Harnessing tradition to adapt to climate change

Sponsored content: Climate adaptation projects tap a vital resource: community engagement


John Kaganga recently made a case for why the global development community should invest more in engaging communities and harnessing local knowledge for climate action. “Promoting local innovation is very important in climate change adaptation,” Kaganga told a group of scientists, journalists, financial institutions, development partners and government reps attending the 2018 Adaptation Futures Conference in Cape Town (South Africa).

This was a powerful pitch from a key constituency that often gets overlooked in the climate change battle. Kaganga, a retired teacher, smallholder farmer and leader at Kikandwa Environmental Association (a grassroots organization that works with over 400 farmers in Uganda) stated that local communities still have vast knowledge and innovations waiting to be unlocked by the right investments. His view is well captured in Uganda’s latest investment plan for resilience. With so much focus on unlocking disruptive technologies for development, he attended the event to champion the voices of local people and advocate for leaders in the climate adaptation space to also consider leveraging traditional knowledge.

The Zambia Strengthening Climate Resilience project, which supports local communities to address their climate vulnerability with US$36 million funding from the CIF’s Pilot Program for Climate Resilience, is an example of this approach, which received plenty of attention during the conference. In building a resilient water management system community members Pomolo Akowondo and Saasa Dorcas are working with small teams and communities to clear the canals in the Barotse sub-basin of the Zambezi River. In my visit to the country planned since transitioning into PPCR, I learnt first-hand that the traditional ways to manage the ancient canal system were not abandoned. Instead communities are transforming it to better adapt to climate change, with a more functional water management system that provides the space for agricultural and fishing businesses to thrive.

So far more than 2,000 households in the district are set to benefit from the improvements, with modern technologies such as three-dimensional GIS asset mapping to inform infrastructure works and geo-engineering techniques to carry them out. The experience of Zambia and other countries was showcased through Virtual Reality 360º at the PPCR conference stand. Kaganga, Pomolo or Saasa’s drew attention amid the recent water crisis in Cape Town, underscoring the urgent need to explore unconventional ways to adapt to a changing climate, but putting communities in the driver’s seat.

As the World Bank recently succeeded in mainstreaming climate change in its lending (financing US$7.7 billion of adaptation-informed investments compared in fiscal year 2018 compared to US$3.9 billion in 2017), the PPCR is harnessing local solutions and global technologies, with much needed concessional finance in line with the Africa Climate Business Plan. As we have seen in some of our work, community engagement and filling the knowledge gap are two areas that must be brought to the front burner.

This post is sponsored by Climate Investment Funds.