Supporting transformative adaptation and building equitable resilience to drought for sustainable development

Lead Research Organisation: Cranfield University
Department Name: School of Water, Energy and Environment


Achieving sustainable agricultural transformation is an international policy development priority. Growing high-value crops for export has been shown to generate substantive positive socio-economic impacts for the producing regions. The industry supports small-scale farmers and out-growers and provides secure employment and incomes for large numbers of people (especially women) in the primary production, packing and distribution sectors leading to higher and more stable revenues and positive impacts on the standard of workers' health, though better nutrition, access to appropriate food and education, whilst also providing greater job security. Increased smallholder agricultural production has also been shown to generate positive welfare effects and result in direct, as well as indirect, impacts on local livelihoods. The favourable climate and soils of many low and middle income countries (LMICs) opens opportunities to expand the export horticulture sector to meet the global demand for fruits and vegetables to support healthy diets.

Most export horticultural production in LMICs is irrigated and is increasingly moving into more arid areas and using water drawn from rivers, dams and aquifers that would otherwise be available for supporting natural habitats and environmental flows, underpinning smallholder agriculture and urban development, and for hydropower and industry. When the demand for water (from all sectors, including the environment) within a catchment, or from an aquifer, exceeds the available supply (hydrological drought) the impacts do not fall equally on all sectors due to power inequalities. For example, the economic and political power vested in the commercial horticultural sector may secure priority over water supplies; contractual obligations for produce for export may reduce availability and quality and increase prices in local markets; and low skilled workers in the horticultural sector may be laid-off when production falls. Thus the impacts on the poor and marginalised communities are exacerbated. Whilst drought is a natural occurrence, its frequency and magnitude are increasing due to climate change and increased water demand, particularly for domestic water and sanitation, and export horticulture will further exacerbate the vulnerability of poor and marginalised communities.

The challenge faced by many LMICs, has been how to support the expansion of the export horticultural sector to meet development objectives whilst increasing the resilience of poor and marginalised communities to drought and water-related risks, in the context of increasing climate variability.

Based on experience in case-study catchments, this project asks, 'how can the twin development objectives of a) increasing the resilience of poor and marginalised communities to drought and water related risks, and b) expanding commercial horticultural production in water-stressed catchments, be met in a socially and environmentally equitable manner?'

The proposed study is based on four case-study catchments in South Africa (SA) and Kenya (KE); The Breede Gouritz (Western Cape, SA), The Groot Letaba (Limpopo, SA), The upper Ewaso Ng'iro (Mount Kenya, KE), and Lake Naivasha (Nakuru, KE). These are all catchments with significant populations of rural poor that have been impacted by recent drought events; have important export horticulture industries; and include strategic water source areas.

Planned Impact

The study was co-designed by the research team, in collaboration with stakeholders from catchment water stewardship initiatives in Kenya and South Africa, in a workshop held in Pretoria 18 - 19 March 2019, at which the context was discussed, and the critical research questions identified. The outline of the research methods was agreed and subsequently elaborated by email and Skype communication among the team. The study will be of benefit to seven groups.

In catchments in low and middle income countries that have a significant horticultural sector, it will benefit;
1. Export horticultural businesses. Competition over water during times of drought presents not only a physical, but also a reputational risk to businesses that can threaten the 'licence to operate'. By engaging in catchment-wide strategies to increase drought resilience and adapt to climate change these risks can be reduced, resulting in commercial benefits.
2. Small-scale horticultural farmers. A reduction of business risk to export horticultural businesses will translate to reduced commercial risk for small-scale horticultural 'out-growers'.
3. Workers and employees in the horticultural sector. Many people - frequently, poor and disadvantaged people, and women who may have limited options for alternative employment - are employed directly on horticultural farms and pack-houses, or in the provision of supplies and services. They will benefit from security of employment, incomes and the welfare services provided by the industry.
4. Farmers and other water users. Those not engaged in horticulture, but using water (including many poor and disadvantaged communities), will benefit from water security during drought, reduced welfare impacts and more rapid recovery after drought. These include crop and livestock farmers and communities dependent on unreliable ground- and surface-water sources for domestic use.
5. Environment and biodiversity. The engagement of the horticultural sector in effective water stewardship will support environmental flows and secure a range of ecosystem services in at-risk catchments. The engagement of WWF in the project will allow the learnings to be shared with a global audience.
6. Organisations responsible for water governance. The policy outputs will be used by local and national organisations responsible for water governance to better adapt to increasing drought risk.
7. UK retailers / consumers. UK retailers are exposed to water risk overseas and are especially concerned with the reputational risks of their suppliers (see above). This project will support the sustainable sourcing policies of those retailers, securing the availability of a diversity of nutritious fruit and vegetables to UK consumers.
In preparing this study we have engaged with NGOs, regional government, water governance organisations, farming companies and UK retailers (see letters of support). All seven groups of beneficiaries will be engaged throughout the study through active participation in workshops, and through the Advisory Committee. More details are in the Pathways to Impact.

The study addresses Goal 1 (end poverty), building resilience and reducing exposure to climate change and other extreme events; Goal 2 (end hunger) sustainable and resilient agriculture; Goal 11 (safe, resilient and sustainable settlements) communities implementing policies and plans to achieve this, in line with the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction; Goal 12 (sustainable consumption and production), that includes the sustainable use of natural resources and reduction of food waste Goal 13 (climate change) strengthening resilience and adaptive capacity to climate hazards and disasters, and integration of climate into local policy and management. It speaks directly to Priority 4 of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction - Enhancing disaster preparedness for effective response and to "build back better" in recovery, rehabilitation and reconstruction.
Description We can categorise this project's achievements as follows:
- Background: We have evaluated drought risk and unpacked the impacts of drought on irrigated agriculture in South Africa and Kenya by using modelling and forecasting tools. In addition, we have revealed the complex relationship between water policies, water management, water laws and drought at multiple scales at four catchment areas in South Africa and Kenya. By regularly engaging with key actors at multiple scales, we also identified key stakeholders to understand how drought response mechanisms differ at multiple scales.
- Conceptual: One of the aims of this project is to unpack differentiated impacts of droughts which has strong equity implications. We have developed a conceptual brief on developing novel approaches to understand the interface between resilience and equity. this matter. We are currently working on translating this brief into a practical tool which can be used to assess equity implications of resilience practices in the event of drought.
- Methodological: Along with project objectives and COVID-19 related restrictions, we created a novel field guide to provide a comprehensive protocol to maintain participatory research in a Covid-safe way, even in settings involving multiple participants like focus group discussions. Our field guide is also important as it is sensitive to socio-economic, cultural and political characteristics of four catchment areas, but it meets the same reporting requirements.
- Engagement activities: Our research team has been actively participating in engagement activities to publicise the project, its early findings and its conceptual focus. We have organised engagement events at local and national levels in South Africa and Kenya. In addition, we have also been invited to speak at international workshops/training sessions.
Exploitation Route At academic level, the outcomes of this project will significantly contribute to emerging conceptual literature on equitable resilience. By focusing on major theories and concepts such as resilience, environmental justice and socio-natures, we will propose a practical conceptual tool to assess justice and equity dimensions of resilience practices at multiple scales, which can also be used to enhance social equity in building resilience of marginalised communities to water-related disasters.

In addition, our project will achieve an empirical contribution to the dynamics of socio-technical change in the context of the fresh fruit and vegetable value chain, the politics of knowledge, water governance and power relations between different actors, and complex adaptive systems literatures by introducing comparative studies on relatively less studied catchment areas in Sub-Saharan Africa. Our conceptual and empirical contributions may be used to reinforce social dimensions of resilience studies at academic level, while they can be used by policymakers and practitioners to design more equitable interventions as a response to systemic change, particularly in the context of low- and middle-income countries.

Outcomes of our project will be interest of horticultural and agricultural sectors and water governance institutes at multiple levels in South Africa and Kenya. As the horticultural sector features significantly in the economy of our case study catchment areas (and generally in catchments of low- and middle-income countries), our findings and conceptual work will inform export horticultural businesses, small-scale horticultural farmers and workers and employees in the horticultural sector that can be used by these actors to increase drought resilience and adapt to climate change in a way to represent needs and interests of marginalised communities. This will lead them to reduce commercial risks and enhance their reputation. Furthermore, farmers, other water users and organisations responsible for water governance will benefit from our project to better adapt to increasing drought risk and build resilience to enhance social equity. This may also benefit the UK retailers and consumers as such outcomes will support the sustainable sourcing policies of the UK retailers and secure the availability of a diversity of fruit and vegetables to UK consumers.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Communities and Social Services/Policy,Environment,Government, Democracy and Justice

Description There are initial signs of potential policy impact based on our existing stakeholder engagement and capacity building activities. For example, Dr Bongani Ncube was recently invited to the Department of Water and Sanitation national workshop in South Africa, and she was a panel expert in the Commission discussing the water legislative framework. Her contributions may be later used by the Commission in planning their revisions on South Africa's policy and legal frameworks on water. In addition, her recent presentations at the Upper Breede Collaborative Extension Group (UBCEG) and the French delegation have initiated discussions over potential collaborations to extend the scope of this project. Furthermore, Dr Caner Sayan's presentation on Environmental and Water Justice to a mixed audience (including policymakers and practitioners) in India has sparked discussions within the audience over the need to integrate social aspects and needs and interests of marginalised groups to decision making processes related to water.
First Year Of Impact 2022
Sector Agriculture, Food and Drink,Government, Democracy and Justice
Impact Types Policy & public services

Description Seeds of good anthropocenes: fostering food-system transformation in Africa
Amount $302,500 (CAD)
Funding ID 109834 
Organisation International Development Research Centre 
Sector Public
Country Canada
Start 01/2022 
End 12/2024
Title Supporting transformative adaptation and building equitable resilience to drought for sustainable development: A field guide 
Description This is a field guide on applying participatory field methods for analysing adaptation to drought at individual, household and community level. Half the guide is focuses on how to carry out participatory style focus group assessments in a Covid-safe way. The other half is about how to gather the same data from individual / key informant interviews which may be online interviews. 
Type Of Material Physiological assessment or outcome measure 
Year Produced 2021 
Provided To Others? No  
Impact The guide was refined and reduced for use by our research teams in Kenya and South Africa in their study catchment basins, with common reporting guidelines. The next step is to meet work with the Kenyan and South African teams to develop a 'mid-level' field guide for each basin. This will involve devising a precise and tailored set of methods for each basin. Each document will make sure to address the specific research questions and issues required for each of project tasks, and meet the same reporting requirements, but take into account the different and changing Covid situations in each basin. All the methods will be conceptually based on the larger fieldwork guide but adapted to specific field conditions and research priorities. 
Description Expert Panel on the Commission - Legislative Framework 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact The commission discussed three areas:
• Support and regulation of local government
• Transformation of irrigation boards
• Realignment of Catchment Management Agencies

The topics were discussed using the questions:
• What have we achieved so far? Is it enough?
• What are the challenges?
• What needs to be done?
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Funding to support transdisciplinary research and training within universities 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A series of 4 workshops were held in preparation for the SDGs in Africa Summit.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Panelist in 'Care and Control' session at the STEPS Final Conference 
Form Of Engagement Activity A formal working group, expert panel or dialogue
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact Agri-food systems are vulnerable to perturbations (e.g. Covid-19; climate change; Brexit). They can also adapt, but what are the limits and costs to that adaptive capacity? STEPS researchers have explored contrasting approaches to governance: those which emphasise an ethic of care, and those which aspire to top-down control (open access paper here). The session had a twofold ambition: (1) to generate examples of caring vs. controlling approaches to agri-food system resilience across scales; (2) to problematise the care vs. control dichotomy, including its implicit value bias in favour of care and resisting control. Professor John Thompson and Dr Nadia Sitas took part in 'Care and Control' session at the STEPS Final Conference in December 2022. Over 200 people registered for the online conference and there were around 50 people in the session, with many more viewing a recording of the session. Dr Nadia Sitas presented on initial findings of the project and there was a lively discussion linked to both theory and practice linked to the research.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Presentation on Environmental and Water Justice 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Schools
Results and Impact Dr Caner Sayan was invited to give a talk in Environmental and Water Justice in 5-day international workshop on "Scanning the Horizon of Climate Change - Water Crisis - Disasters-Conflicts and Migration Nexus" organised by Amity Mega Center for Natural and Man-made Calamities (India) and United Nations University Institute on Comparative Regional Integration Studies (Belgium). His talk highlighted the importance of issues of justice and equity in water management based on global case studies and provided tools for policy makers on to create justice and equity sensitive water policies. Around 50 participants (academics, research students, NGO representatives, policymakers and practitioners) were in the session and most of them were based in India. Participant feedback, questions and discussion demonstrated that participants, mostly natural scientists and engineers, have started to acknowledge the need that water policy making processes should be handled more holistically in a way to prioritise needs and interests of marginalised communities in decision making processes to avoid socio-economic, cultural and environmental problems created by top-down practices.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021
Description Presentation on Water & Sanitation Research 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Policymakers/politicians
Results and Impact A French delegation visited the Cape Peninsula University of Technology on the 16th February 2022 to explore further collaboration with the University. Water was one of the selected topics, and I presented our current activities, including activities of the GCRF project.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2022
Description Stakeholder workshop (Upper Ewaso Ng'iro Basin, Kenya) 
Form Of Engagement Activity Participation in an activity, workshop or similar
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Local
Primary Audience Study participants or study members
Results and Impact The activities involved stakeholder interviews conducted to "Identify drought adaptation and resilience options to reduce water stress in agriculture and rural livelihoods in the Upper Ewaso Ng'iro Basin, Kenya". This also included field visits to meet communities and see drought resilience activities in Isiolo, Laikipia and Meru Counties.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2021