University Of Tasmania
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Adaptation to climate change in pastoral and agropastoral systems of Borana, Southern Ethiopia

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posted on 2023-05-27, 10:16 authored by Debela, NE
Climate change is cited as one of the greatest environmental challenges facing agricultural systems in the developing world. In particular, smallholder farming systems in dryland ecosystems are considered most vulnerable due to their high dependence on rain-fed production and weak adaptive capacity. The Borana pastoral and agropastoral communities of the arid and semi-arid Ethiopian lowlands studied in this thesis are among those severely and frequently affected due to changing climatic conditions such as drought. The vulnerability of these farming communities is mainly attributed to a high degree of dependence on rainfed farming and inadequate responses to climate-induced risk and uncertainty. This study took a novel and urgently required approach to understanding these inadequate responses of the Borana pastoral and agropastoral communities. It focused on specifically exploring the local context to what motivates daptation responses under the traditional rainfed agricultural system. The study is comprised of three interrelated components investigating 1) smallholder perception of climate change, 2) climate change adaptation measures adopted by the Borana pastoral and agropastoral communities and barriers to successful adaptation, and 3) the role of indigenous institutions in the Borana in facilitating agricultural adaptation. Qualitative and quantitative study approaches were used, and various data collection methods were employed including farm household surveys, key informant interviews, focus group discussions, secondary data collation and expert consultations. A psychometric approach was used to explore smallholder perception of climate change over a 20-year study period (1992-2012). Interview results from farm household surveys conducted in 5 districts, 20 pastoral/agropastoral associations and 480 farm households showed an overwhelming awareness by smallholders of climate change, particularly seasonal changes in rainfall, drier conditions and more extreme events. The level of their perception in terms of extent of climate change and its impact on local agriculture was affected by various farm and household attributes including age, education level, livestock holding, and access to climate information and extension services. Household size, production system, farm and non-farm incomes did not significantly affect perception levels. Changes in climate were attributed to a diverse range of biophysical, deistic and anthropogenic causes. A Pressure-State-Response (PSR) analytical framework was used to analyse climatic pressures and smallholder responses to climate-induced stresses and their impact. Although the majority of smallholders were highly aware of climate change and its associated impact on their livelihoods, they only employed a variety of short-term resilience and transitional adaptive measures that primarily includes adjusting farming practices and diversifying into non-pastoral livelihoods. Shortage of financial resources, inadequate technical support (including appropriate climate information and understanding) and limited policy support appear to seriously impede local adaptive capacity and prescribe routes for adaptation. The role of indigenous institutions in enhancing adaptive capacity and facilitating climate change adaptation for smallholders and local communities was assessed. Institutional leaders were interviewed and a thematic analysis approach was used to analyse data generated from the key informant interviews. Results indicated that indigenous institutions have and could play key roles in supporting local community-based adaptation through: 1) regulating access to common-pool resources required for adaptation, 2) facilitating post-shock livelihood recovery, and 3) providing traditional climate forecast and early warning systems. This enabling role of indigenous institutions is seriously waning due to misguided development approaches that affect the traditional land tenure systems and disrupt local resource governance. In summary, this thesis indicates that the agricultural systems of the Borana remain highly vulnerable to climate change and its impacts; adaptation goals only embrace short-term resilience and transitional changes whereby any major changes to the system are avoided. The development of more successful adaptive strategies requires a better understanding of the adaptive environment (as explored in this thesis) and promoting endogenous approaches that integrate indigenous institutions in development and build on local resources in order to complement external support.


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Copyright 2017 the author Chapter 3 has been published as: Debela, N., Mohammed, C., Bridle, K., Corkrey, R., McNeil, D., 2015. Perception of climate change and its impact by smallholders in pastoral/agropastoral systems of Borana, south Ethiopia, SpringerPlus, 4, 236. It was published under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly credited.

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