Climate Risk Management Through Sustainable Land Management in Sub-Saharan Africa



Empirical evidence has shown that farmers can adapt to climate change by using sustainable land and water management (SLWM) practices that provide local mitigation benefits, reducing or offsetting the negative effects of climate change at the level of the plot, the farm, or even the landscape. However, adaptation to climate change using SLWM practices in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) remains low. This study was conducted to examine the impact of government policies on adaptation to climate change.

Kenya and Uganda in East Africa and Niger and Nigeria in West Africa were used as case studies. The selection ensured that the transboundary sites had comparable biophysical and livelihood characteristics and that the major difference between the sites across adjacent countries was the policies in each country. The study used a variety of data sources, including satellite imagery data, focus group discussions, and household- and plot-level survey data to determine how land users have responded to climate change and the effects of their responses on agricultural productivity, climate-related risks, and carbon stock.

Each of the four case study countries offers success stories that enhance adaptation strategies. While Kenya’s policies have strongly supported agricultural research and development as well as an agricultural market environment that has offered incentives to farmers to adopt SLWM, neighboring Uganda has implemented government decentralization and a new land tenure policy, both of which have contributed to the rise of stronger local institutions that offer opportunities for improved community resource management. In West Africa, Nigeria has long supported irrigation development and recently focused on small-scale irrigation that has increased agricultural production and reduced production risks in the drier northern states. Even though such irrigation programs were not implemented as part of an adaptation to climate change, they have helped farmers to adapt well to climate change. Niger also offers a good example of tree planting and protection, which was successful due to a relaxation of the forest code and the passing of the Rural Code, which gave land users more rights to trees on their farms and thereby contributed to the regreening of the Sahel. Hence, in all the countries, we see the influence of policies that have influenced the adoption of SLWM and the response to climate change in general, policies that show promise for scaling up.

Scaling up these success stories requires public investment to raise awareness and provide the technological support required for these often knowledge-intensive practices. The relative success of Kenya in promoting soil conservation and fertility measures suggests that large-scale extension programs can be effective but require long-term commitment, something that is absent in the common practice of project funding. The long-term extension project in Kenya was also supported by a large number of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) active in land management. These organizations not only complement an extension program but also inject a degree of innovation that can lead to the generation of improved SLWM practices. Facilitating the linkages among all development organizations and with research organizations would serve to enhance the scaling-up process.

Some SLWM practices may require special attention. Specifically, irrigation is touted as an essential ingredient for increased productivity and for climate change adaptation in Africa by numerous organizations, including the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD). Irrigation faces many of the same challenges as other SLWM practices but given that irrigation development in SSA is the lowest in the world, there is greater need for capital investment (in water storage or distribution) to enhance more effective adaptation to climate change.


Climate change Sustainable land and water management Africa Adaptation Local institutions 


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© Springer International Publishing Switzerland 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.International Food Policy Research InstituteWashington, DCUSA
  2. 2.World Agroforestry CenterNairobiKenya
  3. 3.Makerere UniversityKampalaUganda

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