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My reflections on the first virtual Gobeshona conference

  • Published at 06:47 pm February 28th, 2021
goffee plant
About one and a half years old coffee plant. Photo: Susan Nanduddu

The first virtual Gobeshona conference, a form of adaptation to Covid-19, opened on the day internet was restored in Uganda following a nationwide shutdown for nearly a week. Thankfully, I had already registered and I found my way around into the Whova App, which I had been introduced to by the fourteenth Community Based Adaptation Conference. I have previously been to Bangladesh, largely to attend one of both conferences. It was a wonderful experience attending the 24-hour conference in a variety of formats; which reached all parts of the world including Latin America. Congratulations to the team that made it happen. 


Did you know that we are officially in the UN Decade of Action? This decade calls for accelerating sustainable solutions to all the world’s biggest challenges, including climate change. For most of the past decade, I was a student and facilitator of conversations about climate change adaptation. As part of my work, I identify doers (practitioners) researching or working on a relevant subject, and I invite them to share insights from their experiences in various spaces. The intention is to increase awareness about climate change, and share lessons of what works and what does not. Ultimately we hope to inspire individuals, households, and institutions to enhance adaptation action at various levels. As the last decade wound up, however, I thought about how to have a more practical experience as a ‘doer’, beyond being a facilitator.

One of the keynote sessions moderated by Prof Saleemul Huq at the conference was very inspiring to me. Expert Jean-Pascal van Ypersele shared plans to make Europe more resilient, climate prepared, and fair; based on a report by the Mission Board for Adaptation to Climate Change of the European Commission. In brief, Europe, known to many of us in the global south as a leader of the mitigation agenda; is taking bold climate adaptation steps. These are in three parts; to assist European citizens, communities, and regions in better understanding, preparing for, and managing climate risks; co-create solutions with 200 communities, and scale-up actionable solutions triggering societal transformations through 100 deep demonstrations of climate resilience across a number of European communities and regions. This sharing inspired me to do something in my personal capacity, with the community where I farm.

Over the past decade, my husband and I have grown food for our family, with limited intention to sell. During the Covid-19 total lockdown, our garden fed at least six households for free. From the Gobeshona conference, I have been inspired to not only establish a coffee and banana garden on one acre of land, but turn it into a demonstration garden, and I invite my neighbor-farmers to learn from it. 

Available research predicts that the coffee-growing areas will be wiped out in Uganda under a two-degree Celsius scenario. Yet coffee is a very important source of income for smallholder farmers. Establishing a demonstration will be my entry point for engaging meaningfully with the residents. I hope to leverage past experiences in engaging with ‘new’ communities, to build trust enough to have sustained conversations that will help us discuss the climate risks, and co-create solutions. Hopefully, we can attract financing to support investments towards resilience-building. 


"Importance of Locally Led Action is devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level"


The Gobeshona conference also discussed principles of Locally Led Actions, one of which is devolving decision-making to the lowest appropriate level. This principle speaks to empowering those worst impacted to lead more adaptation; increase direct financial flows to local actors and for local actors to have more decision-making power or a genuine voice where others lead. In a community like mine with no registered community-based organisations, nor active Non-governmental Organisations, the decentralisation system is ideal for facilitating resilience building. The starting point would be for the village Chairpersons (the lowest level of decentralisation) to be knowledgeable and networked enough to facilitate these discussions where there is no deliberate climate finance. 

It is worth noting that financing for adaptation action remains low and a very small fraction reaches the local level. Yet it is needed in order to accelerate locally led adaptation. A facilitator for one of the sessions at the Gobeshona conference rightly observed that  “the days for top-down development are over”. Project designers in boardrooms should consult with project area residents, not just facilitators like myself. The largest percentage of the residents in my community depends on their less-than-one-acre gardens to feed their families, while some provide labour on other people’s farms for a livelihood. The whole village has no electricity. Access to water is largely from a few springs, or rainwater harvesting into low volume containers of less than 100 litres. It is largely the women and children who invest hours daily to collect water for household needs, which is both tiring and time-consuming. To expect irrigation under such circumstances, without investing in enabling technology, is to add a huge labour burden onto the women and children. These are the local actors that need to be consulted. 

The Gobeshona conference expanded my perspective on these matters and I am grateful.

Lastly, I would like to reflect on the ten-year trajectory pledged by the conference. The Gobeshona conference will continue annually online until 2030. This conference has inspired me to project the same for myself at the farm. I am excited about the prospect of sharing results over the next nine conferences. Will I report success or failure at mobilising my neighbours to co-create adaptation solutions?  Will I report that our coffee survived the disasters of the decade? Will I report two steps forward and some backwards? 

My optimistic self looks forward to positives only, but only time will tell.


Susan Nanduddu is working in African Centre for Trade and Development based in Uganda as the Executive Director. Her research interest lies in making agriculture more resilient to climate change risks; as well as gender and climate change adaptation. Susan can be reached at [email protected]

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