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From research to strategy to policy

[Malawi] mnhkumbi people working the field.
The shortage of odd jobs made raising cash more difficult this year (CARE)

Climate change adaptation research has evolved over the past few years but how much of it is being adopted or implemented as policy? How do you influence decision-makers to adopt the right kind of adaptation policy? These were some of the questions asked at events which focused on agriculture on the sidelines of the UN climate change talks in Cancun, Mexico.

The Research to Policy for Adaptation (RPA), a project funded by the UK Department for International Development (DFID), is conducting case studies in three African countries to discover whether evidence from field research informs policy responses, and will then go a step further to ensure the research informs government policy and is implemented.

“We provide tools to the researchers to analyse the policy process in a country – it helps them identify spaces or opportunities for shaping policy in those areas,” said Lars Naess of the Institute for Development Studies of the University of Sussex, who works with researchers in the three African countries covered by the project.

The process is analysed from three overlapping angles: narratives and evidence, actors and networks, and politics and interests.

Blessings Chinsinga, a researcher at the University of Malawi, who is working on the RPA project, has used this analysis process to influence Malawi’s agriculture policy.

Conflicting narratives

Climate change adaptation research has shown that staple cereals are generally less tolerant of heat. As global temperatures soar, growing a variety of crops rather than relying on a staple cereal for income and food could cushion farmers. The Malawian government has endorsed a crop diversification strategy, and also provides subsidised fertilizer to poor farmers.

Chinsinga took a closer look at how crop diversification was being implemented in some drought- and flood-prone districts in southern Malawi.

“At the national level the government has committed itself to promoting crop diversification to guarantee the resilience of farmers’ livelihoods, but this was overshadowed by the political imperative to ensure food security,” Chinsinga said in his presentation in Cancun.

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“Food security was equated with the availability of maize, and even the distribution of fertilizer under the subsidy programme was done at a time that favoured the planting of maize.” Seed for alternative crops such as millet and sorghum was also not available from official outlets.

“So the analysis of the policy process showed that the dominant narrative - equating food security with maize - is challenged by another less powerful narrative - that food security in a changing climate can be served through crop diversification, which … the dominant narrative serves to undermine,” he said.

Chinsinga then worked for a year to set up the National Consultative Group, a network of actors that included government officials and experts from various sectors, who met informally to discuss the government’s crop diversification strategy, identifying gaps in the policy.

Government is now distributing fertilizer at a different time in those areas,” Chinsinga noted.

Naess said the programme provided academics with a way forward, and they would like to expand it to other countries. The RPA project will look at ways to influence local government next.

Rachel Berger, of the international NGO Practical Action, which has supported several community-based adaptation efforts in developing countries, said there was now a body of evidence supporting adaptation strategies that worked at the grassroots level. “It is up to governments now to roll them out and implement it as policy.”

Several speakers at gatherings on Agriculture and Rural Development Day, organised by research institutions, think-tanks and UN's food agencies in Cancun said a lack of funding for pilot programmes hampered the process that began with research and led to the implementation of successful climate change adaptation policies.

Celine Herweijer, director of sustainability and climate change at the accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers, said the private sector was willing to be engaged on the topic, but noted that profitability would be the overriding factor in its involvement. She spelt out the details of private sector involvement in providing insurance to farmers in India as an example.


This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions

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