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Researchers to examine how organizations help African farmers adjust to climate change

$1.25M grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation funds 2-year ASU project

Man in an outdoor setting holding a woven basket on his head.

A man carries a basket of cocoa beans at a farm in the West African nation of Ghana. Photo courtesy David Greenwood-Haigh/Pixabay

January 20, 2023

Arizona State University researchers are examining how to better understand the roles public, private and nonprofit organizations play in helping African farmers adapt to the growing impact of climate change.

Between policymakers and financiers at the macro level, and the farmers themselves and their communities at the micro level, these groups exist at what is called the “meso,” or middle level, said Professor Eric Welch of the School of Public Affairs.

Welch is principal investigator of the two-year Accelerating Climate Adaptation via Meso-level Integration (ACAMI) project, funded by a $1.25 million grant to ASU from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Meso-level organizations, or MLOs, implement programs and policies from the macro levels that affect agricultural systems at micro levels. Welch, director of ASU’s Center for Science, Technology and Environmental Policy Studies, said researchers will seek to understand the role MLOs play and examine the impact of how programs and policies are implemented, and how funding is distributed, to help farmers better cope with climate change’s increasing effects.

Two researchers from ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory also head the ACAMI project: School of Sustainability Professor and Senior Global Futures Scientist Hallie Eakin, who is co-principal investigator, and Mauricio Bellon Corrales, research professor with Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems. The team is partnering with the African Climate Development Initiative at the University of Cape Town in South Africa.

Other collaborators include the University of Illinois at Chicago, CIRAD in France, the Africa Research and Impact Network in Kenya and the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions in Cape Town.

In addition to public administration, the team includes members from a wide variety of social science disciplines, Welch said, including geographers, sociologists, social psychologists and experts in economic development and rural communities.

Team members have already begun work to examine conditions in three African nations: Ghana, Kenya and Malawi. A kickoff meeting is scheduled for Feb. 15.

Welch said that as climate change ramps up, so do the stresses it brings to people, particularly those in parts of Africa. He said it is important to better understand the roles played by MLOs, which vary dramatically in capacity, networking and experience.

“They carry out policies and programs for the benefit of local communities. There has not been much examination of these organizations,” Welch said. “It’s a very complex environment. Some of them have been at the front line for a long time. Some less. Some have high levels of skills, some less.”

Eakin said funding to assist agriculture in adapting to climate change is projected to significantly increase in the coming years, and African nations, particularly those in small-scale agricultural sectors, will likely be targeted for this investment.

Welch said an important question is how can that funding be more effectively allocated and distributed. Eakin said concerns are growing that additional investment might not result in reduced vulnerability to climate change’s effects if local needs and values, geographic and cultural circumstances, and issues of gender and ethnic diversity, aren’t properly considered.

“Our team thinks that meso-level organizations can help make sure adaptation finance responds to those local concerns because they can help bridge the needs of local farm communities and the interests of organizations that are financing adaptation projects,” Eakin said.

Currently, adaptation research and practice haven’t given much attention to MLOs, despite the important roles they play in the flow of resources to recipients, Eakin said.

“The ACAMI project aims to learn more about what strategies, capacities and resources these organizations have and what they need to help ensure adaptation investments are meeting needs sustainably and appropriately,” she said. “We hope our project will provide insights that will be useful in guiding adaptation investments internationally, but also help meso-level organizations share and improve their own strategies in supporting rural adaptation in Africa.”

Welch said some possible solutions that could emerge from the research include interventions to increase the capacity of meso-level organizations and create opportunities for learning from the project results.

“What we find will certainly inform the policy and finance levels. The knowledge of how the programs and policies are implemented helps (MLOs) better understand the system in which they’re trying to operate,” Welch said. “And maybe it could influence the tools they use, who they fund, what they concentrate on. A key aim of the project is to improve knowledge and information about financing and policy relating to climate adaptation in Africa, so it can be more effective over time.”

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