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Adaptive Strategies of the Poor in Arid and Semi-Arid Lands: Project Outline and Research Protocol

Section I. The Project Outline

I.A Institutional Framework

The International Institute for Sustainable Development is a non-profit private corporation established and supported by the Governments of Canada and Manitoba. It is a registered charitable organization for Canadian income tax purposes. IISD's mandate is to promote sustainable development in decision-making within government, business and the daily lives of individuals in Canada and internationally (see Articles of Incorporation). As a relatively new Institute, IISD is helping to shape initiatives which move sustainable development from concept to practice. This requires the integration of the well-being of people, environment and economy within the centers of decision making in government, industry, the home and in the community.

As a knowledge and action-based institute, IISD is committed to producing useful and practical results, and to facilitating the transfer of knowledge and experience. Its outputs are expected to provoke change rather than merely highlight problems. Consequently, IISD implements its activities in two ways: through focused research on policy and institutional change, and through communications and transfer of knowledge. These processes are closely aligned because research without broad dissemination of results is unlikely to effect change. Also, there is consideration of the tremendous need for the recognition of grassroots or community knowledge and practices as a source of inspiration and knowledge about sustainable development. IISD's involvement in this initiative on adaptive strategies is a direct consequence of this consideration.

All of IISD's projects and programs are demand driven, they must clearly show the potential to make a significant difference, add value and demonstrate IISD's comparative advantage in engaging in any program activity. The IISD, through inputs from the Nairobi and Toronto workshops in April and November 1993, respectively, identified information - its identification, documentation and dissemination - as one of the critical tools of empowerment, which it has the capacity to avail to the poor. Specifically, empowerment through facilitating information gathering and sharing, was identified as a major conduit of building the capacity of communities to respond and adapt to changing social, economic and ecological conditions that undermine their achievement of sustainable livelihoods. The Africa Case Studies project, in collaboration with the Synergos Institute and the African Association for Literacy and Adult Education (AALAE), constitutes the first step in this endeavor. Engaging in the exercise of documenting and sharing adaptive strategies of the poor with the poor, and with policy makers including governments, development agents and the donor community, has become a priority program area. This will be done in partnership with local institutions and communities in five countries in East and Southern Africa and the Sahel.

IISD experience in Africa to date is drawn from the current poverty and empowerment program staff who have lived and worked in Africa, two (2) board members resident in Nairobi, the Africa Case Studies project implemented in collaboration with Synergos Institute and the African Association for Literacy and Adult Education (AALAE), as well as through participants in workshops held in Nairobi, Toronto and Winnipeg . The Institute's comparative advantage in engaging in an activity on adaptive strategies in Africa is drawn from this experience which has given us the capacity to access a network of institutions that work closely with the poor. In addition, through our past work on Poverty and Empowerment we have established an understanding of the systems approach to impoverishment and sustainable development, empowerment for sustainable development and policy adjustments, poverty and sustainability, and we are now well placed to undertake a more focused, concrete piece of work drawing on this work. We are now prepared to work in arid and semi-arid lands in other regions in which we might be able to network effectively. Our capacity to leverage resources, our experience in influencing decision-making in sustainable development and our in-depth knowledge of the broader issues of sustainability, offer other key advantages.

I.B Background

The conditions that were enunciated by the Brundtland Commission, UNCED and Agenda 21 with regard to the poor in developing countries remain unchanged. For instance, population growth in Africa where the ecological base is fragile and deteriorating, is projected to be the most rapid. External and internal central urban institutions and individuals such as governments and commercial interests continue to extend their power, ownership and exploitation of rural areas.

Under existing conditions of externally driven development policies, concentration on the cash economy and existing trade relations, the typical responses of the poor have been to: appropriate common property resources; intensify agriculture on marginal lands; increase heads of livestock and shorten fallow periods; migrate on a seasonal or permanent basis to cities, towns, agricultural plantations and more vulnerable and marginal lands; and resort to large families in order to diversify sources of income and labor.

These responses have not provided long-term benefits to the poor. However, there is a growing interest in the poor as agents for their own self improvement guided by their own knowledge base and strategies which could lead to sustainable livelihoods. Our preparatory workshops have confirmed the need for clear and detailed documentation of adaptive strategies that have led to sustainable livelihoods and the policy issues that enhance or constrain the development and implementation of these strategies. These strategies are likely to have evolved from an interaction between contemporary and indigenous knowledge. Hence the initiative seeks to capture the synergies and the conditions and processes which produced and reinforced them. It is recognized that these strategies are diverse and include adaptations to ecological, social, political and cultural risks.

Interactive Elements of Adaptive Strategies

I.C The Study Focus

IISD recognizes that the problems enunciated above occur globally in diverse socio-ecological systems. Initially, the initiative will focus on agropastoralists in arid and semi-arid areas in Africa with the view of using the lessons learned from this experience to develop similar initiatives in other regions and socio-ecological systems. Our entry point is the identification of adaptive strategies, which are the result of indigenous knowledge and experiences, contemporary knowledge including scientific and technological innovations and social and economic issues, and which have led to sustainable livelihoods in arid and semi-arid lands. (see graphic, above).

I.D Purpose

The purpose of this project is to galvanize the transition from poverty to sustainable livelihoods in arid and semi-arid lands. The project seeks ways to empower communities to mobilize their options for making the transition from poverty to sustainable livelihoods. The project will contribute to this result through model efforts with communities to articulate and share relevant information on successful adaptive strategies. Through policy analyses and assessments of the contribution of contemporary knowledge, the project will help reinforce such strategies and provide policy makers with information to help them design more appropriate interventions.

The objectives are:

  • To document information on adaptive strategies which lead to, or have the potential to lead to, sustainable livelihoods.
  • To package and disseminate information sets on adaptive strategies to local communities and other interested groups.
  • To provide policy makers and local communities with recommendations through the identification of key interactions, synergies, antagonisms, etc. among traditional and contemporary knowledge and the relevant policy conditions under which adaptive strategies evolved.
  • To identify, in a preliminary manner, indicators of sustainable livelihoods in arid and semi-arid lands.
  • To provide researchers and other interested parties with information on the process and methodology used.
  • To influence the outcome of the WSSD in the areas of poverty and sustainable development.

I.E Outputs

The Outputs will be:

  • documented adaptive strategies and processes that have led or may lead to sustainable livelihoods
  • a model package of recommendations which can be used to reinforce adaptive strategies
  • a comprehensive and analytical paper on policies that impinge on adaptive strategies
  • preliminary indicators of sustainable livelihoods in arid and semi-arid lands
  • a report on the process and methodology of the exercise
  • preliminary analytical report for submission to the World Summit for Social Develop third preparatory committee

I.F Working Definitions

Coping and adaptive strategies

Davies (1993) draws a distinction between coping and adaptive strategies based on the type of risk faced by households and communities. For instance, coping strategies are defined as "the bundle of poor people's responses to declining food availability and entitlements in abnormal seasons or years". Thus coping strategies are characteristic of secure livelihood systems used only during periods of food stress; they constitute a fall-back mechanism during periods of decline in access to food. Adaptive strategies, on the other hand, are characteristic of vulnerable socio-ecological systems and modes of production, they constitute a permanent change in the mix of productive activities and require modification of community rules and institutions to meet livelihood needs.

Sustainable Livelihoods

"A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (stores, resources, claims and access) and activities required for a means of living: a livelihood is sustainable which can cope with and recover from stress and shocks, maintain and enhance its capabilities and assets and provide sustainable livelihood opportunities for the next generation; and which contributes net benefits to other livelihoods at the local and global levels and in the short and long term". (Chambers and Conway, 1992)

Alternatively, we might view sustainable livelihoods as concerned with people's capacities to generate and maintain their means of living, enhance their well-being and that of future generations. These capacities are contingent upon the availability and accessibility of options which are ecological, socio-cultural, economic and political and are predicated on equity, ownership of resources and participatory decision making. Both notions of sustainable development and sustainable livelihoods incorporate the idea of change and uncertainty.

I.G Criteria for Community Selection

Communities which possess many of the following characteristics as available will be chosen:

  • particular adaptive processes and strategies which lead to sustainable livelihoods
  • multiple vulnerability (ecological, political, economic, social, etc.)
  • existing information on adaptive strategies including links and contacts
  • available human resources and institutional arrangements for implementation
  • relative accessibility
  • a community that is representative of communities in arid and semi-arid lands, for example, population density relative to resource base and socio-economic variation
  • communities that have experienced significant internal and external changes in the recent past (10 - 15 years) and have adapted.

I.H Participating Countries

These include:

  • Burkina Faso
  • Ethiopia
  • Kenya
  • South Africa
  • Zimbabwe

I.I. Project Strategy and Implementation Arrangements

The overall design of the project strategy and implementation arrangements is aimed at ensuring ownership of the results by the local communities as well as to give policy makers insights into communities' perceptions of sustainable livelihoods.

The lead implementing agency will be the IISD. However, IISD will work in close collaboration with other institutions such as UNDP, IDRC, UNEP and locally based Non-government organizations. The Institute will act as convener and facilitator of the project management team meetings, coordinate the process with the project coordinator resident in the region and vet the quality of work produced.

The Project Management Team includes:

  • IISD Staff
  • The UNDP
  • A locally based Regional Project Coordinator has been selected from the African Association of Adult Literacy and Education (AALAE), to ensure that the project is effectively anchored and managed in the study region. AALAE is a continental federation of national associations, institutions, non-government organizations and individuals involved in adult education. The thrust of AALAE's activities is aimed at equipping individuals and communities with skills to deal with political, socio-economic and environmental change, through building capacities of members in the areas of research, training and evaluation; and through facilitation of intra-continental and intercontinental cooperation.

The International Advisory Group(IAG) will bring expertise in the areas of policy, community engagement, ecology, socio-economic and political issues, communications, and small business development skills. The IAG will provide guidance and advise on the overall implementation strategy, the design and final quality of the outputs. Members of the IAG include Charlie Shackleton from the University of the Witwatersrand Rural Facility in South Africa; Costantinos Berhe of Environment and Development Society in Ethiopia; Anil Gupta of SRISTI in India; Walter Luisigi from the World Bank, Eugene Aw, regional coordinator for Africa 2000 network; Joachim Voss from IDRC and representatives from CIDA and UNEP.

Lead institutions in participating countries will provide local project coordinators, who will in turn, put together a multidisciplinary team to conduct the research. The skills within each research team must at the minimum include economics, sociology, ecology, agriculture and anthropology. The lead institutions or local partners include ENDA-Zimbabwe, Wits Rural Facility, Environment and Development Society and KENGO. The fifth local partner from Burkina Faso is still to be named.

I.J Project Review, Reporting and Evaluation

This project will be subject to review by IISD and UNDP six months after implementation. IISD, in collaboration with the UNDP and local partners, will prepare a report for submission to the preparatory committee of the World Summit on Social Development.

Additional continuous review of progress will be done by the International Advisory Committee which will meet twice during the implementation period. At the end of the project cycle, an evaluation will be done to capture the experiences and lessons learned, and to monitor the impact of the exercise and the outputs on communities and policy makers.

I.K Ownership of Results

The project is designed to encourage local ownership of the results, especially outputs 1 and 2. As far as possible, ownership will reside with the local communities and this will be appropriately acknowledged. This, however, will not prevent IISD from further using the information in whatever way it may see fit.

Ownership of the other outputs will reside with IISD. Appropriate quantities of the reports will be available to international and local partners and their contribution to the project will be duly acknowledged.

Appropriate arrangements will be made with other partner institutions

Section II. The Protocol

This research protocol is intended as a concise statement of what is expected of each in-country program. It presents questions, guidelines and issues which each study site must address and adhere to.

In order to realize the goals and objectives of the adaptive strategy initiative, researchers will seek to capture the synergies arising out of the interaction between contemporary and indigenous knowledge, and the conditions and processes which produce and reinforce adaptive strategies.

II.A. The Role of the RPC and LPCs

The Regional Project Co-ordinator (RPC) will manage the implementation of the project at national levels, liaise with local project co-ordinators, monitor progress and synthesize policy reviews from the five participating countries.

The Local Project Co-ordinators (LPCs) will be the lead researchers who must work directly in the field with other researchers and the community; and must reside within the community together with team members over the duration of fieldwork. Delegation at this level will be inconsistent with the thrust of the project.

II.B Time-Frame

The actual field implementation of the project commences in October of 1994 and will end in August of 1995. Preliminary reports are expected in mid-December to allow for inputs into the World Summit for Social Development (WSSD) third preparatory committee meeting in January, 1995.

II.C Structure and Content

This section describes the questions which the research report should address, and indicates the structure and contents of the report.

1) Context

The context provides the national historical and macro-policy environment in which communities exist and function and will largely be based on existing literature, but can be supplemented by interviews with appropriate individuals. Special emphasis should be placed on those policies which impact on communities.

1.a) Historical context

Key question: What kinds of ecosystem, socio-economic and political changes have occurred in the project countries?

(Time-frame - emphasis might be placed on the post-colonial period. However, other strategic issues may be considered.)

In this section researchers need to describe the signals and indicators of change. Consider a tabular presentation of national and community data to put community data in perspective. Examples of indicators follow:

  • Ecosystem indicators i.e., agro-ecological zones; climatic variables including rainfall patterns and major droughts; soils status; extent of desertification; siltation rates; vegetation types and cover, etc.
  • Socio-economic indicators i.e., the nature of enterprises; income sources and their distribution; migration and other demographic factors; employment; human health indicators (e.g., mortality rates); animal health indicators; rights, including grazing, land-tenure, tree tenure and land-use.
  • Political indicators i.e., the nature of government; the extent of centralization and decentralization of political authority (i.e. local self-government); system of procurement of goods and services including trade, and financial flows to communities.
1.b) Macro-policy context

Key question: What national and international policies, i.e., agricultural, economic, environmental, social, impede or facilitate the achievement of sustainable livelihoods?

Policies to be considered include macro-policy adjustments including structural adjustment programs, trade policy, and the role of the formal and informal sectors.

2) Community Profile

2.a) Defining community

Specify the size (density, size of territory), nature (ethnicity, agro-pastoralist vs. pastoralist), migration patterns and relationships with other communities.

(It may be necessary to use a sampling design.)

2.b) Indicators of change

In addition to indicators outlined in (1.a) above, use community knowledge to describe the following indicators of change:

(Note here that the time boundary may be as far as communities can recall.)

  • Ecosystem
    • biomass, species and water availability and access
      • (Biomass availability is a function of herd species composition, i.e. mix of cattle, sheep, and goats. Is herd mix a survival strategy? Is the strategy sustainable? What about the composition of human diet as an indication of ecosystem stress?)
    • indicator species
    • vegetative cover - note seasonal variations
    • water quality and availability as indicators of ecosystem health
  • Socio-economic
    • infrastructure, credit, labor
    • incidence of animal disease
    • commodity markets - links to foreign markets, procurement, zoning and other restrictions
2.c) Common property institutions

Issues to consider include boundary rules, resource allocation rules, and mechanism for conflict resolution and enforcement (sanctions).

(Include, for example, traditional institutions of managing quarantine as opposed to modern quarantine rules which restrict the free movement of livestock.)

2.d) Values, beliefs and practices

What are the values, beliefs and practices of communities which support or impede adaptive strategies? What relevant cultural changes have occurred over time and how have these impacted on values and livelihood systems?

It should be recognized that values, beliefs and practices are dynamic. In some instances beliefs may not be translated into practices and in others merely used for convenience or as excuses.

2.e) Technological innovations

Identify and describe local technological innovations such as water conservation, soil stabilization, etc.

(It has been suggested that weather prediction is the most important technological need of communities. Are meteorological forecasts available to them? What are the traditional methods of weather prediction?)

2.f) Possible indicators of sustainability
  • Net worth resilience, i.e. depletion and replenishment cycle in response to perturbation. Note that this may not be necessarily sustainable
  • Time and energy spent on meeting basic needs
  • Change in age and sex composition of community. Note the implications for who tends the cattle and the distance covered in cattle herding
  • Herd size to family size ratio, e.g., six herd per family of six a threshold level
  • Shift in size and composition of herd. (Major increases in sheep may be unsustainable)
  • Trends suggestive of reduction in carrying capacity, i.e.,
    • depletion of groundwater table (note that long-term hydrological cycles have not yet been determined);
    • water quality;
    • degradation of common lands;
  • Trends in shift from household labor to hired labor;
  • Shift in composition of expenditure on consumption baskets.
2.g) Community responses
  • What has been the impact of ecosystem, socio-economic and political changes on livelihoods in the study area?
  • What are the demographic, socio-economic, cultural and political responses (adaptive strategies) of communities to these changes? Are there differential responses between men and women?
  • What informs these responses - traditional, contemporary knowledge and practices or the integration of the two; internal and external technological innovations?
  • Have these responses led to sustainable livelihoods? or, Do they have the potential to lead to sustainable livelihoods?
  • What kinds of interventions (communication and outreach strategies, technological innovation etc.) are needed to enhance communities responses so that they lead to sustainable outcomes?
  • What is the process by which communities and external change agents integrate contemporary and indigenous knowledge in pursuit of adaptive strategies that lead to sustainable livelihoods?

3) Identification of adaptive strategies that lead to sustainable livelihoods

  • What economic, ecological, social, cultural, or political environment contributes to the evolution of successful adaptive strategies (best practice)?
  • To what extent does this environment impact positively or negatively on poverty alleviation, employment generation and social cohesion?
  • What indicators can be used to measure progress towards sustainable livelihoods?
  • What role can external agents play in developing indicators and reinforcing adaptive strategies?
  • What kinds of policy changes are needed to support the evolution or enhancement of adaptive strategies that lead to sustainable livelihoods?

4) Community Methodology

  • The country researchers will utilize, as desirable, participatory action research approaches and a multidisciplinary team of which two members will be senior students with complementary skills from local universities.
  • Within communities, agreed upon methodologies will be used in in-depth interviews with elders, community leaders and community members preceded by country and community profiles.
  • Interviews at the community level will be conducted in local languages.
  • The information gathered will be complemented by a literature review of adaptive strategies.
  • The participatory methodology mixes used to collect local information will have to utilize an iterative process to maximize effectiveness as experience is gained on the ground.
  • Agreed upon methodology will be made available. This manual provides just one aspect of the methodology mixes which the LPCs will require to answer all the questions outlined here and will hopefully assist them in decision making and keeping the Project on track.

5) Policy review analysis

A separate but closely linked review of policy will be conducted, which will follow the following process:

5.a) Identification of policy priorities

The LPCs will identify policy priorities one month after commencement of field work, i.e., at the end of October. They will also reflect on how policy has affected communities, for example, the impact of policies on incentives/disincentives to utilize certain adaptive strategies; and then have communities respond.

5.b) National seminars

The Regional Project Co-ordinator (RPC), the International Advisory Group (IAG), and LPCs will help to identify the author of a lead policy paper for each participating country; and appropriate policy makers and analysts to participate in a seminar held in February, 1995.

The outputs of the seminars will be two-fold:

  • A comprehensive and analytical paper on policies that impinge on adaptive strategies
  • The generation of reasonable responses to policy issues raised by the studies.

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