12 July 2018

Namibia: Behaviour Change Is Necessary to Adapt to Climate Change

IT IS very hard for people to see the link between their food and transport choices and how the climate is changing.

Behaviour changes such as eating a plant-based diet or cycling to work are actions that mitigate the effects of climate change. But the causal chain is so complicated and the impact so far removed temporally and geographically that it is easy for many to ignore.

However, when it comes to adaptation the consequences of not doing something are becoming more starkly visible.

The result of a smallholder farmer not taking action can be seen at the end of a season. If there is a drought and the farmer did not organise fodder or sell some of his herd he is left with a depleted herd and a huge dent in his capital - his cash cows.

If a farmer planted crops at a time when there was not rain or planted a variety of crop not suited to conditions, yields are low. And in Cape Town people are starting to realise that if we use too much water the taps are going to run dry.

To those of us that work in climate change adaptation we understand the impact climate change can have and what can be done about it. We can easily see all the links between the decisions that farmers make and what those decisions might mean for their livelihoods and food security.

We understand the water cycle and the water provision system for a city. We also understand the kinds of actions that need to be taken to adapt to having less water in cities and dry agricultural landscapes. However, many people do not understand climate change or the water cycle and the impacts climate change can have; never mind what can be done about it.

And even if people do have information on what is happening and what can be done, they do not necessarily act on that information for a number of different reasons.

For example, water savers in Cape Town are often motivated by an innate sense of responsibility, identify as custodians of the earth, they are capable and have opportunity to save water as they have knowledge, finances, ownership and control of their property and the willingness to do so.

However, many people do not change their behaviour to adapt to periods of drought. Our research has found that some of the reasons behind this include lack of awareness and information, individual perceptions, traditional norms, religious beliefs and a reliance on the government to do something.

In north central Namibia where we are conducting research as part of the Adaptation at Scale in Semi-Arid Regions (ASSAR) project we found that many smallholder farmers do not realise that in future they are most likely going to be facing much hotter conditions with more variable rainfall likely resulting in more frequent and intense droughts.

Additionally, one of the reasons that prevents these farmers from changing their agricultural practices is that they do not have knowledge of, or skills in, alternative farming approaches that they should use. Another very strong factor keeping farmers farming the way they have always done in Namibia is traditional norms.

People are more comfortable to continue doing what they have always done.

In Cape Town we see something similar with some residents being uncomfortable with 'if it is yellow let it mellow' which is acceptable to follow by some social groups.

Another interesting similarity between urban Cape Town and rural Namibia was the role of ownership. In Cape Town, some residents mentioned they were unable to implement water saving measures as they only rented the properties where they stayed.

In Namibia, some livestock keepers mentioned they were unable to sell livestock in advance of a drought because they needed permission from all the family members first and not all family members gave permission.

In addition to traditional norms and a lack of information other expected barriers to change came up such as inconvenience and a lack of finances, time, equipment and labour.

However, in Cape Town there were some individuals who were of the opinion that they are entitled to as much water as they want or that they will use the water otherwise someone else will or they can use water because they don't have a pool or garden or don't have children in their house or aren't home much.

Some people were also of the opinion that the water crisis is not their problem but that it needs to be sorted out by the government. Likewise, in Namibia there was also an expectation by some that government would come to the rescue if they didn't have food to eat.

The types of mindsets that prevent people from acting either because they do not realise that there is a problem or because they think that it is someone else's responsibility to sort out the problem ultimately make communities more vulnerable to climate change.

In rural agricultural landscapes where people need to provide food for their families they need to be adopting agricultural practices that are going to stand them in better stead in the face of worse drought conditions. This includes selling livestock before droughts hit if farmers are unable to provide necessary food and water.

They also need to adopt new ways of making a living. For smallholder farmers the impact of drought is more directly on the individual. However, those around them will be expected to help out when there is no food on the table. Likewise, in situations of a shared resources such as water the impact is on the collective.

Everyone needs to be using less water otherwise everyone will run out of water.

Encouraging action to adapt to climate change requires a multi-pronged approach to address the plethora of reasons people don't change their behaviour. Actions such as educating to increase awareness, training to develop skills, communicating through role models and the media and penalising against restrictions is only the start of what needs to be done to change the mindsets of people that are inhibited by their traditional norms, religious beliefs and sense of entitlement or dependency on government.

*Dian Spear is the research fellow for collaborative adaptation research in Africa and Asia (CARIAA) - adaptation at scale in semi-Arid regions (ASSAR) and based at UCT's African climate & development initiative (ACDI), the main convenor of adaptation futures 2018, that took place in Cape Town from 18-21 June.


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