Local climate adaptation in Ethiopia and Mali
Farmers and herders in African drylands are often considered as being on the front line of climate
change. Collaborative research between Action Against Hunger (ACF), Tearfund, and the Institute of
Development Studies (IDS), in Ethiopia and Mali showed a considerable capacity of households to
adapt to what they perceive as changing rainfall patterns, but also significant costs and barriers to
Preliminary findings from the study, due to be published
in early 2010, illustrate some key areas for support to
strengthen adaptive capacity.
Changing risks and impacts
A perception of changing rainfall patterns features
prominently in both country case studies. Over the past
ten years, the rain has become increasingly unpredictable
and erratic; the seasonal rains have started later and
finished earlier. This is detrimental to people’s key assets,
cattle and farmland, which are vulnerable to climate
risks. Key trends that affect households’ ability to tackle
climate risks include increasingly limited livelihood
choices and reduced solidarity in times of stress.
Recurrent drought has significantly reduced harvests and
extended hunger gaps. Communities report an increasing
sense of fatigue in the face of the changes they are
experiencing. Even richer groups are experiencing
increasing losses of key assets from multiple shocks, and
an increasing feeling of insecurity.
Challenges to adaptation
A number of adaptive strategies were observed in
response to climate and other stressors, but many are
associated with costs to households’ livelihoods. For
• Reduced pasture quality means herders adapt
by travelling farther and for longer periods with
their animals. However, yield from livestock is still
insufficient. Furthermore, conflict over grazing and
water resources has increased between local people
and those from different areas passing through.
• Poorer households often use labour migration in
times of need. However, this can reduce households’
abilities to look after their own farms, thus increasing
their vulnerability to future shocks.
• Formal and informal community and external
institutions have traditionally provided support during
drought. However, access to support from community
institutions is, to a large extent, dependent on gender
and wealth. Furthermore, as times have become
tougher for all, external institutions are only partially
able to fill the gaps in support that households need.
Livestock herder in Djebock, Mali
• Increase the options of the poorest people to diversify
their livelihoods, by improving their access to and
sustainable use of assets such as agricultural inputs,
natural resources and credit, particularly during
critical hunger periods.
• Strengthen existing local institutions with financial
and technical support so that they can boost
household strategies (regardless of the wealth, gender
or ethnic identity of household members) and fill gaps
in institutional support.
• Integrate adaptation into national development
policies, with a joined-up approach between
agriculture, water, nutrition, the environment, climate
change and disasters. Longer term programmes are
needed in order to effectively build resilience to
climatic and economic shocks.
Lars Otto Naess,
Institute of Development Studies,
University of Sussex, Brighton, UK.
Action Against Hunger.
The following areas of action could strengthen existing
household adaptive capacity and community solidarity,
in order to avoid strategies that further increase
Changing climates, changing lives: Adaptation
strategies among pastoral and agro-pastoral
communities in Ethiopia and Mali. By ACF
International, IDS, TEARFUND, IER, A-Z CONSULT,
ODES. In Press. http://tilz.tearfund.org/Research/