Views From Two Mountains
New Publication
article written by MRI
27.09.18 | 10:09

Research published in the journal Sustainability Science last month uses participatory scenarios to explore the impacts of climate change on traditional farming communities in the East African highlands. Paper author Dr. Claudia Capitani tells us more.

Climate change poses a significant future challenge for many African countries, with an increase in temperature, higher frequency of extreme events, and uncertain precipitation patterns – wetter rainy seasons for some regions, increased aridity for others – anticipated by the middle of this century. This in turn has implications for food security, poverty reduction, and ecosystem conservation and restoration – making tackling climate change a key priority for achieving the UN Sustainable Development Goals at both a local and country level.

The need for stakeholder engagement

In this context, mountains pose their own, unique challenges. African mountains are characterized by high levels of biodiversity and provide ecosystem services to millions of people. Due to steep environmental gradients, growing human populations, and geographical isolation, these socio-ecological systems are highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. As a result, the capacity of local stakeholders to anticipate future changes and assess their potential impacts is key for enhancing adaptation and resilience.

It was this that prompted Dr. Claudia Capitani, Research Fellow at the University of York, and her colleagues, among them MRI SLC member Prof. Rob Marchant, to explore participatory scenarios as a means of addressing climate change in the East African highlands. “Mountain social-ecological systems are expected to face major challenges under future climate and socio-economic drivers of change,” explains Capitani. “Developing adaptation strategies in this context requires local stakeholder engagement in building the knowledge that could support decision-making for enhancing future resilience.”

In this study, a participatory scenario modelling framework was applied in two montane sites in East Africa: The Taita Hills in Kenya, and a site northwest of Jimma in Ethiopia. With the support of the research team, local stakeholders envisioned a series of adaptation scenarios under projected climate change by the mid-21st century, and assessed the potential impacts of these pathways on land use and land cover. “I was very happy to see women actively participating, as well as participants supporting each other in better understanding what we were doing,” says Capitani. “This participatory research could not have been done without the great collaboration of local organizations and institutions, and commitment of participants.”

Trade-offs and transformation

In the Taita Hills, communities rely on staple and cash crops, and timber and non-timber forest products. Under a business-as-usual scenario, human population and activities were projected to concentrate at high elevation, triggering cascade effects on remnant forest cover, biodiversity, and ecosystem services. Alternative adaptation scenarios envisaged reforestation combined with either improved agricultural practices or ecosystem restoration.

In the Jimma area, coffee production is an important income source. However, rising temperatures are expected to disrupt traditional coffee production under a business-as-usual scenario, resulting in the loss of coffee-forest canopies and a reduction in forest-dependent biodiversity. To address this, the alternative adaptation scenarios envisioned included the expansion of either commercial coffee plantations or agroforestry, including traditional coffee farming.

Jimma ws

Pictured: Workshop participants in Jimma, Ethiopia.

In both Taita and Jimma, adaptation pathways presented trade-offs between provisioning, supporting, and regulating services, and between livelihoods and biodiversity conservation. “This research has highlighted that potential future adaptation pathways imply a transformation of the traditional livelihood system – a profound one, even,” says Capitani. “Whether this transformation could be feasible for the communities and sustainable for the landscapes over the long term are key questions, and future research could be directed towards investigating specific social and economic factors – such as gender or age, or infrastructure expansion – that influence the capacity for transformative adaptation.”

“This research contributes to the global debate on the challenges of mountain social-ecological systems in the face of climatic and socio-economic changes, and possible adaptation pathways for the future,” concludes Capitani. “And our findings encourage the use of multidisciplinary, bottom-up approaches for developing locally tailored, climate-smart, and sustainable adaptation pathways.”

Capitani, C., Garedew, W., Mitiku, A. et al. ‘Views from two mountains: exploring climate change impacts on traditional farming communities of Eastern Africa highlands through participatory scenarios.’ Sustainability Science, 2018. DOI: 10.1007/s11625-018-0622-x

This study was funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland through the CHIESA and AFERIA projects, and made possible through the collaboration of farmers from the Taita Hills and Didessa river high catchment, and the support of the International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology (ICIPE), the University of Jimma, the University of Helsinki, and the Taita Research Station of the University of Helsinki directed by Prof. Petri Pellikka.

Jimma lanscape
Pictured: The landscape in Jimma, Ethiopia.