From knowledge to action – how top down training is driving bottom-up resilience in Tanzania

Supporting government engagement with communities in Tanzania has identified three key ways in which the government can improve climate resilient planning.

Sam Greene's picture
Blog by 
Sam Greene
09 March 2015
Tanzania: participatory training events for small-scale farmers can introduce the concept of climate change and help farmers identify which crops could work well in their area (Photo: Cecilia Schubert/CCAFS)

Tanzania: participatory training events for small-scale farmers can introduce the concept of climate change and help farmers identify which crops could work well in their area (Photo: Cecilia Schubert/CCAFS)

In 2009, drought killed many thousands of livestock in Ngorongoro, Monduli and Longido, Tanzania. The losses were devastating to local livelihoods, particularly those of pastoralists, and the economy. Families whose survival had seemed secure found themselves struggling to feed numerous children, travelling great distances for drinking water and dependent on food aid from NGOs.

With climate change likely to increase the intensity of drought events and unpredictability of rainfall in these areas, the districts of Longido, Monduli and Ngorongoro have been piloting approaches for more climate resilient planning, supported by IIED and Hakikazi Catalyst.

Now, as in 2009, cash-strapped district governments are dependent on annual, centrally-allocated, funding grants that are difficult to quickly reallocate and come with strict conditions on how they may be spent. This can leave them unable to respond to unpredicted events, such as the failure of a rainy season.
These rigid guidelines also prevent districts from investing in measures identified as priorities by local communities for building their resilience to climate variability and change.

While Tanzania's planners use a community-focused process to gather local knowledge and priorities for district development (Opportunities and Obstacles for Development – O&OD), this does not effectively capture local approaches to adaptation and its outcomes are often made redundant by central government policy and budget guidelines.

Centrally directed policies can often be broad and generalised, ignoring context at local government level and failing to provide scope to deal with issues specific to particular areas.

More coordinated efforts are needed to ensure governments are prepared for adaptation.

The approach

The project has responded in part by training government staff, elected councillors and community members on the implications of climate change for planning in dryland areas, and providing support to improve community engagement to prioritise local government spending.

Testimonies from project participants suggest that three activities in particular are creating tangible changes on the ground:

  1. Training on climate change and livelihoods in dryland areas, covering projected climate change scenarios, the effectiveness and logic of community strategies in managing unpredictable and changing weather, and how government planning can be modified to support traditional planning systems
  2. Technical support to develop participatory assessments that allow communities to better express their adaptation plans and needs and map local resources to support effective land use planning, and
  3. Arranging for the Tanzanian Meteorological Agency (TMA) to visit project districts, gaining feedback on its climate information services and working with community weather forecasters.

Diagram of training for climate resilience in Tanzania

The results for communities

Reviewing the work suggests that these activities are quickly leading to improved adaptation outcomes in three different ways:

  1. Village meetings with district staff, councillors and elected community members who have undergone training on the impacts of climate change on dryland ecologies, which allow them to share their improved knowledge with local people.

    This creates a new awareness of the risks to crucial resources caused by poor management and exacerbated by climate change. As a result, early efforts to establish community-based management of forests in Ngorongoro are under way, alongside schemes to better manage some local water sources.

    "The plans have given a new awareness, people are in a position to define the availability of their resources such as pasture and water sources. They are now restricting water use through committees and traditional leaders working together, such as the water source at Mount Ketumbeine"  agricultural officer, Longido.
  2. Participatory planning tools that address the problems of limited time, expense and a lack of climate awareness associated with O&OD, have helped support the effort to better manage resources. "Resilience assessment" and "resource mapping" tools have allowed farmers and pastoralists to articulate their interlinked priorities for improved productivity, and map the location of key resources for the first time.

    Resilience assessments have also allowed pastoralists to point out that one of the main problems is the reduction in available grazing areas driven by unfair land management. The finished resource maps and priorities for government interventions are being directly incorporated into district budgeting and land use planning processes. District government and communities are using resource maps to support fairer management of natural resources and land allocation.

    "The tools are very good because they directly address climate change issues, while O&OD is very general and does not necessarily identify adaptation needs. This project is strong because it has involved all stakeholders" – Ngorongoro district planner.
  3. Research visits by the TMA have helped the agency improve the quality of radio weather forecasts making them more relevant to the needs of both farmers and pastoralists. Knowledge of coming climatic events such as the intensity of rainfall, when it is likely to start and the length of the rainy season, or possible hazards, helps farmers and pastoralists to make climate-smart decisions about their livelihoods. The agency is now planning to incorporate indigenous knowledge techniques into forecasts to increase their accuracy.

This year, farmers have reported using early-maturing seeds in response to radio broadcasts with seasonal forecasts, and pastoralists have chosen to move livestock to higher or lower ground in response to forecasts of likely heavy rain.

Local results

The research provides some evidence that climate change adaptation can be kick-started before any expensive investments into infrastructure have been made.

Rather, institutional investments to develop a better understanding of the threat, tools to support planning in the face of that threat, and simple listening exercises can trigger local action.

Sam Greene ( is a consultant working with IIED's Climate Change Group.