Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable to droughts, floods and other climate-related stressors and shocks. Some of the most vulnerable in the region are rural communities in arid and semi-arid areas, dependent on agriculture and livestock rearing. The processes of inequality that drives their vulnerability and risk to climatic variability and change is now recognized as important in pursuing the sustainable development goals.
Funded by the Natural Environment Research Council as part of RCUK’s Global Challenges Research Fund (GCRF), this research aimed to contribute to greater understanding of the underlying drivers of risk, while also identifying pathways to improve the impact that climatic information may have on building resilience through bridging the ‘usability gap’. The focus of the research was on understanding the learning processes that build resilience and support livelihoods, which are responding to multiple pressures and opportunities across timescales in contexts that are complex and highly uncertain.
Knowledge that feeds in to managing uncertainty is derived from a range of traditional, indigenous, local and scientific sources. In such contexts, linear models of knowledge generation from data collection to information generation to knowledge production around one specific stressor in one timescale are insufficient. Consequently, the processes of social learning, as iterative reflection that occurs when experiences, ideas and environments are shared with others, are central to building resilience.
The research aimed to improve our understanding of social learning in vulnerable communities across temporal scales and in complex historically, socially, economically and politically mediated contexts. The interdisciplinary endeavor paid particular attention to environmental history and the dynamics of power, politics and gender within them, and explored how they link to ongoing work on delivering improved scientific climate information.This research built on the interdisciplinary track record of the University of Sussex and the Institute of Development Studies in climate science, climatic information exchange, adaptation, environmental history and processes of power and politics within social learning in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The collaboration used in depth case studies with participatory action research building on an established partnership with a broad consortium of research and development partners in Kenya – the Ada consortium. The case studies provided learning and evidence from a continuum of communities focused on agricultural to pastoral livelihoods in arid and semi-arid regions of the country.
The learning from the case studies on social learning and local resilience building is being shared through engagement with key stakeholders and networks working in climate change adaptation and disaster risk reduction in the region. A facilitated dialogue with key stakeholders is inquiring in to potential avenues for improving the links between climate information exchange and disaster risk reduction strategies to build resilience in vulnerable communities. The project is helping to facilitate planning of future work, building on the ongoing work of partners’ in NERC/DFID funded projects and others, and identifying opportunities for further fundraising through the GCRF or other vehicles.