Adaptation constraints and opportunities

The covariant mix of climate stresses and other factors in Africa means that for many in Africa adaptation is not an option but a necessity (e.g., Thornton et al., 2006). A growing cohort of studies is thus emerging on adaptation to climate variability and change in Africa, examples of which are given below (see also Chapter 18). Owing to constraints of space, not all cases nor all details can be provided here. A range of factors including wealth, technology, education, information, skills, infrastructure, access to resources, and various psychological factors and management capabilities can modify adaptive capacity (e.g., Block and Webb, 2001; Ellis and Mdoe, 2003; Adger and Vincent, 2005; Brooks et al., 2005; Grothmann and Patt, 2005). Adaptation is shown to be successful and sustainable when linked to effective governance systems, civil and political rights and literacy (Brooks et al., 2005).

9.5.1 Adaptation practices

Of the emerging range of livelihood adaptation practices being observed (Table 9.2), diversification of livelihood activities, institutional architecture (including rules and norms of governance), adjustments in farming operations, income-generation projects and selling of labour (e.g., migrating to earn an income - see also Section 9.6.1) and the move towards off-or non-farm livelihood incomes in parts of Africa repeatedly surface as key adaptation options (e.g., Bryceson, 2004; Benhin, 2006; Osman-Elasha et al., 2006). As indicated in Section 9.2.1, reducing risks with regard to possible future events will depend on the building of stronger livelihoods to ensure resilience to future shocks (IFRCRCS, 2002). The role of migration as an adaptive measure, particularly as a response to drought and flood, is also well known. Recent evidence, however, shows that such migration is not only driven by periods of climate stress but is also driven by a range of other possible factors (see, for example, Section Migration is a dominant mode of labour (seasonal migration), providing a critical livelihood source. The role of remittances derived from migration provides a key coping mechanism in drought and non-drought years but is one that can be dramatically affected by periods of climate shock, when adjustments to basic goods such as food prices are impacted by food aid and other interventions (Devereux and Maxwell, 2001).

Institutions and their effective functioning play a critical role in successful adaptation; it is therefore important to understand the design and functioning of such institutions (Table 9.2). The role of institutions at more local scales, both formal and informal institutions, also needs to be better understood (e.g., Reid and Vogel, 2006)

Other opportunities for adaptation that can be created include many linked to technology. The role of seasonal forecasts, and their production, dissemination, uptake and integration in model-based decision-making support systems, has been fairly extensively examined in several African contexts (Table 9.2). Significant constraints, however, include the limited support for climate risk management in agriculture and therefore a limited demand for such seasonal forecast products (e.g., O'Brien and Vogel, 2003).

Enhanced resilience to future periods of drought stress may also be supported by improvements in existing rain-fed farming systems (Rockstrom, 2003), such as water-harvesting systems to supplement irrigation practices in semi-arid farming systems ('more crop per drop' strategies, see Table 9.2). Improved early warning systems and their application may also reduce vulnerability to future risks associated with climate variability and change. In malaria research, for example, it has been shown that, while epidemics in the highlands have been associated with positive anomalies in temperature and rainfall (Githeko and Ndegwa, 2001; as discussed in Section 9.4.3), those in the semi-arid areas are mainly associated with excessive rainfall (Thomson et al., 2006). Using such climate information it may be possible to give outlooks with lead times of between 2 and 6 months before the onset of an event (Thomson et al., 2006). Such lead times provide opportunities for putting interventions in place and for preventing excessive morbidity and mortality during malaria epidemics.

In Africa, biotechnology research could also yield tremendous benefits if it leads to drought- and pest-resistant rice, drought-tolerant maize and insect-resistant millet, sorghum and cassava, among other crops (ECA, 2002). Wheat grain yield cultivated under current and future climate conditions (for example, increases of 1.5 and 3.6°C) in Egypt highlight a number of adaptation measures, including various technological options that may be required under an irrigated agriculture system (e.g., Abou-Hadid, 2006). A detailed study of current crop selection as an adaptation strategy to climate change in Africa (Kurukulasuriya and Mendelsohn, 2006b) shows that farmers select sorghum and maize-millet in the cooler regions of Africa, maize-beans, maize-groundnut and maize in moderately warm regions, and cowpea, cowpea-sorghum and millet-groundnut in hot regions. The study further shows that farmers choose sorghum and millet-groundnut when conditions are dry, cowpea, cowpea-sorghum, maize-millet and maize when medium-wet, and maize-beans and maize-groundnut when very wet. As the weather becomes warmer, farmers tend to shift towards more heat-tolerant crops. Depending upon whether precipitation increases or decreases, farmers will shift towards water-loving or drought-tolerant crops, respectively.

The design and use of proactive rather than reactive strategies can also enhance adaptation. Proactive, ex ante, interventions, such as agricultural capital stock and extension advice in Zimbabwe (Owens et al., 2003), can raise household welfare and heighten resilience during non-drought years. In many cases these interventions can also be coupled with disaster risk-reduction strategies (see several references on Capital and extension services can also increase net crop incomes without crowding-out net private transfers. Other factors that could be investigated to enhance resilience to shocks such as droughts include: national grain reserves, grain future markets, weather insurance, the role of food price subsidies, cash transfers and school feeding schemes (for a detailed discussion, see Devereux, 2003).

Table 9.2. Some examples of complex adaptations already observed in Africa in response to climate and other stresses (adapted from the initial categorisation of Rockström, 2003).

Emerging characteristics of adaptation

Social networks and social capital



Diversification of livelihoods



Social resilience

Perceptions of risks by rural communities are important in configuring the problem (e.g., climate risk). Perceptions can shape the variety of adaptive actions taken.

Networks of community groups are also important.

Local savings schemes, many of them based on regular membership fees, are useful financial 'stores' drawn down during times of stress.

Role and architecture of institutional design and function is critical for understanding and better informing policies/measures for enhanced resilience to climate change.

Interventions linked to governance at various levels (state, region and local levels) either enhance or constrain adaptive capacity.

Economic resilience

Issues of equity need to be viewed on several scales Local scale: (within and between communities)

- Interventions to enhance community resilience can be hampered by inaccessibility of centres for obtaining assistance (aid/finance)

Global scale: see IPCC, 2007b, re CDMS etc.

Diversification has been shown to be a very strong and necessary economic strategy to increase resilience to stresses. Agricultural intensification, for example based on increased livestock densities, the use of natural fertilisers, soil and water conservation, can be useful adaptation mechanisms.

Seasonal forecasts, their production, dissemination, uptake and integration in model-based decision-making support systems have been examined in several African contexts (see examples given). Enhanced resilience to future periods of drought stress may also be supported by improvements in present rain-fed farming systems through:

- water-harvesting systems;

- dam building;

- water conservation and agricultural practices;

- drip irrigation;

- development of drought-resistant and early-maturing crop varieties and alternative crop and hybrid varieties.


Ellis and Bahiigwa, 2003; Quinn et al., 2003; Eriksen et al., 2005; Grothmann and Patt, 2005.

Batterbury and Warren, 2001 ; Ellis and Mdoe, 2003; Owuor et al., 2005; Osman-Elasha et al., 2006; Reid and Vogel, 2006.

Sokona and Denton, 2001 ; AfDB et al., 2002; Thomas and Twyman, 2005.

Ellis, 2000; Toulmin et al., 2000; Block and Webb, 2001; Mortimore and Adams, 2001; Ellis, 2003; Ellis and Mdoe, 2003; Eriksen and Silva, 2003; Bryceson, 2004; Chigwada, 2005.

Patt, 2001; Phillips et al., 2001; Roncoli et al., 2001; Hay et al., 2002b; Monyo, 2002; Patt and Gwata, 2002; Archer, 2003; Rockstrom, 2003; Ziervogel and Calder, 2003; Gabre-Madhin and Haggblade, 2004; Malaney et al., 2004; Ziervogel, 2004; Ziervogel and Downing, 2004; Chigwada, 2005; Orindi and Ochieng, 2005; Patt et al., 2005; Matondo et al., 2005; Seck et al., 2005; Van Drunen et al., 2005; Ziervogel et al., 2005; Abou-Hadid, 2006; Osman-Elasha et al., 2006.

Improvements in the physical infrastructure may improve adaptive capacity. Sokona and Denton, 2001. Improved communication and road networks for better exchange of knowledge and information.

General deterioration in infrastructure threatens the supply of water during droughts and floods.

9.5.2 Adaptation costs, constraints and opportunities

Many of the options outlined above come with a range of costs and constraints, including large transaction costs. However, deriving quantitative estimates of the potential costs of the impacts of climate change (or those associated with climate variability, such as droughts and floods) and costs without adaptation (Yohe and Schlesinger, 2002) is difficult. Limited availability of data and a variety of uncertainties relating to future changes in climate, social and economic conditions, and the responses that will be made to address those changes, frustrate precise cost and economic loss inventories. Despite these problems, some economic loss inventories and estimations have been undertaken (e.g., Mirza, 2003). In some cases (e.g., Egypt and Senegal), assessments have attempted to measure costs that may arise with and without adaptation to climate-

change impacts. Large populations are estimated to be at risk of impacts linked to possible climate change. Assessments of the impacts of sea-level rise in coastal countries show that costs of adaptation could amount to at least 5-10% of GDP (Niang-Diop, 2005). However, if no adaptation is undertaken, then the losses due to climate change could be up to 14% GDP (Van Drunen et al., 2005). In South Africa, initial assessments of the costs of adaptation in the Berg River Basin also show that the costs of not adapting to climate change can be much greater than the costs of including flexible and efficient approaches to adapting to climate change into management options (see Stern, 2007).

Despite some successes (see examples in Table 9.2), there is also evidence of an erosion of coping and adaptive strategies as a result of varying land-use changes and socio-political and cultural stresses. Continuous cultivation, for example, at the expense of soil replenishment, can result in real 'agrarian dramas' (e.g., Rockstrom, 2003). The interaction of both social (e.g., access to food) and biophysical (e.g., drought) stresses thus combine to aggravate critical stress periods (e.g., during and after ENSO events). Traditional coping strategies (see Section 9.6.2) may not be sufficient in this context, either currently or in the future, and may lead to unsustainable responses in the longer term. Erosion of traditional coping responses not only reduces resilience to the next climatic shock but also to the full range of shocks and stresses to which the poor are exposed (DFID, 2004). Limited scientific capacity and other scientific resources are also factors that frustrate adaptation (see, e.g., Washington et al., 2004,2006).

As shown in several sections in this chapter, the low adaptive capacity of Africa is due in large part to the extreme poverty of many Africans, frequent natural disasters such as droughts and floods, agriculture that is heavily dependent on rainfall, as well as a range of macro- and micro-structural problems (see Section 9.2.2). The full implications of climate change for development are, however, currently not clearly understood. For example, factors heightening vulnerability to climate change and affecting national-level adaptation have been shown to include issues of local and national governance, civil and political rights and literacy (e.g., Brooks et al., 2005). The most vulnerable nations in the assessment undertaken by Brooks et al. (2005) (using mortality from climate-related disasters as an indication of climate outcomes) were those situated in sub-Saharan Africa and those that have recently experienced conflict. At the more local level, the poor often cannot adopt diversification as an adaptive strategy and often have very limited diversification options available to them (e.g., Block and Webb, 2001; Ellis and Mdoe, 2003). Micro-financing and other social safety nets and social welfare grants, as a means to enhance adaptation to current and future shocks and stresses, may be successful in overcoming such constraints if supported by local institutional arrangements on a long-term sustainable basis (Ellis, 2003; Chigwada, 2005).

Africa needs to focus on increasing adaptive capacity to climate variability and climate change over the long term. Ad hoc responses (e.g., short-term responses, unco-ordinated processes, isolated projects) are only one type of solution (Sachs, 2005). Other solutions that could be considered include mainstreaming adaptation into national development processes (Huq and Reid, 2004; Dougherty and Osman, 2005). There may be several opportunities to link disaster risk reduction, poverty and development (see, for example, several calls and plans for such action such as the Hyogo Declaration - wcdr/intergover/official-doc/L-docs/Hyo-go-declaration-english .pdf). Where communities live with various risks, coupling risk reduction and development activities can provide additional adaptation benefits (e.g., Yamin et al., 2005). Unprecedented efforts by governments, humanitarian and development agencies to collaborate in order to find ways to move away from reliance on short-term emergency responses to food insecurity to longer-term development-oriented strategies that involve closer partnerships with governments, are also increasing (see food insecurity case study below and SARPN - - for several case studies and examples; see also Table 9.2 for other possible adaptation options).

Notwithstanding these efforts and suggestions, the context and the realities of the causes of vulnerability to a range of stresses, not least climate change and variability, must be kept at the forefront, including a deeper and further examination of the causes of poverty (both structural and other) at international, national and local levels (Bryceson, 2004). The causes, impacts and legacies of various strategies - including liberalisation policies, decades of structural adjustment programmes (SAP) and market conditions - cannot be ignored in discussions on poverty alleviation and adaptation to stresses, including climate change. Some of the complex interactions of such drivers and climate are further illustrated in the two case studies below.

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