Mahfoudh Haji, a climate change activist from Zanzibar, left a conference in Ethiopia earlier this month charged with fresh ideas for helping beekeepers, farmers and children on his island earn money while restoring the environment.
The inspiration came from efforts to deal with a very different problem in Malawi – the influx of refugees. The project, which Haji heard about from fellow conference delegates, assigns plots of unused land for refugees to farm. This gives them a source of food and income, helps reduce costs on the government, and quells tensions with locals.
In Tanzania, Haji hopes to create new work from unused land and forests in eco-friendly ways.
“What I have learned is that there are people in the world dealing with similar problems,” he said, sitting with his mother by the Zanzibar Climate Change Alliance’s exhibition stand in Addis Ababa. “I can apply this knowledge to my society; even the youth can establish projects on unused land in Zanzibar to plant and increase incomes.”
The 13th annual Community-Based Adaptation Conference (CBA13), organised by the International Institute for Environment and Development (IIED), brings together environmental advocates and community organisers from around the developing world to talk about how they’re responding to the weather extremes and seasonal changes linked to rising global temperature.
The impacts vary widely, from shortages of water for farming, drinking and hydropower; to floods that wash away crops; to heat so intense that people can’t work. But they all impede development and contribute to poverty in some of the world’s poorest and least developed areas.
Delegates came to CBA13 looking for ideas on how to adapt, and support from funders, aid agencies and non-profits. But rather than listening to speakers or watching PowerPoint presentations, at this conference it was the audience that did most of the talking and brainstorming.
People compared indigenous climate forecasting to new technology, shared stories of overcoming obstacles or failures in their work and perfected pitches for funders. They showcased their projects in an exhibition area, with local products such as traditional jewellery, essential oils and Zanzibar honey.
“This has grown out of a bottom-up, vulnerable communities-based agenda of how they can understand climate change, understand adaptation, do adaptation and help each other do adaptation,” said Saleemul Huq, director of the International Centre for Climate Change and Development and a senior fellow at IIED. Huq started the CBA conference in Bangladesh 15 years ago.
But funding remains a big challenge, getting stuck with governments rather than trickling down to projects that are conceived and driven by communities.
“Local solutions are grounded in local realities and build local capabilities,” said Heather McGray, director of the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, a sponsor of the conference. “This makes for adaptation that is more effective and more sustainable. Channels for getting finance from the global level into local hands exist, but they need strengthening.”
Faced with funding shortages, community projects in Kenya, Uganda, India, Nepal and elsewhere are designed to adapt to the climate changes they’re feeling while also promoting development.
The Zanzibar Climate Change Alliance, a network of civil society organisations, created cooperatives to help seaweed farmers, beekeepers and others cope with changes such as rising sea levels and temperatures.
The warmer water is blamed for killing seaweed. So the alliance has provided boats for the farmers – many of them women who don’t know how to swim – to venture into deeper water. It has also encouraged tree-planting in deforested areas. More trees help beekeepers expand their business and reduce water evaporation in catchment areas that are drying up.
Similarly, in rural eastern India, the Development Research Communication and Services Centre combines science with indigenous traditions to grow food and generate income. It teaches people to garden nutritional plants, harvest water for drought periods, store seeds and forecast the weather.
And in Kenya, community organisers are helping women sell their colourfully beaded jewellery and cloths online, while the private Africa Agency for Arid Resources buys natural gum and resins from locals to make hair and skin oils, drinks, vitamins and other products to sell in Asia and Europe.
By growing their income and diversifying their livelihoods, these communities create options beyond their traditional farming and herding activities, which are becoming less reliable under increasingly erratic weather.
“We would like to be self-reliant,” said Agnes Leina, executive director of the NGO Ill’laramatak Community Concerns, which supports Kenyan pastoralist women and girls. “We would like to have capacity to become entrepreneurial – to do our own businesses and to earn our money, so that we can use our money to do our development, so that we are not always dependent and asking for handouts.”