Coping with Climate Change and Variability: Lessons from Sri Lankan Communities

Summary

Across Sri Lanka, climate change related weather aberrations and resultant extreme weather events are becoming increasingly common. While this affects the country at large, farmers and agricultural workers face the worst impacts of this variability. The increased frequency of flood and drought incidence in the last ten years has caused severe hardship to poor farmers across Sri Lanka.

The Small Grants Programme of the Global Environmental Facility (GEF SGP) in Sri Lanka with the financial assistance from Australian AID implemented a number of Community Based Adaptation (CBA) initiatives during 2010 to 2014 seeking solutions to some of the impacts of climate change. These projects could be considered among the country’s first scientifically designed responses to manage risks of climate change-induced changes: to weather patterns and natural resources depletion.

In the design and implementation of these projects, GEF SGP attempted to improve livelihood resilience and ensure water and food security to communities at risk by directly engaging in aspects of science, technology and research. The combination of laying a scientific basis for the interventions, implementation of projects through community based organizations and the engagement of local government actors strengthened the delivery of project targets, and laid the foundation for their eventual sustainability.

This publication is an attempt to capture the lessons and document the important challenges faced during the five years of project implementation, which is important to improve the country’s strategic focus on adaptation to climate change.

Main Lessons Learnt During Implementation: There is a lack of awareness about climate change impacts on livelihood among farmers and local government officials especially those engaged in water management and agriculture extension. As such, farmers are not supported to adapt to changed rainfall patterns and seasons with proper advice on crop choice, water saving methods or diversification of livelihoods so that dependence on rainfall is minimized. Year after year, farmers cultivate the same crop combinations, depending on seeds imported by the private sector and on agrochemical suppliers to provide them with information and advice for managing threats to their crops. This trend has resulted in deep indebtedness among rural households and a lack of disposable income for capital investments needed to a durable change in resilience.

While communities are willing to take action to reduce their vulnerability, they feel that the barriers are too great to overcome by themselves. Communities list poverty (lack of finances to invest in solutions) and lack of technology or awareness of available options and lack of supportfrom local When designing the activities in each CBA location, a rapid Vulnerability Reduction Assessment (VRA)1 and a trend analysis of weather changes of the previous five years was undertaken at every project site. Activity design therefore responded to the most pressing climate related weather change. However, during the project period, all pilot project sites experienced far greater level of climatic extreme events than anticipated or planned. This placed great stress on the communities and the local organizations that found themselves responding to the urgent humanitarian needs of flood and drought instead of investing in longer term resilience building.

It was also noted that the initially designed project period (18 months) is insufficient to build long term capacity for resilience among the very poor farmers who face the greatest climate change related livelihood risks. Further, while projects addressed one dimension of vulnerability- the physical exposure to climate risks; often communities have other, underlying and entrenched (social, economic) factors that could not be addressed by the planned intervention due to financial and time constraints. In some locations, strong partnerships developed during the implementation of the project, especially with local governments, which had positive results such as communities’ ability to overcome marginalization and lack of services. However stronger policy-level initiatives are required to support communities to overcome entrenched inequality and marginalization.

Some of the best practices that emerged from project implementation are;

1) Strong local presence of the civil society organizations entrusted with project implementation.
Through this, there was greater investment in local capacity building and retention of that capacity in the villages. The CSOs worked closely with locally established committees to design and deliver the interventions. Their local presence, even after the project was completed meant that the CSO remained accountable to the local people.

2) High level of cooperation from government officials, technical institutes, and extension services such as from the Agriculture Instructors working in the districts meant that the government was on board and engaged to provide solutions and ensure post-project sustainability. While there were many teething issues at the beginning of project design and implementation, all pilot projects were completed with satisfactory levels of local government officials’ cooperation.

3) In every location strong and active farmer/community organizations either existed or were initiated through the projects to implement and upkeep the interventions. All meetings and training programmes were conducted with the participation of community members to demonstrate transparency. In many locations farmer organizations were actively engaged in monitoring project progress and supervising any external contractors tasked with civil works during the project.

4) A number of technical best practices can be acknowledged, such as seed and crop selection, agronomic practices such as improving soil quality, crop-livestock integration, land management, water harvesting and improving kitchen gardens were successfully undertaken through the project. These have enhanced the knowledge of marginalized farmers mainly on resilient agriculture and water management.

Up Scaling of Community Based Adaptation (CBA) Initiatives and Best Practices

Successful adaptive practices that have shown positive results in these pilot projects of the CBA have been up-scaled and integrated in to larger climate adaptation projects. A US$ 8 million proposal for rain-fed and minor irrigated areas in the Mahaweli River Basin which based its modalities on the CBA practices is now funded through the Adaptation Fund and implemented by the Ministry of Environment, in collaboration with the World Food Programme. A second initiative on rural livelihood development to withstand climate related shocks is being implemented by the Ministry of Economic Affairs funded by Special Climate Change Fund (SCCF) of the Global Environment Facility (GEF). A larger initiative on rehabilitation of tanks is approved (2016) to rehabilitate small village irrigation systems funded through the Green Climate Fund (GCF)

Case studies

1) Rehabilitation of Imbulgodayagama Village Reservoir through Community Participation
2) Climate Related Disaster Management in Thoduwawa Lagoon in Barudelpola
3) Minimizing Land Degradation in Serupitiya Village to Facilitate Community Based Adaptation to Climate Change
4) Developing Community-led Strategies and Infrastructure to Ensure Adaptation to Drought Conditions
5) Community Based Adaptation to Floods in the Elapatha DS Division of the Ratnapura District / provincial governments as key barriers.