Enabling community based adaptation through adaptive learning

For many years the small farmers and sharecroppers in Choto Lobongola community not far from Barguna sadar town in southern Bangladesh faced the annual challenges of not enough fresh water in the dry season to grow crops, and too much water in the monsoon season causing waterlogging. Saline ground water and increasingly erratic and unreliable rainfall in the winter and pre-monsoon period meant that the land was parched and farmers left it fallow or only sowed grasspea (khesari) on the chance of getting some harvest. In addition to climate and environmental constraints, some influential people made barriers inside the local sluice gate so that they could catch fish. Over time this caused the canal to silt up and it was then grabbed by some influential people who planted trees and claimed the public waterway for cultivation. Increasing tide levels and siltation resulted in waterlogging, and the only option for some landowners was to build shrimp farms. But this caused conflict over allowing fresh or brackish water into the area. A combination of elites capturing resources (which changed the interaction of water, silt and land use) and climate trends resulted in regular conflicts, sometimes over scarce water, but more seriously when drainage constraints including bunds of shrimp farms caused waterlogging and regularly flooded homesteads. Choto Lobongola Matsha Jibi Kalayan Somobay Samittee Limited is a member of a network of similar community based organisations (CBOs) called Society for Water Resources Management. The leaders of Choto Lobongola discussed their problems in the regional forum of this network to get suggestions from other CBOs. Other CBO leaders said they had been able to cooperate to re-excavate canals which might reduce monsoon waterlogging and also store water for dry season irrigation. The Choto Lobongola representative shared this idea with his members. With help from researchers from Flood Hazard Research Centre, consultation meetings were held with the different stakeholders. By 2013-14 the elites as well as the poor were suffering from flooding in their homestead areas due to drainage congestion and agreed to sit together to discuss what had become a common problem. During participatory planning the different groups agreed that re-excavation and an end to barrier fishing were needed. The community agreed to contribute labour towards excavation, obtained endorsement for re-excavating the canal from the district administration, had the canal demarcated, and cut down the trees growing there. After excavating in 2015, they re-activated and reformed a committee including representatives from the community to take decisions over sluice operation. Farmers, especially sharecroppers, tried cultivating dry season crops that were new to the area such as sunflower and maize using water stored in the canal. These crops are much more water efficient than irrigated rice, needing less than 20% of the water used for rice and are relatively drought tolerant. Cooperating in crop choices has helped more farmers benefit from fresh water stored in the canal. Fish were now free to move through the canal and, by conserving small sanctuaries, the CBO restored local aquatic nature and livelihoods of the poor. Drainage improved and waterlogging ended, so now people who used to be in conflict and avoid one another discuss water management and help each other in their work. Research findings Choto Lobongola is just one of 53 conflict case studies in 43 locations in Bangladesh which, with a further 26 cases in Nepal, have been the focus of an action research project. Community based Adaptive Learning in management of Conflicts and Natural Resources in Bangladesh and Nepal (CALCNR) project is supported by the Netherlands Organisation for Scientific Research and involves collaboration between Middlesex University’s Flood Hazard Research Centre, ForestAction Nepal, iDE and Nice Foundation. All of the sites had existing community-based organisations that had mobilised poorer people in managing natural resources through past completed projects supported by government and NGOs, but also faced conflicts. In Bangladesh most of the local conflicts studied in floodplains over natural resources revolved around water management (27 cases), or access to commons (18 cases, such as fish, aquatic plants and other wild resources), with a few (8) others related to accessing public lands or internal disputes within CBOs. There were multiple factors behind each local conflict, as at Choto Lobongola, typically three to four causal factors. In three quarters of water management conflicts recent climate stresses and changes triggered or worsened conflict along with access disputes, declining natural resources, and local elites changing the characteristics of resources (for example, blocking waterways). By comparison conflicts over common natural resources were mainly a result of elites capturing resources at the expense of the poor, and gaps and biases in polices and their application. Examples include loss of access rights to public waterbodies (jalmohals) by local community organisations which took legal action against the government or were excluded when they lost leases, and marshy floodplains (including public and private lands) where the poor could collect plants and small fish and graze livestock being converted by the wealthy into aquaculture farms. Out of the 79 cases of conflict in Bangladesh floodplains and in Nepal over community forests and local water supplies, action research with the communities was able to transform conflict into enhanced cooperation in 62 cases. The infographic opposite highlights the eight factors that were identified that contributed to this transformation. In the 41 cases that were resolved in Bangladesh, negotiation and mediation were important in almost all, but were not in themselves sufficient – four to five enablers worked together as part of transformation. Technical innovations such as re-excavation and adopting stress resilient crops, as in Choto Lobongola, were important in resolving water conflicts, but other factors were at least as important. These include innovations in governance (access rules, CBO membership), sharing knowledge (indigenous and experts), systematic learning between CBOs, and local incentives. Incentives include sharing costs of actions between former conflicting groups, enhanced social status from resolving disputes, and the benefit of more productive and resilient natural resource systems. The 12 cases where conflicts persisted are similar to Choto Lobongola: Conflicts mainly arose from access disputes where local elites grabbed resources (commons, land or water). But these cases remained unresolved as the advantaged saw no benefit in changing their practices, and because injustices were often a result of those with power taking advantage of gaps or biases in how policies are implemented. Conclusions These cases reveal the complex causes of local conflicts in the floodplains. They show that enabling factors rarely work as a single element in transforming conflict to cooperation. Conflicts over natural resources are inevitable, but adaptation can be enhanced by encouraging communities through these good practices. Climate change adaptation initiatives should: 1. recognise local natural resource conflicts; 2. build in flexibility to adopt those enabling practices appropriate to each location; 3. respond to local needs and opportunities; 4. recognise and maintain local ecosystem functions; and 5. encourage coordination, negotiation and joint actions between existing institutions and CBOs.

Community-led adaptation: Myth or reality?


Climate change is an outcome of human civilisation and undoubtedly the antidote to climate change is the community, either victims or contributors to global warming.
Climate change poses threats to the sustainable development of LDCs and developing countries, with the marginalised and vulnerable people of society bearing the brunt of it as they depend on climate sensitive, natural resource based livelihoods.
However, smallholder farmers have much experience of adapting to their complex, diverse, and risk-prone environments.
Heat stress, lack of water at crucial times, pests and diseases are serious problems that climate change appears to be exacerbating.
Since the effects of climate change are diverse in nature across regions, localities, economic conditions, community knowledge based adaptation is the most cost-effective, resilient and forward looking approach in any adaptation effort. Bangladesh has proved how community based awareness programs can drastically reduce the loss of lives due to disasters like cyclone.
“[U]ntil recently, most adaptation efforts have been top-down, and little attention has been paid to communities’ experiences of climate change and their efforts to cope with their changing environments.” Now, the focus is shifting to “approaches to adaptation to climate change which are community-based and participatory, building on the priorities, knowledge, and capacities of local people.”

Community Based Adaptation (CBA) is a joint effort by different stakeholders, with a community focus. However, due to poor governance in major climate vulnerable LDCs, people are jeopardised with multiple vulnerabilities like limited voice, access or control in decision-making, and gender inequalities, accompanied by chronic poverty. Moreover, these communities’ lack of access to modern resources e.g. technology means that much of their knowledge is ignored or undermined. That’s why, CBA lacks real ownership of the community and not clearly focus on real demand-driven along with the full independence of the community is also not reflected. Most importantly, to ensure effective utilization of resources without any wastages the CBA concept should be evolved into Community Lead Adaptation (CLA). With that bleak reality in mind, Sustainable Development Goal 13 has specifically included climate change in the context of community engagement, and Goal 16 has emphasises inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels of climate change adaptation. Recognising the need for CLA the climate change related Paris Agreement has emphasised that adaptation action should follow a country-driven, gender-responsive, fully transparent, participatory approach, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems. It should be based on and guided by the traditional knowledge of indigenous peoples and local knowledge systems, with a view to integrating adaptation into relevant socioeconomic and environmental policies and actions, where appropriate. However, the major challenge is that there is no legally binding obligation for the Parties to frame community lead adaptation. For effective CLA, the following key issues should be considered duly. Inclusive And Stringent Policy Regime The prime responsibilities of policy makers are to provide support to climate vulnerable communities through various measures, such as, analysing the community level climate vulnerabilities and risks, strengthening adaptive capacities, deciding on and adopting actions that are sustainable, climate resilient and responsive to local realities, climate information and changing risks, and so on. Making choices in an uncertain climate, multi- stakeholder, sector and level, anticipation of regular and new shocks requires thoughtful and joined up responses and working with communities’ knowledge and aspirations. In LDCs, the core focus should be given to ongoing efforts to prepare the National Adaptation Plan (NAP) from a community perspective rather than from a national or macro focus. Any adaptation related efforts or project design and monitoring implementation of the project by the beneficiary communities must be integrated with the NAP process. Particularly, in case of Bangladesh, climate funded project implementing agencies should internalise the CLA with its planning, monitoring and evaluation process. Meaningful Adaptive Capacity Adaptive capacity is the ability to constantly adjust livelihood and risk management strategies in response to new and changing circumstances (IPCC). When we are uncertain of the impact of climate change, adaptive capacity is an increasingly critical aspect of resilience. According to the Paris Agreement, “capacity-building should be country-driven, based on and responsive to national needs, and foster country ownership of Parties, in particular, for developing country Parties, including at the national, sub-national and local levels…and should be an effective, iterative process that is participatory, cross-cutting and gender-responsive.”

The local community should have the capacity to examine whether the CLA project is developed based on local risks and priorities, integrating both scientific and local/indigenous knowledge into its planning processes; whether the proposed action will ensure sustainable development or specific output that would ensure resilience. It has been found that in Indonesia, a participatory “learning by doing” approach helped to increase farmers’ knowledge of climate change. At present, there is a dearth of knowledge about the impact of climate change and local level vulnerabilities, among local community, local government institutions and local level officials of the implementing entities. There is also an absence of accountability to build capacity of the stakeholders, including local community. The Climate Vulnerable Forum (CVF) should frame an immediate agreement on considering the CLA framework/strategy for sharing knowledge, replication of best practices, innovate the effective CLA models, mobilise resources and most importantly on community-led monitoring of implementation of CLA projects. Effective Vulnerability Assessment for Effective CLA Since vulnerability is a local phenomenon, the ultimate solution should come from the affected stakeholders. We must recognise that the Paris Agreement that has focused on engaging in adaptation planning processes and the implementation of actions, including the development or enhancement of relevant plans, policies and/or contributions, the assessment of climate change impacts and vulnerability, with a view to formulating nationally determined prioritised actions. The Ministry of Environment and Forest (MoEF) of Bangladesh has already initiated a vulnerability risk assessment, however, this assessment should be local or area-specific, and participatory, taking into consideration vulnerable groups, communities and ecosystems. Finance for Community-led Adaptation (CLAF) Regarding adaptation finance at the local level either community or LGIs, it has been observed that in most cases, the usual focus of policy makers is on traditional channels, from top to bottom through multiple channels. But, it has been identified that direct financing of LGIs and generating funds/donations from local community is cost-effective and efficient. For instance, from the BCCTF not a single UP or Upazilla Parishad got direct funding. Moreover, the proposed Climate Fiscal Framework has sealed off the scope of direct funding to local community. In case of CLAF, LGI in collaboration with CBOs could play vital role to build capacity, integrated planning, pool resources to finance the CLA project/program and community monitoring. A real political will and commitment of policy makers are required for mainstreaming the CLA with the sustainable development process in each vulnerable country. The most important is that the vulnerable communities have shown that it is time to elevate from CBA to CLA and CLAF is not a myth, rather reality due to successful implementation of hundreds of cost-effective adaptation projects (from planning to implementation) across the world by the full ownership of the community.