South Africa: For drought-slammed farmers, changing old ways takes time - and cash

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Efforts to get international climate finance into the hands of local people for adaptation efforts are getting a boost in South Africa

By Laurie Goering

In the parched, mountainous hills of Leliefontein, in South Africa's northwest Namakwa district, farmers have long made a living raising oxen and goats.

"That's our passion. It's the only thing we know," says Katrina Schwartz, one of a long line of farmers in the remote Northern Cape region.

Climate change and the lengthening droughts it is bringing, however, have made a traditional life raising livestock increasingly difficult - and the area has few alternative jobs.

But using international climate cash channeled through the South African National Biodiversity Institute (SANBI), farmers in Leliefontein are finding ways to adapt.

Some have now swapped oxen and goats for "Meatmaster" sheep, bred by crossing desert-hardy but scrawny native sheep with breeds better known for packing on weight.

Efforts to rehabilitate overgrazed and eroded land and weed out invasive plants also have helped boost the amount of water and grazing available in the area, farmers say.

"Our community doesn't have any other employment. Through these projects we can put bread on the table," said Schwartz, who traveled to Cape Town for a June conference on climate adaptation.

Getting billions of dollars in international climate finance into the hands of local people for adaptation efforts, in chunks small enough to make sense, remains a challenge around the world.

So far, less than a third of funding by the international Green Climate Fund, established as part of the U.N. Framework Convention on Climate Change, has gone to projects focused primarily on adaptation, according to the fund's own figures.

A larger share of the money supports efforts to switch to clean energy and other emissions-reducing projects.

But efforts like South Africa's $2.5 million small grants facility - which gives communities such as Leliefontein direct access to small amounts of cash for adaptation projects they choose - aim to show what is possible.

Power to the People

Using money provided by the Adaptation Fund - a smaller and older cousin of the dominant Green Climate Fund - the facility aims to help farmers in South Africa's Northern Cape province, and in dry Limpopo province, deal effectively with worsening drought and other climate change impacts.

Just as important, the four-year project wants to help communities learn how to more effectively access and manage climate funds.

"If we really want to fund communities we should do it directly and build capacity," said Carl Wesselink of SouthSouthNorth, a non-profit group that promotes climate-smart development and serves as the front-line manager of the grants facility for SANBI.

But, he admitted, "it is not a short-term process. It's a long-term process built on years and years and years of work".

Most community organisations, for instance, struggle to meet the onerous financial reporting requirements of big climate funders - one key reason little climate cash gets spent at the community level, he said.

The big question, Wesselink said, is "how to get farmers who just want to farm into the system".

John Kaganga, a Ugandan farmer frustrated that he has been unable to find funding to scale-up an innovative community project to harvest rainwater from road runoff, said he had found demands by funders nearly impossible to meet.

That was hamstringing homegrown adaptation ideas, he said.

"When you are given money, however small, people say you misused the money because you didn't keep (the right) records," he said at the Cape Town conference.

Wesselink, when asked how many of the community projects his team works with are able to meet the financial reporting demands of the grants, admitted it was a huge challenge.

"None of the projects meet the fiduciary requirements at the start," he admitted. "But we hope they will by the end."

Slow Process

Another problem facing adaptation projects, the experts said, was the length of time it takes to change well-established practices and traditions.

In Niger, a community-based adaptation effort run by charity CARE, aimed at helping farmers respond to much more frequent crop failures, has focused in part on helping women grow more resilient crops - and giving them a bigger voice in community decisions.

Today "women now come and speak in community general assemblies and support households with their income," said Sanoussi Ababale of the Adaptation Learning Programme for Africa, run by CARE.

"Women's voices in some communities are now higher (ranked) than men's," he said at the Cape Town conference.

But the process of making the change took seven years, Ababale said - a problem when many climate adaptation grants are for far shorter periods.

Schwartz, of Leliefontein, agreed that shifting old practices can be a slow process - even if the climate is quickly changing.

"The things done were learned through generations," she said. "To teach farmers about climate change, it takes time, it takes time, it takes time."

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Hazards Drought
Country and region South Africa
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