Adapting to drought in the West African Sahel

Batterbury, Simon and Mortimore, Michael J. (2013) Adapting to drought in the West African Sahel. In: Natural Disasters and Adaptation to Climate Change. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 149-157. ISBN 9781107010161

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In the 1970s and 1980s, a fierce debate took place concerning the vulnerability and adaptive practices of farmers and herders in the West African Sahel, and the utility of concepts including ‘adaptation’ to drought. The region has had the most primary research conducted on drought vulnerability and response, and it is referred to as an archetype, notably in work on human security and famine. Some (eg Michael Watt’s ‘Silent Violence’ 1983) painted a gloomy picture of rural life, with farmers beset by brutal commodity markets and extractive governance stretching back over 100 years. Food shortage and famine was, for Watts, created by colonial policies and unequal access to resources. However others, for example Michael Mortimore (author of ‘Adapting to Drought’ 1989) found regardless of these threats households responded (adapted) to drought in innovative and largely successful ways: diversifying into livestock from farming, moving into labouring and small business activity, and finally considering some temporary outmigration to less affected or more affluent regions to provide remittances. Reversible adaptations occurred before less reversible ones. In this chapter we argue that adaptation is socially mediated, not always successful, and is linked into broader political and economic forces. Its utility as a concept is constrained if wedded to Darwinian uses.’Productive Bricolage’ characterizes livelihoods, with different responses pursued at the same time, and for different lengths of time. Development projects can assist community resilience and individual response to food crises, but in unexpected ways. Our findings from fieldwork in Niger, Burkina and Nigeria are discussed and linked to the new preoccupation of the millennium; ‘climate adaptation’. New research on adaptation in semi arid regions urgently needs to learn from this vast reservoir of contextual knowledge in the African drylands, some of it dating back over 40 years.

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This material has been published in Natural Disasters and Adaptation edited by Sarah Boulter, Jean Palutikof, David John Karoly, Daniela Guitart. This version is free to view and download for personal use only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. © © Cambridge University Press 2013
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14 Aug 2017 09:00
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17 Sep 2023 04:00