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23 April 2024

Empowering rural populations through climate-adaptive measures

Photo by UNICEF Ethiopia on flickr

Those who have contributed the least to climate change bear the most burden, experiencing its severest impacts and lacking access to the resources, services and opportunities needed to adapt and survive.” – FAO.

In a context where evidence tackling rural people’s vulnerabilities is lacking, “The unjust climate: Measuring the impacts of climate change on rural poor, women and youth” report contains a set of data, on 24 low- and middle-income countries in five world regions, analysing socioeconomic data from almost 110 000 rural households. It sheds light on the unequal impact of the climate crisis on income and adaptation in poor rural households with data combined in both space and time.

Climate change is a global crisis that unequally affects different countries, communities and individuals due to historically and socially rooted processes of exclusion and marginalisation. While climate change exposes the social and economic inequalities between people and communities, it also perpetuates and accentuates them. Some groups, such as rural people, are already dealing with poverty and hunger, rendering their situation even more vulnerable to climate events.

What does climate vulnerability mean and relate to? How to overcome the burden of climate vulnerability?

Disentangling climate vulnerability

Extreme weather events, such as heat stress, floods, long-term temperature rises and drought, are increasing both in severity and frequency causing profound consequences for agricultural systems. As incomes, livelihoods and well-being of rural people living in low- and middle-income countries rely on agricultural systems, this group is ultimately affected by climate change. They face direct effects through lower agricultural production and productivity and indirect effects such as the instability of the rural economies and agrifood systems, fragility and fewer non-agricultural income opportunities, food price increases and agricultural market disruptions, making rural people climate-vulnerable.

According to the IPCC report, climate vulnerability refers to:

The propensity or predisposition to be adversely affected. Vulnerability encompasses a variety of concepts and elements including sensitivity or susceptibility to harm and lack of capacity to cope and adapt”.

The FAO builds upon this definition by dividing climate vulnerability into exposure, sensitivity and adaptative capacity. This conceptual framework provides a relevant perspective to investigate the way and the extent to which climate change differentially affects rural populations.

The heterogeneity in climate vulnerability

In rural areas, the vulnerability to climate change can vary depending on various parameters.

The social aspect, which is divided into micro and macro levels, presents important differentiation. As such, wealth-related, gender-related, and age-related disparities at the micro level and institutions and services at the macro level significantly and disproportionately influence relative sensitivity and adaptive capacity to climate change.

For example, the on-farm income of poor rural households decreases by 2.4% with every day of extreme heat compared to non-poor households. In comparison to men, the total value of crops produced by women farmers is reduced by 3% for each day of extreme high temperature. This difference is rooted in discriminatory social norms and structural barriers that constrain women from accessing assets and resources. Female-headed households urgently need support to implement adaptive actions in their agricultural systems to cope with climate change. While facing similar challenges as poor and female-headed households regarding access to many productive resources such as education, land or credit, young rural households have a better capacity than older households to adopt off-farm labour-intensive adaptive practices that help them to adapt to climate stressors.

The geographic context also contributes to creating disparities through agro-ecological systems, the proximity of markets and the public services.

It is crucial to note that, although not considered in this report, vulnerable groups described above often intersects and therefore, heightens vulnerabilities to climate change leading to a vicious circle of poverty and hunger.

Thus, how can we reduce these inequalities?

Inclusive climate actions through policies?

FAO’s analysis shows a substantial lack of commitment to developing social dimensions in policies. As such, out of the Nationally determined contributions and National adaptation plans of the 24 countries studied, among other striking key facts, only 6 % of the climate actions mentioned women, 2 % referred explicitly to youth, and only 1.74 % of all actions mentioned “social protection”, the latter was only in two countries. Secondly, the FAO also pinpointed the lack of public funding for social protection programmes.

As vulnerable groups are often unable to access risk management mechanisms, social protection must be leveraged through climate financing. Ultimately, this will spur these groups to undertake climate-adaptive practices and reduce their reliance on maladaptive coping practices.

Nevertheless, reaching and having a relevant impact on vulnerable groups requires using adequate advisory services.

Participatory extension methodologies, tested in Bangladesh and Malawi, turned out successful in raising awareness of climate risks and fostering the implementation of climate-adaptive practices. The effectiveness of climate actions is also influenced by the provider of extension services. For example, in Mozambique, having additional female extension agents has proven effective in helping women farmers adopt sustainable land management practices. Gender-transformative methodologies also use participatory approaches to tackle discriminatory norms.

Education and mobility are key elements for off-farm opportunities. Indeed, school feeding programmes, participation of girls in technical curriculum, personal initiative training and expansion of access to financial services are cornerstones to reduce disparities and boost non-farm income opportunities.

The growing interest in climate actions offers opportunities to acquire new knowledge by assessing and analysing various outcomes. Further, the compilation of data will guide current and future climate interventions to be more effective in climate change adaptation politics and programmes.

  • Climate vulnerability differs among rural women, youth and the poor and also depends on the types of climate stressors.
  • Climate-induced events adversely impact both farm and off-farm activities, which ripple through incomes, livelihoods and well-being of vulnerable groups, especially in rural areas, aggravating poverty and hunger.
  • Effective people-centred approaches, including the most vulnerable, are highly pertinent to nurturing climate-adaptive actions and preventing maladaptive coping strategies.
  • Intersectionality is paramount to systemically comprehending the complex dynamics of climate-related vulnerabilities.
  • The multidimensional nature of the vulnerabilities requires multifaceted policies and interventions.

Written by David Mingasson, SIANI reporter