Why Community Based Adaptation is not enough

For some time now, I have been meaning to write a blog on why splitting climate change adaptation into “community based adaptation” (CBA) and “ecosystem based adaptation” (EBA) is not necessarily a good thing from the point of view of local level implementation, where both communities and ecosystem concerns need to be taken equally into account. We need Community and Ecosystem Based adaptation – “CEBA”, if anything. While the proponents of CBA and EBA both claim to look out for the other, surely a more joined-up terminology will help us to better promote joined-up thinking and implementation.

Revisiting the experience with sustainable development implementation in India through the lens of adaptation, however, has convinced me that we actually need a more radical change in terminology: “based” is simply too weak for what we’re aiming for. Let me explain.

In the implementation of sustainable development, most of us have slowly come to recognise the key role of communities. Put simply, if the communities are not fully on board, money spent on implementing sustainable development activities is wasted. We have grudgingly acknowledged this by saying we must “base” our action in communities. They must be “involved” in adaptation, ecosystem-based or otherwise.

“Community-based” can mean anything. It can mean that one meeting was held with a community to inform them of a project or activity that has already been pre-decided by a donor or a government. It almost certainly means that someone else is holding the purse strings, and is therefore calling the shots. We have already travelled the long and arduous road of learning the pitfalls of such fuzzy definitions during our two decades of implementing sustainable development.

For instance, the realisation that communities need to be involved in forest management led to the conception of “Joint Forest Management” (JFM) in India. JFM by communities and India’s powerful forest bureaucracy is described as a ‘principal element of forest management strategies’ in India since 1988. Under this model, however, the balance of power continues to tilt towards the forest bureaucracy, which has ultimate control over funds, and over conflict resolution mechanisms.

JFM therefore continues to focus more heavily on the conservation of forests (the main concern of foresters) rather than on poverty alleviation (the main concern of local communities). It is now viewed as a top-down, non-participatory process that exacerbates existing social tensions. Meaningful participation of communities in the planning process is often weak, with insufficient regard given to people’s subsistence forest requirements and broader development needs. Villagers want the JFM Committees disbanded, seeing them as exploitative rather than beneficial, creating rather than resolving conflict within and between villages.

The point, slowly being realized by India’s policy-makers (though not necessarily its foresters), is that communities must DRIVE the process by controlling the use of funds, and have the means for planning, transparency, implementation and conflict resolution. Thus the push for devolving decision-making to communities through a constitutional amendment to give more power to local governments, through programmes like the National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (NREGA) and its innovative social audit mechanism, and policies such as the Right to Information Act.

Why do we stop short of saying quite simply that communities must DRIVE adaptation and ecosystem management? Surely this is what our experience so far has taught us?

Let’s start putting our money where our mouth should be after our experience with sustainable development. Call it Community Driven Adaptation (CDA), and find ways to get money to communities so they can decide and address their own priorities, including how to conserve the ecosystems that they depend on. What we need are easily accessible local funds (from national and international sources) that enable and empower community planning and decision-making.

Undoubtedly, there will be problems – corruption, graft, elite capture. But like in the context of India’s NREGA, these are problems that will have to be identified and dealt with, and solutions found. There are already projects out there that are showing the way ­– like the community driven Kecamatan Development Programme in Indonesia, and the pilot project to support adaptation in Kenya’s Isiolo County. They may not yet be perfect, but they have the right idea.

Empowering communities to address their development needs is the only way in which we can hand back some of the dignity we have stolen from the world’s poor, after inflicting global warming on them.

This entry was posted in Biodiviersity, Civil Society, Climate change, Global governance, Green Climate Fund, Poverty, Sustainable Development Goals, Uncategorized, UNFCCC and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Why Community Based Adaptation is not enough

  1. Noah Chongo says:

    Anju, you are obviously right to say that Community Based Adaptation is not enough.The fact is that Community-based adaptation should be targeted at those most vulnerable to
    climate change and it is now known that it represents a relatively new approach consisting of
    community-based development activities, practices, research and policies. It must be community-driven and research has shown that it has flourished throughout many vulnerable communities in developing countries, and also some developed countries. However it is still believed to be in its adolescence with challenges surrounding knowledge sharing, documentation and scaling up current CBA initiatives. You have observed that many previous conferences have brought together stakeholders from donor agencies to local NGOs to share their projects and experiences,compare approaches and even challenge one another.So for me what matters most is to have a more holistic definition that will show us that the concept is meant to address both community and ecosystem based concerns as regards to climate change adaptation and poverty alleviation.


  2. Laurel says:

    Excellent topic for discussion. I agree, the participatory approach runs the gambit from a single questionnaire which only serves to check the box under “stakeholder engagement” to a full devolution where communities define success and decide how the funds are to be allocated. Even at a bureaucratic level, many officials do not have much exposure and experience with different types of participatory processes.


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