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Integrating climate change adaptation and mitigation into the watershed management approach in Eastern Africa: Discussion paper and good practices


Without significant and well-planned adaptation efforts, climate change is predicted to have a marked effect on the agricultural sector in Eastern Africa – reducing agricultural yields and negatively impacting efforts to achieve food security and end hunger in the subregion. However, there is considerable potential to adapt to climate change, particularly through an enhanced focus on improved land and water management, the establishment of appropriate policies, capacity building of institutions and individuals, and the promotion of investments in land and water management. This can be done within the framework of the watershed management approach.

By employing this approach, it is possible to use agriculture and smallholder farmers as the driving force to restore the natural resource base in a manner that also contributes to climate change adaptation and mitigation – some of the major crosscutting themes of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). In fact, of the 17 SDGs and their 169 associated targets, six SDGs and 16 targets contain wording that relates directly to the joint tackling of climate change and watershed management.

Watershed management, which can be defined as the management of all human activities and their effect on the environment within a geographical area defined by a watercourse, can be applied to promote coordinated actions and linkages between upstream and downstream environments and populations. There are compelling reasons for systematically integrating climate change adaptation and mitigation into the watershed management approach. Linking watershed management with climate change adaptation and mitigation:

  • can provide not only environmental benefits at the watershed scale, but also livelihood, resilience, food security and poverty reduction benefits in addition to contributing to climate change mitigation;
  • brings greater benefitsthan the individual benefits derived from undertaking climate change interventions at just the household level;
  • can allow for diverse groups of stakeholders and institutions to work together to address issues (that were previously addressed in a sectoral way) in a harmonized and coordinated manner that maintains watershed/ ecosystem services for all;
  • allows for more efficient use of time and financial resources that would otherwise be spent conducting capacity building separately and in an uncoordinated manner;
  • can facilitate the achievement of multiple objectives – in this case helping communitiesto adapt to climate change, contributing to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions, conserving the environment and improving people’s lives and livelihoods.

Overall, it can be concluded that while the watershed approach can (and sometimes already does) contribute to climate change adaptation and mitigation, there is a need to find ways of systematically doing this while being able to measure the adaptation benefits for the inhabitants of these watersheds as well as the mitigation benefits accrued by the actions. A prolonged joint effort is required, as elaborated within the framework of the integrated watershed management approach, which takes consideration of livelihoods and resilience to climate change and the contribution of watersheds to climate change mitigation.

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