Innovative adaptation cuts climate risks from Bolivia to Niger

by Laurie Goering | @lauriegoering | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Sunday, 6 December 2015 21:52 GMT

Women walk home with wood for cooking that they collected from a luxury housing construction site in the upscale Cite du Niger district of Bamako, Sept. 5, 2012. REUTERS/Joe Penney

Image Caption and Rights Information
People closest to the problems can often come up with the best solutions, experts say

PARIS, Dec. 6 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Bolivia produces national, regional and even city weather predictions and warnings. But getting that information into the hands of people in the path of an oncoming drought or flood quickly and in a form they can use has long been a problem.

So Paula Pacheco's sustainable water organisation, based in Bolivia's Altiplano, tried something new. They taught high-school students in flood-hit towns to understand the weather data, then asked them to come up with effective monitoring and warning systems.

The best ideas were put into practice and students’ parents were then charged with making sure the alerts were spread in the community. Increasingly, in many places, weather alerts are now getting where they need to go, said Pacheco, a climate change expert with Agua Sustentable.

As extreme weather and other climate impacts strengthen around the world, building resilience to them will require innovative thinking, particularly from the people closest to the problems, climate change and development experts heard Sunday at a conference in Paris.

LAND FOR WOMEN IN NIGER

In southeast Niger, in Africa’s Sahel, 85 percent of women are illiterate and few manage to inherit and own land, despite national laws saying they should have an equal share, said Omar Tankari of CARE Niger.

Many also have no access to agricultural training in how to adapt farming to climate change, he said, and so see crops they do grow, on their husbands’ land, lost.

“There’s a lot of ignorance. Women tend to think they don’t have rights to land. But that’s not the case,” Tankari told listeners at Development and Climate Days, on the sidelines of the U.N. climate negotiations.

To change that, CARE asked women to draw up plans of what they wanted to do differently – using stick figures on paper instead of writing. Then they identified male "champions" who might persuade other men that helping women would help the community.

Within two years, 14 percent of women in 20 communities involved in the project filed for and won rights to land, Tankari said, and women started to be invited on agricultural training programmes.

It hasn't all gone smoothly – some women have been beaten by their husbands for demanding rights, he admitted. But it has led to women investing more in their land, and taking control of the harvests they produce.

Now the project is being expanded to 105 villages as part of the Building Resilience to Climate Extremes and Disasters (BRACED) programme, supported by Britain's Department for International Development.

“Previously you had a meeting and you didn’t hear the voices of women. They were just silent, Tankari said. “Now they are more confident.”

HARDIER ASSETS IN ETHIOPIA

In Ethiopia, another BRACED project aims to bring mobile phone banking – newly approved for use in Ethiopia – to pastoralists in the remote Afar region, one of the hottest and most climate-vulnerable parts of the country.

Herders’ money is all in their animals and “their assets die when drought is prolonged”, said Yvan Biot, director of research and development for Farm Africa, which aims to improve farming and cut hunger in East Africa.

But pastoralists with access to a bank account could reduce their herds when forecasts are bad, and have cash available to rebuild when times are better.

The project also hopes to provide the herders with livestock insurance, provided by commercial companies and bundled together with purchases like livestock vaccines or wormers, Biot said.

Simply having access to a phone could also let the herders arrange for trucks to take animals to market, rather than having to drive them long distance and risk them losing weight on the way, he said.

BATTLING SALT IN VIETNAM

In Vietnam, in turn, the problem is not drought but worsening salinity creeping up the Mekong Delta into rice paddies and slashing harvests.

A new salinity monitoring system, funded by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), traces levels of salinity from the coast to 40 kilometres inland, using 30 automated sensors in ground and surface water.

That data can now be mapped, and is helping farmers come up with ways to cope with saltier conditions, from planting more salt-tolerant rice varieties to raising catfish instead, or harvesting salt as another product to sell, said Gernot Laganda of IFAD.

The next step, he said, will be to provide forecasts and early warnings of when water is likely to be saltier – potentially allowing farmers to build irrigation gates to allow in freshwater when it's available and keep out brackish water.

“If a farmer knows the saline (water) is coming in a week and it's planting time, he has time to adapt,” Laganda said.

(Reporting by Laurie Goering; editing by Megan Rowling.The Thomson Reuters Foundation is reporting on the BRACED programme to support the programme’s goal to develop and disseminate climate resilience knowledge.)

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.