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.


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