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Transformation is required from ‘below’: Understanding the bottom-up approaches in Locally-Led Adaptation

  • Published at 04:26 am April 7th, 2021

The uneven impacts due to climate change are considered to be major threats to the environment and people’s wellbeing around the world, thereby exacerbating the vulnerabilities of marginalised communities.

While there is increasing certainty over the seriousness of climate change, there are still a number of uncertainties in how these changes will manifest themselves at local levels, and the effects they will have on lives and livelihoods. There is still a gap between how such uncertainties are defined by experts and policymakers and how they are experienced on the ground, with local perspectives and knowledge often overlooked. Hence, to ensure the meaningful participation of local people in adaptation actions, the global community is focusing on popularizing the term ‘locally-led adaptation (LLA’) – which involve multi-level local stakeholders in adaptation, beyond simply ‘based’ in communities, and wholly ‘led’ by local people and local institutions and it should build on traditional knowledge and coping mechanisms. 

The concept is more re-framing around how the adaptation needs to be directed to move forward. In this regard, the TAPESTRY project (Transformation as Praxis: Exploring Socially Just and Transdisciplinary Pathways to Sustainability in Marginal Environments) led by the Institute of Development Studies (IDS), UK focuses on alternative pathways which may arise from the ‘below’ understand in marginal environments through hybrid alliances between communities, NGOs, scientists and state agencies to co-produce new knowledge and ideas for more robust livelihoods. The TAPESTRY project is financially supported by the Belmont Forum and NORFACE Joint Research Programme on Transformations to Sustainability, which is co-funded by ESRC, RCN, JST, ISC, and the European Commission through Horizon 2020. Insight into how local people deal with uncertainty is helped by knowing how it affects their sense of place, identity and wellbeing. Actually, TAPESTRY is more concentrated on how we can be more transformative. Countries that are at one of the highest risks of climate change, India and Bangladesh, are focusing on three transformation patches which especially focus on bottom-up transformation in marginal environments characterized by climate uncertainty. Among these three patches, one is the vulnerable coastal areas of Mumbai, another is the drought-prone drylands of Kutch, and the last one is the deltaic Sundarbans in India and Bangladesh. TAPESTRY relates to two aspects of transformation – first, how the transformation takes place in these patches; and second, how these initiatives can be scaled up and out. 

The International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD), one of the research partners of the TAPESTRY project, organized the Gobeshona (Bengali term for ‘Research’) Global Conference – 1 in January 2021 where two sessions focusing on the Mumbai-Kutch intervention and Sundarbans without boundary interventions were designed and presented under the Locally-led Adaptation theme from this TAPESTRY project. 

In Mumbai, research mainly highlights resource-based livelihood recovery, especially how Koli fisherfolk communities are transforming through analysing the cultural and geographical history of Mumbai mangrove and Koli area, and facilitating collaboration among locals, experts and authorities. Fishing communities in the city are adapting with their tools and techniques to respond to the pollution and environmental change, and are cultivating new alliances based on mangrove restoration, sustainable water and waste management. In Kutch, research focuses on co-production to facilitate bottom-up adaptation with camel herders who have been marginalized. Their livelihoods are under threat and climate change has made their livelihoods more uncertain. Here, camel herders are working to recognize local breeds, including the unique swimming camels who gazes on mangrove. They are working to open up the market for food products that use camel milk and to challenge negative perceptions of pastoralism. In Sundarbans, people living on islands are vulnerable to cyclones, storms and salinity from seawater floods. To cope up with this situation, the local people are exploring new farming methods, using dykes for fish farming and growing vegetables in specialized nets. 

ICCCAD only works for the Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans where the research highlights how climate change-related uncertainties are affecting the wellbeing and identity of people living in the Bangladesh Sundarbans, and what emerging initiatives, alliances and practices are addressing climate change-related threats and challenges. The research also focuses on the formation of co-production that can lead to transformations. 

The Bangladesh part of the Sundarbans is located in the southwestern region of the country. Due to its geography and socio-economic factors, the local people are highly vulnerable to a variety of hazards and climatic shocks, which are cyclones, rainfall, coastal flooding, salinity, droughts and heatwaves. In addition to this uncertainty, riverbank erosion is also a common phenomenon in this area. The series of cyclones over past decades have caused damage to the embankments allowing saline water to enter the agricultural and fisheries land, and destroy everything. As a result, it is the local people who face the consequences which make them vulnerable, especially those who depend on agriculture, riverine and marine fishing, and resources collection from Sundarbans such as honey and Nipa leaf (Golpata). 

Shibani from Purbo Jelekhali, a village of Munsiganj union, Shyamnagar Upazilla, Satkhira said, “We used to have hot days in summer and rains in rainy season, but now scenario has been changed, and we cannot predict the weather. We are unable to grow paddy or any kind of cultivation in this changing climate scenario and due to increased salinity.” The vulnerabilities have led local people to prioritise survival over their indigenous identity. To reduce the vulnerability, recent livelihood shifting pattern is being noticed, like agriculture to shrimp farming and then towards crab farming, chicken to turkey farming. Shita Rani Mondal from Durgavati village which is located in Burigoalini union in Shyamnagar Upazilla mentioned, “Earlier we used to cultivate paddy in this area, but since Cyclone Aila, we cannot cultivate paddy here due to increased soil and water salinity. So, we were all forced to start shrimp farming, and also later we see this shrimp farming business is profitable. But now the salinity has increased so much that all the shrimp are dying with virus attack. So, many people are now starting crab farming instead of shrimp farming.” Adaptation initiatives such as hydro-aqua geoponics are also practised in the area, where people grow crops, vegetables and fishes in the same system. Also, a large number of people, especially male members of the area, are migrating both seasonally and permanently due to lack of working opportunity and capacity in the Sundarbans area. At that time the women of the house have to earn money and work within the household as well. They grow vegetables and continue making handicrafts to earn money. Many works as a day labourer in their area. However, they earn less than a man. Ruma Rani Mondal from Jelekhali village said, “we women work more than the men, but all the people say that we have less capacity and strength which is why we cannot work more. For that reason, we get less money as day labourers.” Being in the hot spot of climate change along with its long-term experience for working in adaptation, Bangladesh has scope to pursue transformational adaptation options to build the overall resilience of the marginalized communities living in coastal and vulnerable parts of the country. For transformational adaptation, it is vital to look into the system, analyse the attributes to respond to actual or future climate change impacts to have impact on a bigger scale, and due to starting work on adaptation prior to India, Bangladesh has experience in adaptation and has a vast scope on transformative adaptation. Training on alternative livelihood options and education would reduce the vulnerabilities of the local people of this region. If any training is given by different NGOs, it is given to women more, because men are out of the area for work. Moreover, now the work of farming on their own land is done by the female as most of the male members go abroad for work, so, any training on agriculture is given to the women rather than a man. Training on agriculture, livestock, fisheries are helping the local women to enhance their knowledge to adapt to adverse climatic impacts. The local people believe that livelihood security for the future generation will be once again created by adopting the indigenous practices along with training and education. 

Adaptation-based learning is lacking in both Bangladesh and India region. For this, it is important to better understand the bottom-up approaches in locally-led adaptation to better understand the relationship between climate change and transformational adaptation. In this regard, both research communities and NGOs need to join hand in hand to explore the importance of the ecological condition of the region, biodiversity and support actual adaptation interventions for the local communities. 

Mahmuda Akter is currently working as a Research Officer at the International Centre for Climate Change and Development (ICCCAD). Can be reached out at [email protected]

Tasfia Tasnim is a Senior Research Associate at ICCCAD, working on nature-based solutions, livelihood resilience and climate finance. Can be reached out at [email protected]

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