ALN logo; link to Arid Lands Newsletter home page No. 49, May/June 2001
Linkages between Climate Change and Desertification

Linkages between climate change and desertification in East Africa
Part 2: Policy linkages between climate change and desertification

by Siri Eriksen

"... negotiations of conventions are ongoing, and it is crucial that negotiators from developing countries shape the direction of the conventions in a manner that can benefit their own development priorities"

Policy lessons from Kenya and Tanzania

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National and local policies in Tanzania and Kenya demonstrate how climate change measures can complement desertification measures. While current policies in other countries may differ, the cases of Tanzania and Kenya illustrate how climate change and desertification have been approached in the past and possible links between measures.

Our study examined the extent to which government policies in Tanzania and Kenya embody two types of climate adaptation measures, those aimed at increasing the agricultural resistance to climate variability and drought, and those aimed at enhancing access to, and viability of, drought coping strategies.

Review of policy documents and key informant interview data revealed very few measures explicitly aimed at reducing agricultural vulnerability, although some measures aimed at addressing dryland degradation and drought are also relevant to climate adaptation. The Kitui District Environmental Action Plan, for example, focuses on desertification as the main underlying problem in the District (Republic of Kenya 1997a).

Enhancing the drought resistance of agriculture

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Existing measures aimed most directly at climate adaptation largely focus on increasing agriculture's drought resistance. Drought-resistant crops are perceived in policies as a principal means of addressing problems related to climate variability and drought in particular. Promotion of such species is integrated into national and district development policies, multi-sectoral policies, and sectoral policies in both Kenya and Tanzania. Kenya focuses more explicitly on drought- resistant crops: a section in the NEAP (Kenya National Environmental Action Plan), regarding agriculture and food security, encourages famine and drought tolerant crops, in order to improve farmer resilience to drought (Republic of Kenya 1994a). The Kenyan Food Policy emphasizes preventing land degradation and encouraging use of drought-resistant crops in marginal areas (Republic of Kenya 1981, pp. 23-24).

Drought-resistant crops and technologies are even more explicit priorities in both Kitui and Same Districts than at the national levels (United Republic of Tanzania 1994a; Republic of Kenya 1997a; Kivia 1999). The policy priorities embodied in the Kitui District Development Plan, for example, involve various measures to improve the drought tolerance of agriculture. Policy priorities in Same District concern improving agricultural drought resistance by promoting early maturing seeds and drought resistant crops.

Another way of addressing drought vulnerability and reducing the sensitivity of farming to erratic rainfall is to provide agricultural water from other sources. Irrigation and water provision are central concerns, particularly in development and agricultural policies, in Kenya and Tanzania. Improvement and expansion of irrigation as well as water harvesting are identified as important measures to increase agricultural production. Development of water supply and irrigation for areas of unreliable rainfall is a prominent district-level strategy in both Kitui and Same Districts.

Efforts to enhance the drought resistance of agriculture are of themselves unlikely to provide successful local adaptation to climate change. They face several constraints. Farmers are reluctant to adopt certain drought-resistant species, in part due to low market and consumption values, and in part due to high labour investment associated with cultivating these species. It is likely that successfully increasing cultivation of drought-resistant species requires numerous measures addressing social, economic and technical constraints. In addition, due to high costs, improved food security during drought can only partially be achieved through local efforts to increase water supply unless external donor funding is made available.

Promoting alternative livelihoods and management of local resources

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In addition to the above-mentioned measures, there are other desertification efforts, less directly aimed at drought or climate variability, which may nevertheless contribute effectively to strengthening coping mechanisms and climate change adaptations. First, there are measures concerned with alternative livelihoods to reduce pressure on resources and alleviate poverty; and second, there are measures that concern conservation and management of local natural resources, in particular land and vegetation.

Engaging in alternative income sources is an important drought response among rural households. Certain policy measures exist that address off-farm income opportunities, and thus may provide implicit support for drought adaptation. The current Kenyan National Development Plan primarily focuses on industrialisation. Some recognition of the informal sector is evident in the Plan, which includes a section devoted to rural development through industrialisation in small towns and their hinterlands, as well as on non-farm informal sector activities. Such activities are viewed as urban phenomena, however, and people who engage in them as non-agricultural employees (Republic of Kenya 1997b, p. 146). The role of small-scale and artisanal industry in farmer household economies is not well understood in national development policies. The industrial and agricultural sectors are largely perceived as separate and industrial development is largely envisaged in terms of establishing formal enterprises, rather than strengthening existing rural off-farm household activities.

The Kenyan NEAP promotes conservation of indigenous plants and animals, emphasising their role in food security. Research programmes regarding indigenous tree germination and growth rates are to be conducted and incentives are to be provided to farmers to maintain local varieties of plants and animals (Republic of Kenya 1994a, p. 21 and p. 24). It is proposed that agricultural production should be increased and diversified by promoting the increased use and improved productivity of local crop varieties and animal breeds (Republic of Kenya 1994a, p. 80). In particular, the NEAP recommends the utilisation, marketing and conservation of indigenous food crops and the use of indigenous food plants to fight poverty and improve household food security.

The Tanzanian Environmental Action Plan, as well as the National Environmental Policy, promotes use of indigenous plants in general, although few connections are made to these plants as drought sources of food and income. Management plans are to be prepared for all land areas based on principles of multiple use and sustained yield of natural resources (United Republic of Tanzania 1994b, p. 42).

While environmental policies recognise the importance of conserving indigenous forests, rural development policies in Kenya and Tanzania only minimally address the productive role of these forests in farmer household economic activities. The relationship between farmer households and local natural resources has traditionally been perceived almost exclusively in terms of undesirable environmental aspects of over-utilisation. Regarding forest products, the NEAP recommends measures to "[e]ncourage alternative income-generating activities or livelihoods that do not over-exploit natural resources, to reduce dependence on declining resources" (Republic of Kenya 1994a, p. 31). Only with more recent forest policies, are local livelihoods recognised as a potentially positive contribution to forest management (Republic of Kenya 2000).

The way ahead: linkages to convention implementation

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Current desertification measures in Tanzania and Kenya display a complementarity to the type of measures that would strengthen rural coping mechanisms and enhance climate adaptation. Measures primarily aimed at preventing dryland degradation could promote climate adaptation by strengthening the link between household livelihoods, alternative sources of income and natural resource conservation. For example, while some policies recognize and promote the productive role of indigenous plants in rural household economic activities, and constraints to such use, no direct link is made with drought livelihoods. The policy review above shows that while strengthening alternative sources of income is promoted, support for rural employment focuses mainly on industrial enterprises, not household-based strategies. As a result, few explicit links are made between off-farm income opportunities and rural drought vulnerability in national and district level development policies.

Internationally, there are two main avenues to strengthening the link between convention-related policies aimed at desertification and climate adaptation. First, measures addressing local-level links between climate change and desertification could be incorporated into the action plans required by the conventions. Countries are committed to developing national programmes to address climate change. Kenya has completed a country study on climate change, as a foundation for national action plans and reporting required under the Climate Convention (Gacuhi 1998) and studies are being performed in Tanzania. According to Climate Convention Secretariat information, neither country has submitted national communication to the conventions, however.(1) As part of their commitments to the Desertification Convention, African countries are also formulating and implementing National Action Programs to Combat Desertification. Focusing on linkages could ensure resource efficiency both in preparing required action plans and policies, and in implementing them on the ground. The Climate and Desertification Conventions, as well as the Biodiversity Convention, share commonalities regarding goals, legal obligations and institutional arrangements. Practical options for coherent, integrated national implementation of these obligations can be developed. As stated by the African Ministerial Conference on the Environment, "[t]he creation of synergies in national implementation will help minimize conflicts in goals, programmes and activities, avoid duplication of effort, and economize on scarce resources" (UNEP 1998, p. 2).

Second, financial and technical assistance could be provided under the conventions for implementing practical measures or projects. The creation of a fund to finance adaptation measures under the Climate Convention is currently being discussed. Increasing agricultural drought resistance can be interpreted as such a measure, particularly in regard to developing plans for water resources and agriculture, projects and response measures, which can be financed under the Climate Convention (UNFCCC, Articles 4.1 (e), 4.4 and 12.7). The Desertification Convention discusses transfer, acquisition, adaptation and development of environmentally sound technologies relevant to combating desertification and/or mitigating the effects of drought (CCD, Article 18.1). It describes the particular measures relevant to increasing the resilience of agriculture that National Action Plans are supposed to include. According to Annex I (Regional Implementation Annex for Africa), drought-resistant crops are to be promoted for food security purposes and sustainable management of water resources is to be ensured (CCD, Annex I Articles 8.3 (a)(iv) and 8.3 (b)(i)). Under Article 10.3 (d), sustainable irrigation projects for agriculture are to be developed.

Another way of adapting to climate change is by reducing vulnerability by strengthening drought coping strategies by rural households. Explicit support of this approach is weak in current policies in Kenya and Tanzania. Extending implicit measures by focusing more specifically on the household as unit of social organisation for off-farm activities, in particular during drought, is provided for mainly under the Desertification Convention. In particular, alternative livelihoods, as described in the Desertification Convention, can be supported and technologies based on local practices and plants developed and improved. This may enhance the economic and environmental viability of these practices and enhance local agrobiodiversity. In addition, convention commitments provide for improving access to rural income opportunities by poor households and by women, through identifying constraints and enhancing local skills and access to technologies.

The Desertification Convention promotes measures to develop alternative livelihood options as part of increasing drought preparedness and management (Articles 10.3 (b)-(d)). Incomes and employment opportunities, especially for the poorest, should be increased. This should take place through developing markets for farm products, financial instruments, diversification in agriculture, and developing economic activities of a para- or non-agricultural type (CCD, Annex I Article 8.3 (a)(i) and (iv)). The protection, promotion and use of relevant local technology and knowledge is to be achieved through inventorying such knowledge and, significantly, supporting the improvement and dissemination of such technology, as well as facilitating their adaptation and integration with modern technology (CCD, Article 18.2 (a), (c) and (d)).

The Desertification Convention also addresses constraints to household access to alternative livelihoods. According to Article 17.1 (b), research activities are to be supported that address the specific needs of local populations The Desertification Convention promotes training in skills related to alternative livelihoods as well as strengthening extension services regarding technologies, and emphasises the participation of women in such training (CCD, Articles 19.1 (c) and 19.1 (h)). Article 19.9 (e), in particular, provides for measures to assess educational needs regarding natural resources management and to expand opportunities for girls and women. Further, drought contingency plans are to be developed at the local level (Article 10.3 (b)).


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The implementation of convention commitments can thus potentially contribute to strengthening the existing policy framework and providing financial and technical assistance for implementing practical measures. The measures briefly outlined in this article represent a means of addressing global environmental concerns while also enhancing basic local survival. Identifying local manifestations of environmental change and deriving measures to ameliorate their adverse effects may be a way of addressing environmental concerns from a local level perspective. First, as discussed above, it is possible to identify which measures need to be established at the national level. Second, such studies of local manifestations can assist in identifying what technical and financial assistance is needed by a country. Third, negotiations of conventions are ongoing, and it is crucial that negotiators from developing countries shape the direction of the conventions in a manner that can benefit their own development priorities.


(1) Information available at the Climate Convention Secretariat,, accessed May 2001. back to text


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Author information

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Siri Eriksen, Ph.D., is a Senior Research Fellow, CICERO, University of Oslo, and a Visiting Researcher at the African Centre for Technology Studies, Nairobi, and at the Climatic Research Unit, Norwich. She can be reached for comment by email at

Additional web resources

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Center for International Climate and Environmental Research (CICERO)

Climatic Research Unit, East Anglia University, UK

African Centre for Technology Studies

U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change

U.N. Convention to Combat Desertification

U.N. Convention on Biological Diversity

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