Politics of Poverty

Food, farming, and climate change: A look into Feed the Future in Senegal

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How is US development assistance influencing local capacity for climate change adaptation?

Thanks to Emmanuel Tumusiime, Oxfam researcher, for his contribution to this post. His post, “How inclusive and sustainable is Feed the Future?” appeared on Politics of Poverty last week.

It should come as no surprise that rural Senegalese farmers are already having to adapt to climate change. Given the less frequent and more erratic rainfall and increases in temperature in Senegal, the need to integrate climate change adaptation within agriculture and food security programming is readily apparent.

Feed the Future agrees. The US government initiative on food security and agriculture has prioritized climate change adaptation as a cross-cutting issue throughout its programs. But has it caught on in the places where it’s most pressing to farmers’ livelihoods?

Farmer Odette Camara lives  in the Kédougou region of south-eastern Senegal. Camara grows potatoes, maize, rice, which could all be affected by changes in rainfall and temperatures due to climate change.
Farmer Odette Camara lives in the Kédougou region of south-eastern Senegal. Camara grows potatoes, maize, and rice, the growing seasons of which could all be affected by changes in rainfall and temperatures due to climate change. Photo: Brett Eloff / Oxfam America

Oxfam set out earlier this year to understand how the Feed the Future (FTF) initiative was contributing to the capacity of small-scale farmers to adapt to climate change. Oxfam commissioned a study focused on a FTF project called Wula Nafaa in the Tambacounda and Kedougou regions of Senegal. While Wula Nafaa did not explicitly have adaptation as an objective, FTF has adaptation as a cross-cutting objective, which we understand to mean that all opportunities should be used to strengthen adaptation. Oxfam researchers, led by Henry Matthieu Lo of the Institute of Environmental Studies of Cheikh Anta Diop University, interviewed farmers, community leaders, NGO field agents, FTF project staff, and government and USAID technical staff. Key findings emerged.

First, FTF investments are contributing to building livelihood assets, particularly through sustainable land use (forest resources preservation and conservation farming), finance for adaptation (facilitating access to credit), and innovations that increase yield. Conservation farming methods promoted through Wula Nafaa, in particular, have increased farmers’ yields and sustainable land use, thereby indirectly reducing vulnerability to climate change impacts. That is good.

However Oxfam research also found that farmers need accurate and timely weather information to enable them to plan their farming activities. Farmers surveyed see this as a priority; it is especially basic for adaptation when depending on rainfall to grow crops. The good thing is that this is beginning to gain recognition in other FTF projects in Senegal like the Economic Growth Project (PCE).

Local institutions also lack relevant climate change information that could inform development plans as well as national-level policies. This has been mainly due to an absence of vulnerability assessments, as well as short- and long-term weather forecasting that could accurately inform national adaptation strategies and programs. Recent conversations with USAID in Senegal indicate this weakness has been recognized, and a vulnerability assessment is apparently underway and near completion. This will be useful in directing adaptation actions at the national level, as long as the information is transferred to the Senegalese government so that it can be integrated into national policies and plans.

Oxfam research also found that there is little awareness among farmers and appreciation for pursuing sustainable adaptation strategies. For instance, farmers do not recognize conservation farming as an adaptation strategy. Lo explains, “While farmers have embraced [the techniques], they see it as simply a means of improving yield that has nothing to do with climate change.” Farmers need to be aware of climate change as a phenomenon that will adversely affect their farming if they are to take actions that build their livelihoods sustainably in the reality of climate change. Though Wula Nafaa did not have a specific mandate to empower farmers with climate awareness, this is a missed opportunity.

At the end of the day, it is local communities that are at the center of adaption to climate change. Efforts to foster adaptation hinge on their awareness of the issues, and their owning the process and having the ability to undertake the appropriate activities. By strengthening these efforts and awareness building, and by taking advantage of all opportunities to incorporate climate change adaptation into Feed the Future projects, small-scale farmers will be better prepared to cope with a changing world.


You can read a brief of the Senegal Feed the Future research here, which include four recommendations for how Feed the Future and other donor initiatives can improve small-scale farmers’ knowledge and ability to adapt to climate change.


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