Guest Article #72

Placing Small Scale Adaptation Solutions within the Climate Change Discourse in Africa

The changing climate is no longer an abstract issue, and the realities of its impacts are being felt in the African continent. Climate change is affecting millions of people, and thwarting their efforts to escape poverty. Against this harsh reality, it will be imperative to speed up the integration of climate risk considerations into policy, in order to ensure that development proceeds along pathways that are resilient to climate change.

However, the questions as to the type of action required and where such action should occur and by whom still generate divergent views on the international policy arena. Sub-Saharan Africa lacks the capacity and resources to face these challenges. Because the impacts are already being felt, climate change makes national development planning more complex, overturns previous development achievements, and constricts human survival opportunities. Approaches that go beyond words into actions with potential to informing and guiding policy practices are imperative and urgently needed.

Turning the Climate Crisis into an Opportunity in Africa

The current climate crisis plaguing Africa may offer a window of opportunity if rightful solutions are put in place with the ability to build both the social and physical resilience of societies. Previous practices have demonstrated that small-scale actions can provide the right framework for catalyzing transformative change on a larger scale. Small-scale approaches can be quickly implemented with local capacity and have short turnover period. They are characterized by engagement of local users, keeping the implementation process simple, and making them more efficient, effective and equitable than past top-down practices.

Small-scale Innovative Adaptation Solutions – A Panacea

Using funds provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark, the Climate Change and Development – Adapting by Reducing vulnerability (CC DARE) Programme, jointly implemented by UNEP and UNDP, aims to improve the ability of 15 Sub-Saharan African countries in removing barriers and creating opportunities for integrating climate change adaptation into national development planning and decision-making frameworks. The capacity developed and lessons learnt through the small scale processes have proved that they can later help countries establish the necessary institutional, organizational, financial or fiscal, human, and technological measures required for effective climate change responses. Furthermore, these lessons learnt have high multiplier and spill-over effects that can catalyze large-scale policy process at the national level. A paper on Using Small-Scale Adaptation Actions to Address the Food Crisis in the Horn of Africa showcases how small-scale actions by small-holder farmers developed through a democratic process can provide a mechanism to find sustainable solutions to food security by putting small holders at the center of action.

Another example is in Togo, where using the small scale approach led to the rehabilitation of small dam for harvesting rainwater. The project outputs include improved access to water for the local communities, as well as expanded rural livelihood activities such as market gardening, brick construction and fisheries, beside uses for domestic and agro-pastoral consumption. The co-benefits of the project action in having year-round water supply to the surrounding ecosystem include natural regeneration and restoration of biodiversity serving as medicinal products for the household and dietary supplements for local communities.

It is against this backdrop that the lessons learnt have been compiled in a publication titled “Lessons for  Adaptation in Sub-Saharan Africa.”

Way forward

By and large, formulating and implementing policy for climate change is stymied by a double-decker: in-country capacity in most developing countries, and the complexity of issues related to climate change adaptation. The successful execution of practical projects has been shown to play a crucial role in unraveling these complex concepts, building capacity, and developing appropriate tools for up-scaling the interventions to a local government level/ or national level. The bottom-line from the experiences learned from projects cited in this piece lies in the ownership of such interventions. Also, success has to do with the beneficial value (in the eyes of the national government) of the project and their relevance to the local situation. Up-scaling of lessons learnt requires programmes with flexible approaches of funding to help prevent crises such as the current food crisis in the Horn of Africa from happening again. The benefits of understanding what has previously worked can provide a guiding vision as we proactively address the current climate challenge. With proper planning, transparent resource management, innovative adaptation policies, the climate crisis in Africa can be turned into an opportunity.