Climate Change

'Policy dialogues around food security and climate adaptation need to draw from different disciplines'

Celia Petty is the co-founder and director of Evidence for Development (EfD), an UK-based organisation that specialises in research and capacity building for poverty alleviation, climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction with focus on Africa. She recently spoke to Subhojit Goswami about food security, livelihood diversification and challenges in designing effective adaptation programmes in Africa

By Subhojit Goswami
Published: Thursday 24 August 2017

Early warning and climate information systems are essential for designing effective emergency response and adaptation programmes. Where does Africa stand?

Lack of meteorological infrastructure is one of the most persistent challenges in this part of the world. Reliable and usable weather data is often inaccessible to those who need it the most. Important information on drought forecasts and rainfall distribution is in short supply due to lack of weather stations on the ground. In order to put climate information services to best use, we have to prioritise the value of climate and weather data. But that’s not all.

Even if the authorities alert the vulnerable communities and offer recommendations on enhancing resilience, those suggestions might not be actionable for everybody. In Africa, people’s capacity to adapt to specific circumstances and act on specific advice is restricted due to several reasons. Hence, the governments need to assess livelihood vulnerability and different levels of exposure to climate disasters apart from strengthening climate information system.

Building climate-resilient infrastructure in vulnerable areas is seen as a long-term strategy. Has Africa been able to integrate climate change into infrastructure planning?

There are clearly huge challenges. In a post-disaster scenario, what should be the strategy: to rebuild infrastructure as it was last time or invest in infrastructure that can weather future disasters? Working in coordination with climate scientists, civil engineers and locals can help create disaster-proof roads and other critical infrastructure that can prevent extreme weather events from turning into a large-scale disaster.

Do you see the willingness among communities to experiment with climate-resilient agriculture?

While people are working very hard to produce seeds that are better adapted to local conditions and resilient to climate extremes, the smallholders can find it difficult to afford them because they are expensive. Similarly, most people may be aware of solutions, but they don’t have the means to implement them. For instance, farmers can switch from maize to cotton cultivation because the latter is more drought-resistant. However, the investment needed to make that transition is beyond their means. So, people are quite stuck. They are neither able to produce sufficiently to survive off the land nor earn enough to procure food from markets.

When it comes to livelihood diversification, are people seeking alternatives to reliance on cattle or crops?

Moving out of agriculture or agropastoralism would have been feasible if there were other lucrative opportunities available and communities could rely on non-farm sources of income. It is not the case in most of the countries in the region. They would either move to cities where resources are already under stress and seek employment in hazardous occupations. Moving to something more unpleasant is not an upward adaptation.

How do we move towards a solution?

The lessons from the past are important for building the future. The policy dialogues around food security and climate adaptation across the region need to draw from different disciplines—agronomy, climate science, social science, engineering—and look at the problems holistically. There’s a need to transcend disciplinary silos and forge a synergy between local and national strategies.

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