By switching to dark mode you can reduce the energy consumption of our digital service.

Five Namibian communities holistically adapt to climate change

Namibia is plagued with a dry climate and poor soils and the country’s small-scale farmers produce the lowest agricultural yields in the world. Climate change exacerbates these realities.
Digging a fish pond, Ondangwa, Namibia


Namibia is plagued with a dry climate and poor soils, and the country’s small-scale farmers produce the lowest agricultural yields in the world. With an estimated population of around two million, Namibia has the world’s second lowest population density. As global climate change impacts become more evident, Namibia is likely to be one of the most severely affected areas.

The Community Based Adaptation (CBA) project areas were located in Northern Namibia and consisted of five regions: Omusati, Ohangwena, Oshikoto, Oshana and Kavango. The majority of the community members were subsistence farmers who depended highly on rain-fed dry land crops and livestock rearing both for subsistence and income generation.

Climate change induced rising temperatures, irregular rainfall, prolonged and intensified drought and flood incidents have resulted in food and water insecurity, threatening the communities’ livelihoods, especially those of the marginalized groups within the communities: women and orphaned children from HIV/AIDS-affected families.

In this regard, the CBA project ‘Approaching community adaptation to climate change holistically by using multiple coping strategies’ designed and implemented adaptation measures responding to climate change to reduce the vulnerability of the communities. This project was implemented by NGO Creative Entrepreneurs Solutions (CES), with the technical assistance from the GEF SGP National Coordinator and community mobilization support from the National UNV assigned to the project.

Adaptation Options

ENVIRONMENTAL ADAPTATION MEASURES: This CBA project used six local and interlinked climate change coping strategies to create a holistic approach to community-based adaptation. These concepts were piloted in the majority of project sites, while some remained site-specific. The strategies included:

  1. ensuring water and food security through flood and rain harvesting for agricultural irrigation, livestock and fish farming;
  2. using harvested flood and rain water to irrigate vegetable production and to support families affected HIV/AIDS (95% of target communties were families affected by AIDS);
  3. improving dry land crop production through composting, biochar, crop rotation and conservation agriculture;
  4. increasing use of improved drought-resistant pearl millet varieties (such as the national staple food Mahangu);
  5. using rice, mushroom, and sweet stem for human nutrition and fodder security to boost availability of protein nutrition and incomes; and
  6. using energy efficient stoves and agro-forestry combined with general reforestation techniques to help sustain food security and income generation with no adverse impacts to the land or to other natural resources.

The project focused primarily on the promotion and application of a distinct method of conservation tillage agriculture (CONTILL) specific to the Namibian agricultural circumstances. The CONTILL method practices minimum soil disturbance, maximum soil cover and crop rotations to reverse soil degradation. The ripping and furrowing of the soil allowed water retention and deep root penetration below the hard alkaline layer, and allowed the feeder roots to reach nutrients located below 30 cm depth in the soil. At the same time, rainwater collected by furrows was channeled to the plants basal area. During flooding, excess water found its way to the ripped compaction layer, infiltrating deep into the soil and preventing water logging. As a result, plant roots became stronger, biomass increased and soil quality was improved leading to an increase in agricultural yields up to 500 percent in the project areas.

COMMUNITY MOBILIZATION AND SOCIO-ECONOMIC BENEFITS: This project focused on mobilizing community members through the creation of Self Help Groups (SHG) and by building the communities’ awareness on issues such as climate change, coping strategies and nutritional needs. The SHGs helped community members to take charge of their own development and financial well-being such as savings and lending.

Community members used a project-developed toolkit for training on climate change awareness. The toolkit focuses on the causes and impacts of climate change; the different adaptation measures that exist; and tools for mapping challenges and negative impacts, tailoring local solutions, and monitoring and evaluation. Overtime, and as they became available, the community members used nationally developed toolkits to build climate change adaptation strategies.

The Siya group, based in Kavango, is one of the CBA project-funded communities. Throughout the years, the group had battled seasonal food security caused by insufficient production during the harvesting months. To help reduce the food insecurity on the community, the CBA project introduced CONTILL to the region, along with multi-focal areas on adaptation, including water harvesting, crop rotation, improved soil nutrition, and use of energy efficient stoves. These combined approaches yielded positive results.

Outcomes and Impacts

Namibia’s baseline yield is lower than 300 kg per hectare, as recorded by the United Nations Joint Programme/Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) baseline study in 2009. In June 2010, the first pearl millet harvest in the project areas increased from an average of 70 kg per hectare to 570 kg per hectare. The community also grew other crops for income such as maize and sunflowers. The increase in the millet harvest guaranteed food for the community, opening up income-generating options for the maize and sunflower harvests.

In April 2013, the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry (MAWF) recorded that despite drought conditions, a bumper crop of 4,550 kg per hectare of Mahangu at a farm in one of the CBA project sites (Oshikoto region). Because of the positive results being seen, conservation tillage increasingly replaced the traditional land preparation methods (disc harrowing and ploughing.

UPSCALING AND REPLICATION: This project received attention from the national government, which opened up opportunities to upscale the project activities. His Excellency Hifi kepunye Pohamba, President of the Republic of Namibia, visited the project sites, and was impressed with the projects’ outcomes and with the spirit of the project’s local participants. He stated that the CBA projects were heading in the direction of being one of the most promising agriculture/adaptation projects in the country. Based on his site visit, he advocated the CBA measures in the National Assembly.

Due to its successful results, this project was replicated at the local and national levels. Neighboring communities, government institutions and NGOs replicated the sustainable adaptive practices applied to this project and have benefited from the lessons learned by project participants. In these cases, external funding was sought and provided to cover costs associated with upscaling. An example is the ‘EzyStove’ pilot project in Katutura—the densely populated township on the outskirts of Namibia’s Capital Windhoek—that replicated the CBA project with aid from Namibia’s Environmental Investment Fund. This fund was useful in bringing fuel-efficient stoves (EzyStove) to areas in Windhoek that were not covered by the CBA projects. AAP-Namibia also provided funds to four communities to replicate CBA environmental solutions: rainwater harvesting methods in the Caprivi and Ohangwena regions; micro-drip irrigation concepts (usage of small poly bags) in the Karas region. Lastly, Namibia’s Country Pilot Partnership for Sustainable Land Management project provided funds to CES to replicate the micro-drip irrigation system in Oshikoto region.

OUTSCALING TO SCHOOLS: Training youth in the area—future farmers or heirs of land—on sustainable practices and improved farming methods was critical for food security and promoting enterprise creation. The CBA project was ‘out-scaled’ to local schools to foster integration of the project’s sustainable practices into school curricula. Ninth and tenth graders at the Onamulunga Combined School learned about climate change and its impacts, conservation agriculture (CONTILL) for dry land crops, soil improvement techniques, and micro-drip irrigation (for vegetables).

Additionlly, with HIV/AIDS on the rise and affecting adults ages from 20 to 45, orphan statistics continue to rise in Namibia. The project worked with Oonte OVC (Orphan and Vulnerable Children) Organization, which integrated sustainable adaptation practices as they work with 440 OVCs and their guardians.

Methods and Tools

Using the participatory and social inclusion approaches, the project ensured that each community member was engaged in the decision-making processes and project activities regardless of gender, age and physical/mental abilities. The UN Volunteers (UNV) project partners enhance community mobilization, recognize volunteers’ contribution and ensure inclusive participation throughout the project.

The Vulnerability Reduction Assessment (VRA) methodology was used to gauge the extent of the communities’ vulnerability, the contributing factors to their vulnerability and the different needs of the various groups/individuals within the communities. Various community consultations, VRA workshops and multi-stakeholder meetings (national and local) were held preceding the project formulation to identify the challenges such as lack of awareness and capacities, as well as gaps in policies and processes. The VRA scores were measured 3x throughout the project: baseline assessment at the beginning of the project, mid-term assessment during mid-project and the final assessment towards or at the end of the project.

Lastly, the communities used a “toolkit” as a resource mapping tool. Community members used a project-developed toolkit (UNDP 2010; Toolkit for Designing Climate Change Adaptation Initiatives) for training on climate change awareness. The toolkit focuses on the causes and impacts of climate change; the different adaptation measures that exist; and tools for mapping challenges and negative impacts, tailoring local solutions, and monitoring and evaluation. Overtime, the community members used nationally developed toolkits to build climate change adaptation strategies and as they became available.

Lessons Learnt

  1. Analysis and measures need to be site-specific. Since problems tend to be site-specific, it is important for analysis and measures to be also site-specific. These help ensure that successful solutions to problems are found and that project results are provided at the macro and micro levels.
  2. Having a landscape approach and projects with complimentary objectives fosters teamwork among communities and speeds up results and replication of sustainable adaptive practices. The rate of replication is especially important when the practices result in socio-economic benefits. Experience has shown that having projects with complimentary objectives is more time-efficient and cost-effective, which benefits the NGO and other project staff and partners who oversee the projects.

Related resources

Add your project

Exchange your climate change adaptation projects and lessons learned with the global community.