their say in front of decision-makers. People are invited to come forward and give testimonies on how their area has changed over the years: “That is important in terms of getting people’s perception of climate change,” he said.

Building on these mass participation events, extension agents later meet people in small groups and discuss irrigation methods  and climate-friendly agricultural techniques with them in more detail, in their own local dialects. The programme has established climate coordinating committees at district level to look across agriculture, food security, water and sustainable natural resource management holistically – and as a result, Mr Endalew said, the committees are now resolving water-related disputes effectively.

Common ingredients for success

The stories from rural Niger and Ethiopia highlight four elements that drive success and scaling up: first, the proposed adaptation measures were demonstrated to be effective in reducing climate change impacts; second, the proposed measures were proven to be directly beneficial to farmers’ or land managers’ livelihoods; third, local people had a chance to make their voices heard in articulating the problem and designing the solution; and fourth, lessons learned from pilot activities were communicated in culturally appropriate ways.

Indeed, the experiences of Charles Nyandiga, Programme Advisor of the UNDP Small Grants Programme, seemed to resonate with the other practitioners in rural adaptation around the world. Adaptation programmes must garner “actors’ interest, focus and consensus – which is not easy to achieve, nor quick!” he said. “Communities are very risk averse and want to be very sure of what they are doing.”  Although developing popular and effective climate adaptation doesn’t happen overnight, at least when it does work, Ms Bako and Mr Endalew’s stories suggest that new ideas and practices can ‘spill over’ to other areas and make the effort even more worthwhile.

Read how ‘Climate finance can catalyse action’ in CDKN’s new Climate and Development Outlook

Read CDKN’s Inside Story From vulnerability to resilience: farmer generated natural regeneration in Niger


Photo courtesy Panos.

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