IPCC Fourth Assessment Report: Climate Change 2007
Climate Change 2007: Working Group II: Impacts, Adaptation and Vulnerability

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).

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).

Theme  Emerging characteristics of adaptation  Authors 
Social resilience 
Social networks and social capital 
  • 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.
Ellis and Bahiigwa, 2003; Quinn et al., 2003; Eriksen et al., 2005; Grothmann and Patt, 2005.  
  • 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.
Batterbury and Warren, 2001; Ellis and Mdoe, 2003; Owuor et al., 2005; Osman-Elasha et al., 2006; Reid and Vogel, 2006. 
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.
Sokona and Denton, 2001; AfDB et al., 2002; Thomas and Twyman, 2005. 
Diversification of livelihoods 
  • 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.
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. 
  • 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.
Patt, 2001; Phillips et al., 2001; Roncoli et al., 2001; Hay et al., 2002b; Monyo, 2002; Patt and Gwata, 2002; Archer, 2003; Rockström, 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.
  • 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.
Sokona and Denton, 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 (Rockström, 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 http://www.unisdr.org/). 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).