Archive for the ‘One Step at a Time’ Category

One Step at a Time – by Gwynne

September 21, 2011

One Step at a Time



by GWYNNE[2]


True change in environmental issues will involve more than raising awareness about the issues. Adaptation to environmental vulnerability is possible through a combination of understanding of the issues and appropriate measures. The way forward relies on many interventions that need to be in place immediately. As is the urgency of intervention there is need for as many stakeholders to be involved. The socio-economic situation in Africa aggravates the impact of environmental disasters. Therefore poverty reduction and environmental concerns need to be dealt with simultaneously as any progress made in either sector would easily be undone by a collapse in the other. This article seeks to highlight some generic solutions found in environmental studies dialogue with particular reference to the environmental issues referred to in previous articles[3].



As noted environmental issues are a threat to development. Socioeconomic challenges such as widespread poverty, rapid urbanisation, conflict and limited governance in some areas make dealing with environmental disasters difficult. Conversely environmental disasters merely exacerbate existing problems. The only solution is therefore to deal with both concerns simultaneously; a tragedy in either quarter would undo any progress made in another area if not concurrently managed. An example: desertification occurs where cultivation, inappropriate agricultural practices, overgrazing and deforestation cause land degradation, it is in fact a result of much deeper underlying forces of socio-economic nature, such as poverty and total dependency on natural resources for survival by the poor. The poor inevitably become both the victims and agents of environmental damage.


Regional level: Better data will allow policymakers to identify existing migratory trends, determine the linkages with climate change-related events, and prioritise action in expected areas. Channels of communication are particularly important in strengthening regional and trans-regional networks in mitigating and responding security risks such as migration. The Regional Environmental Education (EE) Programme[4] is to enable environmental education practitioners in the SADC region to strengthen environmental education processes for equitable and sustainable environmental management choices. This will be achieved through networking, resource materials, training capacity, and research and evaluation.


National level: An example here are the National Action Programmes to combat desertification (NAPs). They are important tools in guiding the implementation, donor coordination and monitoring of efforts in combating desertification and poverty reduction. As of April 2007, NAPs had been developed and adopted by 42 African countries. The NAP process was powerful in awareness raising, educating and mobilizing various stakeholders and therefore empowering them on drought and desertification issues. It also triggered and resulted into institutional and legislative reforms supportive of effective measures for tackling drought and land degradation. Some countries have set up National Desertification Funds (NDFs) as part of the NAP process. The NDFs serve as local and easily accessible sources of funding for implementation of NAP priorities[5].


Many African countries have formulated and are implementing national environmental policies, strategies and plans. In many countries, National Environmental Action Plans (NEAPs), which were first formulated in the early 1990s, have provided the broad policy framework for coordinated management and protection of the environment. They articulate among other things, policy interventions for conservation and sustainable utilization of natural resources, including land management and integrated resource planning. These include improving farming skills; improving the supply, replication and dissemination of technologies; ensuring access to land and tenure security; resolving problems of drought prone regions; and improving agricultural marketing systems, pro soil and water conservation, traditional agro-forestry and water harvesting[6].  


Greater national budgetary concern is needed to assess and estimate the socio-economic implications of environmental vulnerability, as contrasted to a more narrow environmental issue, and thus attract attention of economists and development planners. There is need to integrate national responses to climate change fully into economic planning and management at all levels that needs to be reflected in the national budget. Given the long life of major infrastructure such as dams, greater consideration of changes in the next 20, 30 or 50 years is needed. In particular, it is necessary to avoid that adaptation measures have negative unintended effects or increase horizontal inequalities. Improving inter-sector cooperation between various ministries will be important to minimise such risks.


Combating low food reserves and poverty reduction can be done in chorus by changing from subsistence farming to commercial farming. Enhancing food security requires agricultural production systems to change in the direction of higher productivity and also, essentially, lower output variability in the face of environmental disaster that threatens food security. Increasing production allows for adequate food supply and even surplus for storage for periods when environmental disasters threaten, disrupt or destroy crops. In order to stabilize output and income, production systems must become more resilient, i.e. more capable to perform well in the face of perturbing events. More productive and resilient agriculture requires transformations in the management of natural resources and higher efficiency in the production system (e.g. water use, soil nutrients, and genetic resources). These transformations are particularly needed in smallholder systems that are the main source of food and income for most of Africa’s poorest people[7].


Community level: One key element in integrating climate risk management into development practice is reaching people at the level of communities. At a local level: planting practices can change from season to season to adapt to climate variability. Such is a shift in crop mix such as moving from water-intensive corn cultivation to more traditional crops that require less water. Supplementary feeding schemes can assist when grazing is in short supply. A long-term recovery strategy and insurance against the impact of future droughts is changing the species in the herd exchanging cattle for camels and goats. Livestock banking has been proposed on the analogy of cereal banks, to assist producers to carry stock across the difficult seasons. Livestock banking proposes that the expense of restocking can be spared if, during parts of the year, animals can be traded in to an independently owned ‘bank’ in return for a token. Other alternatives might include simply turning the animals into cash and then rebuying when prices are low[8]. Another idea is that of urban agriculture to deal with the influx of people in urban areas, to increase food production and to ease the burden on rural agriculture. In addition it might ease the unemployment as people are self employed.


African traditional knowledge and local adaptation strategies are key entry and starting points for any purposive action. The development of appropriate adaptation measures has to be based on strategic information sharing that is culturally oriented and easily understandable by local communities. Resilient farming systems farmers are repository for traditional and indigenous knowledge, enterprise, skills, and practices related to crop and animal production.



  • In Humbane village in Gwanda, Zimbabwe, traditional method rainwater harvesting is used so that families can harvest enough food even when the rains are low.
  • Ethiopian farmers have adopted a range of adaptation measures in response to climate changes, including altering crop varieties, adopting soil and water conservation, and changing planting and harvesting periods, in response to changes in rain. In the Nile River Basin (Ethiopia), for instance, farmers grow 48 different crops and those who took adaptation methods produce more per hectare than those who did not.
  • Conflict resolution and community services—in DRC, local people relied on their own institutions, known as chambers dex paix or ‘peace councils’ and composed of elders, to deal with issues related to access to land that were fuelling the conflict.
  • The migration of pastoralists to areas of higher productivity alleviates stress on less productive or exhausted land. Restocking is usually thought of as something perpetrated by agencies, but pastoralists have their own systems of insurance against drought. Herders prepare for drought and epizootics by ‘lending’ their animals to relatives or friends in exchange for looking after some of their animals in return. Despite this, some interest groups argue that pastoralists are inherently inefficient and self-destructive, and should be settled, as is the official line in Nigeria, for example (Awogbade, 1981).

SOURCE: Climate Change and Security in Africa;  Vulnerability Discussion Paper: Valerie Ndaruzaniye, President, Global Water Institute Eckhard Volkmann, Desk Officer, Peacebuilding and Crisis Prevention, Federal Government

of Germany.PG15



Traditional adaptation strategies for coping with climate variability and extreme events are not well documented, neither is there an adequate sharing experience of which techniques work and which need to be adjusted for facing additional risks.





Information provided by environmental concern groups must be credible. This improves the effectiveness of early warning systems, allays hysteria and allows for the correct and appropriate measures to be taken. The dependence of most African economies on rain fed agriculture emphasizes the importance of drought early warning products for short- and long-term decision making in various sectors of the national economies. Accurate information is needed for identifying and prioritizing appropriate responses, and evaluating the impact of the interventions. The need for monitoring, mapping, and analysis of all disaster incidents, is linked to risk factors and vulnerability profiles. Assessments of the impacts on specific sectors that are important for livelihood security, e.g., agriculture and rural livelihoods and the effects on specific social and economic groups needs to be documented. African culture has much historical data passed on through oral tradition this needs to be placed in archives and could assist in identifying trends that would enable forecasting.



Approximately 90% of African households use biomass fuels (e.g. wood and vegetation) for cooking and water heating. A combination of unsustainable harvesting of forests and climate change (including unpredictable rainfall levels, drought, and flooding) threatens this high rate of biomass users with decreased forest cover rates, increased soil degradation, and supply disruption[9]. Reforestation projects are crucial to counteract the impact these activities are having. An expansion of electrical grids especially to rural areas will decrease dependence on biomass fuel. Electrical grids are only a solution to this problem if they are powered by clean fuel sources and to wean populations off complete dependence on biomass fuels. Most countries in Africa receive enough hours of sunlight to make a switch to solar energy a viable one. The one hindrance here is the high cost of implementation.


Africa has a largely unexploited hydropower potential. Utilising this would increase supply to match increased demand and would do so with reduced green house gas emissions. Less than 4% of Africa’s hydropower potential is currently utilized.  Governments could encourage the development of small-scale, hydro-schemes powered by private firms. Privatization could reduce financial burden on the government and encourage wide range of stakeholders. Also Run-of-the river hydropower projects avoid some of the drawbacks of larger dams and thus may be preferable where this option is available. However, care must be taken to consider the implications of large hydro projects on water resources and river basin management[10].




As can be seen from the different levels above reducing environmental vulnerability requires multi-level stakeholder coordination and communication. There are many advantages to involving the private sector no least is the much needed additional funding that the private sector would provide. Dialogue, raising awareness, fostering cooperation and participation in decision-making processes within and between countries is also essential.


The task before African governments is not an easy nor is there a single solution. Resolving the problem will require enormous financial commitment possibly more than is currently available to African governments, dedication to continuous development of cleaner sources of fuel with particular regard for poverty alleviation. The simultaneous managing of environmental vulnerability together with poverty reduction is necessary as one problem tends to feed the other while diminution of one diminishes the other. Government mechanisms at regional national and community level are required to enable the synchronized task of reducing Africa’s vulnerability to environmental disasters. In addition aid from non-governmental organisations as well as other donor parties is crucial as existing problems mean that African governments enter this arena with a handicap.  The situation though ominous is not without hope much has been done to enable African people to cope with environmental tragedies. Existing strategies are a step in the right direction, with many more steps required.




[1] This paper is a policy paper for decision makers throughout the African continent and outside of it. This paper includes recommendations for ways of action to be taken in order to effectively deal with the environmental vulnerabilities in Africa in general and in the SADC in particular which were discussed in Gwynne’s previous two articles.  

[2] Gwynne is a new research fellow in Green Compass Research. Gwynne can be reached at – gwynne04@gmailcom

[3] See The day after tomorrow. And To be or not to be. Environment and Humanitarian Disasters in Africa.Green Compass Research


[5] UNITED NATIONS ECONOMIC AND SOCIAL COUNCIL ECONOMIC COMMISSION FOR AFRICA Fifth Meeting of the Africa Committee on Sustainable Development (ACSD-5) Regional Implementation Meeting (RIM) for CSD-16 Addis  Ababa 22-25 October 2007 Africa Review Report on DROUGHT AND DESERTIFICATION. pg 22

[6] No.4 above .pg26

[7] Climate Change and Security in Africa;  Vulnerability Discussion Paper: Leslie Lipper, Senior Environmental Economist, UN FAO Mulat Demeke, Economist, UN FAO Jeronim Capaldo, Economist, UN FAO.

[8] Working Paper 117 DROUGHT AND LIVESTOCK IN SEMI-ARID AFRICA AND SOUTHWEST ASIA Roger Blench Zoë Marriage March 1999 Overseas Development 20-25


[9] Climate Change and Security in Africa;  Vulnerability Discussion Paper: Daniel Fiott, Research Fellow, Madariaga—College of Europe Foundation Patrice Yamba T. Kantu, Project Coordinator, Institute for Environmental Security Florian Peter Iwinjak, UNIDO. Pg 23

[10] Climate change and Africa: Africa Partnership Forum 8th Meeting of the Africa Partnership Forum Berlin, Germany 22-23 May 2007.pg11


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