Knowledge Sharing for Climate Change Adaption

Mechal - Resilience of small scale farmers

Mechal - Resilience of small scale farmers

Associated Organization: Indigo development & change

This interdisciplinary and integrative research project aims to identify, evaluate and, where appropriate, adjust existing strategies to cope with droughts in order to develop farming practices adapted to changing climatic conditions in semi-arid areas of South Africa and Ethiopia through an action research approach. Since rural women are among the most vulnerable land users the project team will generate specific strategies to enable them to meet their particular needs.

Themes: Agriculture, fisheries and food security, Crosscutting Issues, Gender, Poverty and vulnerability, Water

Regions: Southern Africa

Countries: Ethiopia, South Africa

Followers: 3 people are following this project

Overview: Small-scale farmers in semi-arid lands are typically restricted to marginal lands and cope with limited economic resources. Anticipated climate change, which is predicted to result in higher temperatures, later onset of rain seasons, will further weaken their economic conditions. In both study areas, opportunistic strategies to cope with current droughts can be environmentally damaging.The study areas: South Africa and Ethiopia

Population increase, land degradation, increased landlessness, decreased biodiversity, limited alternative livelihood options and changing land regulations because of changes in political power will all play a role in developing adaptive management strategies for small-scale farming system under climate change.

Small-scale farmers in semi-arid lands are typically restricted to marginal lands where they have to cope with environmental uncertainty, overcrowding and weak government support. Most rural households depend on natural resource use as part of their livelihood strategy since unemployment is high and available work is poorly paid. Agriculture thus plays a prominent role in the stability of rural communities. Increasing unreliability of rainfall and number and duration of droughts as predicted for many semi-arid African regions (IPCC 2007) particularly threaten the livelihoods of small-scale farmers. When drought strikes, these communities may lose their investment in agriculture. However, experienced farmers in arid areas have developed strategies to cope with temporary droughts and atypical rainfall patterns in the past and these may be relevant for developing new approaches to managing more severe climatic fluctuations. Without intervention, the current overcrowded conditions on the land are likely to result in the over-utilisation of resources during droughts, which could well lead to irreversible desertification, destruction of biodiversity and increasing poverty.

The two research sites for the proposed project, Hantam in the West of South Africa and Arsi Negelle district in the central Rift Valley of Ethiopia, are situated in the only global biodiversity hotspots in semi-arid areas (Conservation International 2005). Both areas are traditional farming areas, where small-scale farming plays a major role in supporting livelihoods. Both areas already experience changes in weather conditions (Archer et al in press) and are predicted to be strongly impacted by climate change.

Study Sites

A successful model for enhancing the ability of small-scale farmers to adapt to climate change has been developed in the course of preliminary research among artisanal rooibos tea growers in the Hantam, South Africa. A Participatory Action Research approach ensured that the scientific predictions and findings contributed to the adoption by the farmers of innovative strategies whilst the farmers were also able to make valuable contributions to research development and implementation (Archer et al in press). At both international and national levels of policy decisions and implementations there is growing recognition of the links between environment and livelihoods, and the need for action which will relieve pressure on the environment whilst improving rural livelihoods. This approach been enshrined in international law by the UNCCD.

Aim of the project This proposed interdisciplinary and integrative research project aims to identify and evaluate existing strategies to cope with droughts and to develop, implement and evaluate innovative farming and other land use practices adapted to climate change conditions in semi-arid areas of South Africa and Ethiopia through an action research approach.


The objectives of the project are to:

  • develop an information system for land users and other local stakeholders on the most recent understanding of anticipated climate change scenarios
  • develop a monitoring system for small-scale farmers to detect climate change effects
  • develop climate change indicators for small-scale farmers in the study area
  • analyse the impact of drought and climate change signals on current land use strategies
  • identify and evaluate (with regard to political, cultural, socio-economic, and ecological constraints) existing strategies to cope with drought and other effects of climatic change
  • facilitate the adjustment of existing or develop new adaptive management strategies with land users
  • ensure that women land users are integrated into all aspects of the project, and that their specific needs are recognised in developing responses
  • assess restoration techniques for sites that are crucial for mitigation of drought effects (e.g., forests, key grazing resources during drought periods)
  • inform policy on drought or climate change about adaptation strategies in farming practices for small-scale farmers
This project is based on a partnership agreement between various actors: academia, NGO and local stakeholders.Core funding for this project has been received by the Volkswagen Foundation. Additional funding has been received by the CCAA initiative (IDRC and DFID) and GEF small