The role of systems change in climate adaptation

The Pro-ARIDES programme in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger


As COP27 approaches, we look at some of the key principles of how SNV supports vulnerable communities to drive climate resilience.

Addressing systemic challenges is fundamental in the ten-year Pro-ARIDES programme (2021-2030), which will increase resilience, food security and household incomes for farmers and pastoralists in Burkina Faso, Mali and Niger.

This region of Africa is a climate change hotspot. Temperatures have risen by 2°C since 1950, and annual rainfall has steadily decreased. In Niger, average temperatures are expected to increase by up to 4.6°C by 2080.

Among the priorities of the Pro-ARIDES programme ((PROgramme Agroalimentaire pour la Résilience Intégrée et le Développement Economique du Sahel) is to improve natural resource management and create more resilient food production and consumption. It is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (€ 100 million), cofounded by the Danish Cooperation (€ 5.4 million), and executed by SNV, CARE-Nederland, Wageningen University & Research and KIT Royal Tropical Institute.

A foundation of systemic change

Dr Jean de Matha Ouedraogo is programme manager for Pro-ARIDES. He highlights that this fundamental focus on systems change is a new and welcome change:

'Most projects include an element of systemic change, but for Pro-ARIDES to deliver lasting results, changing the systems in play across these countries and communities is crucial.'

In this arid and semi-arid geographic region, pastoralism is a crucial source of meat and income. Staple foods such as millet, rice, sorghum, maise, beans, cowpeas and groundnuts are plentiful and could easily meet local demand. Yet they are unevenly distributed, leading to food insecurity and chronic malnutrition.

Changing systems to create prosperity

This region has a big opportunity to address its challenges and thrive. Pro-ARIDES will help drive that reversal through systems change in five areas:

  • Improving food, farm and livestock management.

  • Increasing business, service, and employment opportunities.

  • Sustainable management of land, water and other natural resources.

  • Strengthening social inclusion

  • Institutional strengthening to restore the social contract.

By making value chains more inclusive, women and young people can become more involved in agriculture, delivering better incomes, improving the nutritional situation and driving resilience and stability.

Taking a structured approach

Of course, changing social, political and economic systems is no easy task. Dr Ouedraogo explains:

There are three crucial elements in systemic change. We must establish the political situation of each area, confirm the potential actions that can be taken and identify the current mindset. That way, we understand the barriers we need to overcome.'

Programme progress

The programme has now been operational for just over a year, with the focus firmly on establishing the groundwork. On a programme involving four lead organisations, 23 local organisations, three countries and 71 communes, this is no mean feat.

The priority is contextualisation: understanding each local context, establishing baseline measurements and undertaking an Anticipated Impact Study. That process involved interviewing 6,500 households together with local organisations and businesses.

Understanding the different communities, partners, opportunities, and threats creates the platform for positive, lasting change.

Climate change: global thinking; local action

Clearly, the climate crisis poses one of the most significant threats to this region of Africa. As a highly experienced advocate for vulnerable communities, Dr Ouedraogo has clear views on how this challenge should be addressed.

'Climate action is all about mitigation and adaptation. But the two don't necessarily have equal weight. Mitigation is more relevant in the developed world – in reducing the causes of climate change. But in this part of Africa, it is much more about adaptation to manage the consequences of the climate crisis for local communities.'

'Global thinking is crucial in both mitigation and adaptation. But acting locally is how we will defend vulnerable populations against the realities of the climate crisis. On the Pro-ARIDES programme, that is what's driving the focus on natural resource management and on bringing in new, sustainable solutions. It's all about empowering local people to overcome adversity.'