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New approaches to capacity building in Africa

Katharine Vincent of Kulima Integrated Development Solutions, part of the Future Climate for Africa ‘UMFULA‘ research team working in Malawi and Tanzania, explains how the team is taking a fresh look at capacity building for climate science and climate-smart decision-making.

Limited capacity in Africa is well known – particularly around climate change and the use and interpretation of the Global Climate Models that are used to project what future temperature and rainfall conditions might look like.

Many donor and research organisations have attempted to bridge this gap.  Mechanisms have included supporting scholarships for postgraduate study and the running of short-term training courses, such as the Winter School at the University of Cape Town and numerous other bespoke programmes.

Supporting postgraduate study and training courses are subject to some challenges.  Limited numbers of people are able to benefit from such opportunities.  Particularly in the case of short courses it is often difficult to apply the concepts and methods learned to the “real-word” situations when back at home.

The need for improved understanding of climate change and the challenges and opportunities that it brings is greater than ever.  The El Nino of the 2015-16, and the variously associated abnormal rainfall conditions across the continent, have highlighted the role that changes in weather and climate conditions can bring.

Many African countries have recognised climate change in their national development plans and adopted climate change policies.  How to incorporate climate information in decision-making is still a barrier.  This is complicated by the lack of country-specific climate scenarios and interpretation of what changes will mean for particular sectors and development decisions.

UMFULA – the Future Climate for Africa research consortium working in Central and Southern Africa – recognises the need for knowledge transfer and capacity building, but is taking a new approach to improve sustainability.  Co-production is where researchers and decision-makers work together to identify a problem and generate a solution.  UMFULA is working with government and private sector decision-makers in the water and agriculture sectors in Malawi and Tanzania.

In partnership with decision-makers, the UMFULA team will support the generation of climate scenarios that address the identified climate information needs.  These scenarios will then be used as the inputs to various techniques that support decision-making under uncertainty.

The co-production approach builds capacity because decision-makers drive the process, and it answers their identified planning needs.  By the end of the project, they will be familiar enough with climate information and the decision-making under uncertainty approaches that they will be able to apply it to other decisions and thus ensure development is robust in the face of a changing climate.