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Centre of Governance & Human Rights (CGHR)


1st February 2011

Climate Change in Africa

Dr Camilla Toulmin (Director of the International Institute for Environment and Development, IIED)

An economist by training, Dr. Toulmin has worked mainly in Africa on agriculture, land, climate and livelihoods. This has combined field research, policy analysis and advocacy. Her work has aimed at understanding how environmental, economic and political change impact on people’s lives, and how policy reform can bring real change on the ground. This has combined field research, policy analysis, capacity building and advocacy. It has involved engaging with people at many different levels from farmers and researchers, to national governments, NGOs, donor agencies and international bodies.

As Director of IIED since 2004, Camilla has focused on developing the institute’s strategy and communications. The institute has grown under her leadership from £5m turnover per year in 2005 to more than £12m in 2008-09. IIED’s new strategy 2009-14 focuses on four principal goals that bring together the diverse areas of work on climate change, human settlements, natural resources, sustainable markets, and governance.

Camilla studied Economics at Cambridge and London, before gaining her doctorate in Economics at Oxford.  Her latest book is Climate change in Africa (Zed Books, 2009).

This talk explores the impacts on African smallholder farmers from climate change. It examines the major threats by region, and different forms that adaptation might take before investigating new market opportunities emerging from climate change policy and markets. It assesses the best mix of measures to help smallholders adapt before concluding with a call for combining a range of supports alongside market options. It re-affirms the formal commitments under the UNFCCC as regards the need for Annex 1 countries to support adaptation efforts in countries suffering adverse impacts, and it counsels against assuming that market mechanisms can substitute for the political and social changes required to address climate change effectively.

Adapting to climate change has until recently been seen as requiring large-scale concrete investments, such as in flood protection measures or irrigation systems. And, while this hardware has a role to play, it needs to be complemented by investment in the software of development, governance and accountability systems. Institutional structures are invisible to the naked eye, but no less vital to building more resilient social and economic systems.

Smallholders throughout the world face a fundamental hurdle thrown up by their lack of political and economic weight. This means that they face an asymmetry of power vis-a-vis government and corporations in relation to their access to land, water and natural resources. Equally, the large and diverse nature of smallholder production means that engagement with high value markets can be very risky as well as costly. The global economy is undergoing major shifts, with a rapid increase in demand for key commodities and the resources on which they grow. Global markets are also changing in the face of consumer and other pressures. This presents smallholders with an increasingly complex world, both of opportunities but also rising uncertainties. The impacts of climate change and greater variability are likely to exacerbate such difficulties.

Slideshow with audio