The theme of the 11th International Conference on Community-based Adaptation to Climate Change (CBA11) was “Harnessing Natural Resources and Ecosystems for Adaptation.”
For reviewing the latest development in CBA practice, policy and theory, and learning and exchanging this knowledge, more than 300 practitioners, professionals, and government officials from 50 countries gathered in Kampala, Uganda from June 23-29, 2017.
To gather first-hand experience on community-based adaptation activity, four teams of professionals, traveled to four different regions of Uganda. Initially, for an outsider, it may seem that there is no prominent sign of climate change in the country. However, proving our assumption wrong, heavy rain came on the first day of our field visit in Masaka while we were listening to a session conducted by a “Climate Champion” of Masaka region.
Local people informed us that this rain in the month of June is unusual in Uganda. It can destroy coffee beans, potatoes, and other crops, posing a threat to farmers’ everyday lives and livelihood where agriculture is the major source of income.
Crop failure and outbreak of pests is also common these days due to such erratic rainfall and longer dry spells.
Small farmers lack the knowledge and skills to cope with such increasingly extreme weather conditions. Therefore, donour community in collaboration with Macquarie University trained some local farmers in Masaka region to find some community-based coping strategies.
Some of the farmers who were able to adapt to the changing environment become influential and came to be known as “Climate Champions.” These champions also provide training to other local farmers to take appropriate measures with changing climatic conditions. They inspire farmers to take action and become mentors to their own neighbors.
Although Uganda is a big country, it has limited arable land. Therefore the intercropping system which grows two or more crops together is increasingly gaining popularity among farmers and Climate Champions helping small farmers to adopt this method. In the event that one harvest fails due to drought or flood, another harvest will survive.
In a water-scarce country like Uganda, smart farming is also an effective coping strategy for farmers. They build underground water tanks to harvest rainwater, apply the mulching system to conserve soil moisture, planting herbs in jerry cans tied to a wood board and plants vegetables in sacks to maximize farming space. Drip irrigation using plastic bottles is also used in homestead gardening and for growing vegetables.
University students are also engaged in community-based adaptation programs. Particularly Uganda’s Macquarie University helps students by providing fellowships and internships to learn about adaptation to climate change, while also allowing them to brainstorm for ideas to find effective community-based adaptation strategies.
More than a thousand students are already trained by Macquarie University and these students decided to design teaching materials on climate change and smart farming for primary school students.
A few large scale farmers in Masaka region are also considered “Climate Champions” and they have created a WhatsApp group for educating farmers. Champions also spend their time on the group to answer questions from other farmers as a way of educating, advising and disseminating farming techniques. However, there are challenges which range from financing to integrating community voices in policy level. These challenges were also discussed in the main conference.
Financing Community-based Organisation and Diversifying Economy
Integrating business models in community-based adaptation is a challenge but there is less opportunity to diversify the economy through making agriculture profitable without adopting the business model in it. Integrating public sector and business model is also important to ensure sustainability.
Diversity in agriculture related business, development of market, and accessibility of poor farmers in the market are also important. Many technologies that are successfully used for agricultural adaptation are more suitable for large-scale farmers rather than small farmers. Therefore, more attention is required to ensure the access of such technology to small and family farms.
Ensuring Sustainability of Community-based Initiatives
Community-based adaptation activities also need special attention considering that many of the initiatives are project based and donour driven. Some of them are successfully adopted by big entrepreneurs and farmers who have the capacity to invest on their own. Small farmers are at risk of not adopting the new technologies and good practices voluntarily, unless the government comes to them with some easy solutions like financing to innovate drought/flood-tolerant crops and species. Governments also need to come forward to popularise the techniques adopted by the large holder farmers and make them available to small farmers. Otherwise, the successful effort may not sustain after the closure of donour-driven projects.
There are some old-fashioned technologies in irrigation like drip irrigation which have been used for many years in drought-prone areas. However, solar irrigation has a lot of potential in these areas and introducing it in a business model would be effective. Along with engaging women, the opportunity of engaging youth in agriculture, climate-smart business, and other income generating activities can make a difference in building resilience and tackling youth unemployment.
Combining Top-down and Bottom-up Approaches
Connecting local practice with national policy is challenging in CBA because the poor and socially marginalised, who are also most vulnerable to climate change, live in remote areas.
These areas are usually beyond the reach of government services. But knowledge of indigenous people living in remote areas is also crucial in prioritising their needs, design, and implementation of any projects.
On the other hand, continuing the community level learning and finally including the good practices in national policies and investing in a successful project is challenging but very essential for successful Community Based Adaptation. Therefore, climate adaptation efforts must start with listening to the community people, taking into account complex political and cultural contexts, traditional skills and knowledge, and then linking it with the scientific community for proper designing and implementation of projects.
Ensuring Good Governance and Accountability in Financing and Implementing CBA Projects:
In terms of good governance, CBA provides good balance with hard and soft interventions to reflect local conditions through incorporating local knowledge. In this case, the soft interventions, which mostly relate to practices, are important and include meaningful participation of the community in decision making, empowering the community, ensuring women involvement.
CBA activity must remain non-discriminatory, ensure equality and provides special attention to the needs of marginalised social groups and fully include them in all levels of adaptation planning, as well as implementation processes.
This human rights based approach is also the basis for bringing transparency and accountability in CBA. On the other hand monitoring, auditing and proper complaint and complaint redressal system for the affected community, transparent information flows and disclosure of information, prioritisation of local level need are prerequisites to ensure value for money.
Implementing authorities need to make sure that adaptation activities do not inadvertently worsen the vulnerability of the poor and marginalised.
However, there is a lot to be gained if we consider these challenges as an opportunity while implementing CBA activities. For eradicating poverty, achieving SDG goals and ambitious Paris Agreement; NGOs, CSOs, practitioners, educators, researchers, governments and international bodies need to work together, increase their coordination and cooperation and continue to exchange community-centred knowledge for effective adaptation.
The writer is a Programme Manager, Transparency International Bangladesh (TIB)