Strengthening evidence-based climate change adaptation policies

Photo: J. Hansen (CCAFS)Organization: Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN)

Southern Africa is one of the most vulnerable regions in the world to the effects of climate change. Nevertheless, adaptation initiatives remain top-down, technology driven, and unresponsive the the daily realities of smallholder farmers. SECCAP aims to enhance the capacity of policy analysts and scientists to properly inform adaptation policies and investment decisions using locally-sensitive evidence.

Is simply informing policy really enough to catalyze needed change? If not, what needs to be done to ensure political follow-through on recommendations? To what extent could participatory approaches be employed to ensure accurate representation of local realities in SECCAP’s datasets? Is SECCAP addressing all the knowledge gaps that might affect appropriate policy recommendations, or are there some missing? Share your views – join the discussion at the bottom of this page!

Live presentation



Synopsis: The presentation will look at how the current policy evidence gap at national and subnational level can be addressed through a multidisciplinary approach to climate change research  - integrating environmental, social and economic analysis. It will demonstrate how evidence can be generate and then leveraged to assist in the development of adaptation policies at national level.

The Problem ↓

Southern Africa is extremely vulnerable to climate change, with direct impacts on rural livelihoods, food and economic security. Projections suggest this region will suffer greatly from climate change, resulting in further water stress, more frequent droughts, floods, and alteration in rainfall patterns, leading to lower agriculture yields unless adaptation measures are taken.

The vulnerability of Southern African countries to climate change is compounded by strong dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources, high levels of poverty, low levels of human capital, and poor infrastructure in rural areas. Moreover, climate change may reduce the land suitable for agriculture, potentially leading to increases in clearing native forest and new land for crop cultivation, with a consequent significant increase in carbon.

Currently, adaptation initiatives remain top-down and technology driven, and not well informed by local realities. Traditionally, agricultural research institutions have tended to assume that they understand the farmers’ realities, and that they can produce technologies that will be readily disseminated by the extension services to eager farmers. However, this pipeline approach is not appropriate to enabling change in the complex and highly diversified smallholder and pastoral production systems of Southern Africa. This is a gap that needs urgent attention.

The Solution ↓

To manage the risk and vulnerability associated with climate change and extreme weather events, evidence-based policies and programmes that are responsive to local realities and priorities are imperative for a pro-poor livelihood-centred approach to adaptation. Evidence is generated by empirical studies conducted by research institutes, and needs to be linked to policy processes and development practice. To generate this evidence, robust tools are required to quantify and evaluate the impacts of climate change and adaptation options. This calls for better quality and access to data on agriculture and rural livelihoods that can be used in identifying alternative and sustainable climate resilient community-based development processes.

The SECCAP project is aimed at enhancing the capacity of policy analysts and scientists in the fields of agriculture, climate and socio-economics to collectively build a strong base of evidence on cropping systems to inform adaptation policies and investment decisions. In order to achieve this aim, an integrated approach combining downscaled climate models, crop models, cost benefit and livelihood analysis are used. In addition, to adequately respond, evidence-based policies and programs, rooted in local realities and priorities are generates by addressing a host of knowledge gaps including the following:

  • Food security gaps: By providing a comparative analysis of adaptation strategies, SECCAP specifically prioritizes crop production, anchoring the project on agriculture and food security.
  • Climate modeling gaps: General Circulation Models (GCMs) are the most advanced tools available for simulating the response of global climate systems to greenhouse gas concentrations. However, the information presented is averaged for areas 100 km and greater. The SECCAP project uses state-of-the-art methods to derive downscaled climate outputs that are relevant at a local level for the present day and future.
  • Gaps in relevant cost-benefit analysis: There has been a lack of cost-benefit analysis applied to local climate change adaptation strategies: NAPAs for Lesotho and Malawi propose a number of agricultural adaptations; however, no analysis was conducted to determine the feasibility or justify the options. The SECCAP project assesses the costs and benefits of adapting to climate change impacts.
  • Livelihood strategy understanding: Adaptation initiatives remain top-down and technology driven; they are not informed by local realities. Using existing community livelihood databases collected using the Household Vulnerability Index (HVI) tool, this project will assess the impacts of climate change on local communities.
  • Gaps in options for policy response: SECCAP builds on the policy dialogue platforms that provide for open and transparent, two-way exchanges to capture the voices of all stakeholders.
  • Alignment with CAADP: The COMESA CAADP Compact calls for the adoption of a holistic approach for enhanced food system productivity, and prioritizes locally relevant crops. SECCAP addresses this need.

The project covers three southern Africa Development Community (SADC) countries (Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland)

The Method ↓

A trans-disciplinary approach to climate change adaptation research is used in this project by working with national universities in the three selected project countries (Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland) and other partners (CGIARs, NGOs, universities) to integrate its livelihood databases with climate and crop production models and other relevant databases/models. Project Partners include: Development Data (, International Food Policy Research Institute (, National University Of Lesotho (, University of Cape Town (, University of Malawi ( University of Swaziland,, World Vision International (

The project also focuses strongly on strengthening of the capacity building for project staff, partner organisations, and stakeholders. The project supports the training of 10 students including:

  • One post-doctoral researcher and onePhD student working on downscaling climate data and crop simulations;
  • Three postgraduate students focusing on the cost benefit analysis;
  • Three postgraduate students working on policy analysis, and socio-economics; and
  • Three BSc undergraduate students responsible for crop and livelihoods data collation from project districts.

To achieve the goal of the project, the following activities are being implemented.

Climate Models

To minimize some uncertainties associated with GCMs the project uses at least 8 models (CNRM-CM3; CSIRO-MK3.0; GISS; CCMA-CGCM3.1, IPSL_CM4, CSIRO_MK3.5, GFDL_CM2.0 and MPI _ECHAM5) to generate state-of-the-art downscaled climate data (2030 and 2050) at district and national levels for three selected countries in the region (Lesotho, Malawi and Swaziland). Downscaled climate data is being generated by the Climate Systems Analysis Group (CSAG) based at the University of Cape Town, South Africa.

Crop Production Models

To compute yield and crop production under projected temperature and precipitation regimes for each country, the University of Cape Town has been contracted to use the Decision Support System for Agro-technology Transfer (DSSAT) crop model to simulate growth of selected staples (maize, rice, cassava, sorghum, millet, groundnuts, sugar beans and wheat) by 2030 and 2050.  In addition to temperature and precipitation, information on soil data and planting month, and additional climate data such as evapotranspiration for each month, will be used. The results from running the DSSAT crop model will be used as input to analyze the feasibility of the different adaptation investment options.

Cost/Benefit/Investment Analysis

Under the proposed project, the International Model for Policy Analysis of Agricultural Commodities and Trade (IMPACT) developed by IFPRI is used to undertake the cost and benefit analysis. The IMPACT model is designed to examine alternative futures for food supply, demand, trade, prices and food security. Growth in crop production in each country is determined by crop and input prices, exogenous rates of productivity growth, area under expansion, investment is irrigation, and water availability.

Integration of  outputs from climate and production models with livelihood data

The project uses existing community livelihood databases that were collected from Maphutseng district in Lesotho, Kasungu and Lilongwe districts in Malawi and in Mpolonjeni district in Swaziland. This data is then integrated with district data on climate and production outputs.

Provide research evidence to inform policy processes

Results from the climate and crop production scenarios and adaptation investment   options generated by the project, and the policy briefs generated from the findings, will be shared with policy makers through different platforms that will include local, national and regional policy dialogues, meetings of parliamentary portfolio committees on agriculture, the FANRPAN annual regional multi-stakeholder policy dialogue, etc. These outputs, together with climate adaptation communication materials (briefs, flyers, fact sheets) targeting various groups, will be distributed through various media, including the FANRPAN website ( This is expected to stimulate interest, and generate demand for policy-relevant research that addresses the challenges faced by vulnerable communities.

  • john November 30, 2012 at 8:01 pm

    you say:

    These outputs, together with climate adaptation communication materials (briefs, flyers, fact sheets) targeting various groups, will be distributed through various media, including the FANRPAN website (

    But what I am missing, is how this information is coming back to the actual farmers….?

    And to be frank, i am not sure how the farmer will actually be affected by your project. I see loads of modeling and analysis etc.. but where is the step which explains how this will directly benefit the farmer, and in what way?

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