The capacity of countries to adapt to changing climatic conditions is becoming an increasingly vital skill. Ecosystem-based Adaptation is the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people and communities adapt to the negative effects of climate change. Here’s how it is working in Mozambique.
Headlines of late have focused on the worst drought in decades in Africa and elsewhere.
In response, the international prices of maize and soybeans have risen past 2007-08 peaks, when they fueled food riots in more than 30 countries. Over the next few decades Africa’s population  is expected to expand to more than that of China or India, constituting about 23% of the global population by 2050.
This will place a huge demand on governments and states to provide sufficient survival opportunities. It is therefore critical to build resilient food systems that can enhance food security and address other numerous challenges like climate change, resource scarcity and severe ecological degradation.
However, the questions as to the type of measures/approaches and strategies required still generate divergent views on the international policy arena. Closer attention to a broader spectrum of options is urgently needed. Approaches that go beyond words into actions with potential to informing and guiding policy practices are imperative and urgently needed.
One of these approaches is Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA)  that has provided flexible, cost effective and broadly applicable alternatives for building robust food systems and reducing the impacts of climate change.
Ecosystem degradation undermines food production and the availability of clean water among other ecosystem services, thereby threatening human health, livelihoods and ultimately societal stability. Degradation increases the vulnerability of populations to natural disasters like the Horn of Africa droughts.
To meet the food needs of today and tomorrow, ecosystem services, such as water provision, pollination and maintenance of soil fertility must be enhanced . Farmers rely on soil micro-organisms to maintain soil fertility and structure for crop production, and on wild species in natural ecological communities for crop pollination and pest and predator control. At present, the value of these services is not built into the cost of food production.
The result is that farmers are not rewarded for stewarding their land for future generations, and food production and distribution are often environmentally damaging. The huge international research project on The Economics of Ecosystems and Biodiversity (TEEB) has drawn attention to the economic benefits of ecosystem services and calculating the costs of biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.
TEEB’s synthesis report (2010) argued that if the goods and services provided by the natural world are not valued and factored into the global economic system, the environment will become less resilient to shocks, risking human lives, livelihoods and the global economy.
The local case for action
The example below show lessons learned from local actions conducted by local actors targeting various aspects of adapting food to climate change. These can serve to open a window of opportunity in addressing the current food crisis plaguing the continent.
In the city of Xai Xai, Mozambique many households were experiencing an average of 4 to 5 months of food shortage every year, affecting mainly fishermen. Couple with the current drought crises and changing climate, this coastal community needed to draw from other sources of food productivity such as the seascape in addressing the need for additional sources of food supply.
Against this backdrop, Ecosystem-based adaptation approaches were used to address this food insecurity and build resilience of the local communities. UNEP with technical backstopping and financial support helped the Centre for Sustainable Development of Coastal Zones (CDS ZS) and introduced an EbA approach to solve this problem by implementing EbA activities to increase their resilience and to ensure the recovery and the sustainable future use of the mangrove ecosystem.
The EBA approaches used were fish farming, crab farming and mangrove reforestation. These community-based and community-led interventions helped enhanced the adaptive capacity resulting in the establishment of fish ponds, crab growth cages; directly benefiting 98 households (490 people) including 10 households in crab farming, 20 households in fish farming and 68 households in mangrove reforestation including 4 that is permanently involved in the mangrove nurseries.
Economy & ecosystems
The project provided seasonal labor for the household members involved in the activities. Families that once were only depending on fishing activity at the sea are now involved in fish and crab farming and they are getting enough for consumption and also selling the fish and crabs they harvest. The income from the sale of these products is used to purchase food and other goods for the households, ensuring food security and increasing resilience of local communities to climate change.
Mangrove is a nursery area for many marine species, most of which are important for food like fish, crabs and shrimps. Reforestation of mangrove has ensured the normal functioning of this ecosystem, which has in turn increased fishery productivity and yield, ensuring enhanced food security. The implementation of the fish and crab farming has increased change resilience to local community.
Fishermen, who previously relied solely on fishing in the sea for their livelihood, have crab farming as an opportunity to overcome the crisis of catches in the fishery activity. The crab farming is also having an effect in reducing the deforestation of mangroves at the local level. The outcomes of this project have helped the college of Marine Science to develop a fish and shrimp farming in the same area.
A way forward
The benefits of understanding what has previously worked can provide a guiding vision as we proactively address the current crisis. Sustainable food security strategies must thus, among others, develop new opportunities, increase productivity in agriculture, and assist in the development of domestic markets that can withstand international economic volatility.
Investment in EbA is one of the most important keys to job creation opportunities that simultaneously contribute to poverty eradication and to sustainable long-term food security.
Such investments will improve the competitiveness of domestic production, increase farmers’ profits and make food more affordable for the poor.
Dr Richard Munang holds a PhD in Environmental Change & Policy from the University of Nottingham, United Kingdom. He is currently the UN Environment Programme Policy & Programme Coordinator for the Climate Change Adaptation & Development programme for Africa. He specializes in societal and ecosystem-based adaptation and has conducted several assessments to understand how adaptation strategies and policy can be formulated to reduce climate change impacts. As of recent his focus has been on the role of adaptation in developing country-specific low-carbon economy, the green Economy and sustainable development objectives and translating Adaptation into practical business strategy.
 UN, World Population Prospects: The 2008 Revision. 2009, United Nations Population Division: New York.
 Ecosystem-based Adaptation is the use of biodiversity and ecosystem services as part of an overall adaptation strategy to help people and communities adapt to the negative effects of climate change at local, national, regional and global levels. EbA provides many other benefits to communities including food security (from fisheries to agro-forestry), sustainable water management and livelihood diversification (through increasing resource-used options).
 Munang R, Thiaw I, and Rivington M. Ecosystem Management: tomorrow’s approach to enhancing food security under a changing climate. Sustainability 2011, 3: 937-954.