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Vulnerability assessments of natural resource dependent communities in Namibia and ecosystem-based adaptation strategies to climate change

Climate Change Adaptation is a buzzing topic on the international agenda. But is it clear what adaptation to climate change in relation to ecosystems and their services means? Choosing the right approach and designing effective ecosystem-based adaptation measures is of utmost importance in order to successfully shield from the impacts of climate change.

The Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET), in partnership with GIZ, commissioned by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) is currently implementing the Biodiversity and Climate Change (BMCC) Project, with its overall objective of coherent implementation of biodiversity and climate change-related policies, strategies and practices to increasingly contribute to diversifying and securing livelihoods of local natural resource dependent communities in Namibia, aims to face these challenges.

The project believes that an adaptation from within is needed. Once community members actively participate in the process of developing adaptation strategies, chances are much higher they will implement those. Hence BMCC chose a participatory, bottom-up approach to integrate risks and vulnerability into management of Conservancies (C) and Community Forests (CF) in Namibia in order to enable communities to sustainably adapt to climate change. The livelihoods of 70% of Namibia’s population depend directly or indirectly on natural resources and are very vulnerable to any climate changes.

The community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) approach is unique to Namibia and is internationally renowned, for its objective to promote activities of sustainable managed natural resources leading to social development and economic growth, and a suitable partnership between local communities and government. In 2006 another community-based approach within CBNRM was established: the CF programme. Although there is a strong understanding of integrated resource management as the only approach ensuring sustainability, the inclusion of knowledge about risks and consequences of climate change and the loss of natural resources into management is not on top of the agenda of CBNRM yet. Hence, BMCC’s conducted vulnerability assessments (VAs) – based on the MARISCO method – in four CFs and three Cs as pilots, with the goal to develop a holistic participatory assessment approach for Namibia’s rural areas under CBNRM management focusing on capacity building at local and regional level to increase adaptive capacity to climate change.

Most VAs in rural areas focus on agricultural adaptation measures. The consideration of the interaction between the socio-economic system and the surrounding natural ecosystem with its services and biodiversity is so often neglected. But this consideration is especially important in areas where the livelihoods of people depend directly on natural resources and the sustainable management thereof, as it is typically the case in Natural Resource Dependent Communities in Namibia. Consequently the VAs considered exposure (stresses due to climate change), sensitivity (biological and socio-economic system) and adaptive capacity. The MARISCO method is a participative process designed to evaluate the vulnerability of communities as well as ecosystems and design strategies for future sustainable development. The final goal is to design management measures that also embrace adaptation to climate change based on natural systems, appropriately addressing the identified risks and opportunities.

The two main challenges identified by the communities in the project areas are: fires as well as unmanaged grazing/browsing of domestic animals. The ecosystems have entered a state of ongoing negative feedback loops where vulnerability to (especially climate change-related) disturbance and degradation is constantly increased. Any attempt to try and reduce vulnerability to climate change in both natural and cultural systems can only be achieved by working according to the principles of ecosystem- functioning and enhanced biodiversity.

Hence Ecosystem-based Adaptation (EbA) in the areas must focus on fostering ecosystem functions that reduce the sensitivity against climate change-related extremes and disturbances, through:

  • Preventing the loss of biomass and the mineralization of organic matter in and on top of the soils
  • Uncontrolled re practices should be avoided
  • The improved sustainable and fair use of biological resources (biotrade) should be enhanced and developed
  • Forest restoration, through a process of reforestation and silvicultural management, should be considered as a serious contribution to an integrated, long-term ecosystem management
  • Conservation agriculture has to be promoted more intensively
  • Soil conservation and ‘building’ has to be made understandable and ‘touchable’
  • Production and application of manure, mulch and compost should be explored to a larger extent.
  • Strategies of ecological farming, from rotation with nitrogen-fixing plants, agroforestry etc. should be developed as part of a polycultural farming system
  • Intensive sustainable management of livestock farms would encourage better site practice and use of land as well as drastically reduce if not eradicate livestock ranging

With this, the VA approach in CBNRM of BMCC aims to further improve the comprehensiveness in adaptation measures in rural areas in Namibia. Climate change impacts ecosystems and its services, and a great potential lies in EbA measures in order to decrease communities as well as ecosystems vulnerabilities to extreme events.

About the authors: 

Dr. Konrad Uebelhör is working with GIZ for the last 30 years. A trained forest scientist he rst specialized in tropical forest management. With assignments in Philippines, Pakistan, Malaysia, Indonesia, Honduras and Namibia his experience covers natural resource management, environmental policy, biodiversity management and climate change.

As a professional agricultural scientist, Dr. Nadine Faschina is specialized in natural resources management including community-based land and biodiversity management, environmental policy development, good governance concepts and adaptation to climate change. For the past years, she has worked for GIZ with the Namibian government and NGOs.

Carolin Tischtau holds a Master in biodiversity management and research. Currently she is working in the fields of biodiversity and community-based natural resource management, biotrade, ecosystem-based adaptation measures as well as climate change. 


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