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Framing innovations for climate resilience for farmers in the Sahel

This paper examines innovative approaches that have been adopted in four BRACED projects to build resilience to current and future climate risks.
Laura Cadilhac


Never has there been a more difficult time in the Sahel than now, given the combination of challenges facing the region’s current population of 150 million people. Deep, endemic poverty, a demographic explosion that will see the region’s population double in the next 20 years and violent extremism are creating refugees of millions of people. This sits within the broader environmental framework of a changing climate that is bringing with it more extreme weather events and a long-term change in the sedentary and nomadic farming prospects for the whole region. More than 30 million people suffer food insecurity – a fifth of the region’s population.

For farmers in the Sahel, innovating and adapting to variable environmental conditions have been part of life for centuries. The climate is naturally variable, and much of the Sahel is drought-prone; in the 1970s and 1980s, lower rainfall caused drought and food crisis; higher rainfall in the 1990s improved food security. Land degradation and desertification are ongoing issues. Recent analysis found there had been a significant decline in natural vegetation in the past 40 years in the Sahel, and climate change and increased climate variability are exacerbating this in the short- and long-term.

This paper* examines innovative approaches that have been adopted in four BRACED projects to build resilience to current and future climate risks.

*Download the full paper from the right-hand column.

Case study innovation summaries

This paper synthesises knowledge from four BRACED projects across the Sahel. Each project witnessed unique innovations for adapting to variable and changing climates, as summarised by table 3 (below):

Innovations in BRACED country case studies (Table 3, page 11 of the paper).

Lessons Learnt

  • Farmers have innovated for centuries, as part of dynamic, informal processes of learning and responding to change. Innovation is central to efforts to encourage both economic growth and social development in rural areas.
  • A grassroots, inclusive ‘innovation’ may have one or more of five characteristics: newness; adaptation from other efforts; collective and socially cohesive interactions; application of new knowledge content; and new or improved learning pathways.
  • Climate-resilient innovation involves integrating what we know about the current and future climate into the design of the innovation so people are more able to anticipate, adapt to or absorb the effects of climate change.
  • Innovations in climate resilience include changing practices (e.g. technical aspects of farm production), economic innovations (e.g. credit access and savings schemes) and social innovations (e.g. participatory planning and access to and integration of climate information by farmers). This paper analyses four BRACED projects that adopt these types of innovations.
  • Measuring how far a specific innovation has strengthened climate resilience is challenging. BRACED measures existing levels of climate resilience and vulnerability, and accompanies innovations as they develop and embed in communities. Further research will investigate these.

Suggested citation

Grist, N., Harvey, B., Zaman Libidi, Sur1M, BRICS, and PRESENCES, 2017. Framing innovations for climate resilience for farmers in the Sahel. BRACED.

Further reading

With a bit of ‘time travel’, Malians prepare farms of the future​

Adapting farming techniques – and behaviours (Self Help Africa)

In drought-stricken Mali, women manoeuvre for land – and a future

UN drive to lift up poor farmers must focus on climate

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