CNH: Agroecosystem-Based Climate Resilience Strategies in the Blue Nile Headwaters of Ethiopia

This project analyzes climate change impacts, adaptation opportunities, and associated risks for communities of the Blue Nile headwaters (BNH) region in Ethiopia. Here, climate change is defined to include gradual changes in the average conditions and evolving patterns of climate variability, such as extreme events, on the interannual to decadal timescale. Climate change may affect hydrology, land quality, crop yields and diversity, as well as altering existing social and economic systems. The project will evaluate all impacts at the level of the agroecosystem. The agroecosystem is the intersection of a climatic ecological zone with a set of land management and cropping practices that derive from geographic, ecologic, economic, and cultural conditions. Adaptation is a function of internal adaptive capacity, rate of change, potential for informed investment, and socio-cultural and biophysical constraints. In order to address coupled adaptation processes in a comprehensive manner, we will generate probabilistic agroecological scenarios based on patterns of past climate variability and social response (1980-2010), projected future climate impacts and response (2010-2040), household-level analysis of adaptation capacity in BNH communities, and conduct interactive planning sessions in which information on projected risks and uncertainties is used to inform climate adaptation decisions. We will partner with community members participating in a network of Climate Innovation Platforms, allowing us to assess how probabilistic projections of change derived from state of the art climate, crop, and hydrological models can be integrated into adaptation planning. In turn, this allows us to assess how adaptive actions might maximize resilience - the ability to withstand or recover from climate-induced stress - and break the coupled cycle of land degradation and poverty that affects the region today.

This work will examine issues at the core of food security, and water security, and stability in the Nile region. The Blue Nile Headwaters are a vital water tower of Africa, giving rise to a river that is the lifeblood of downstream populations in Sudan and Egypt. Within the headwaters region itself, however, connected processes of low investment capacity and land degradation drive a cycle of depressed agricultural yields and persistent poverty, making the region especially vulnerable to climate change impacts. This cycle is reinforced by the dramatic interannual climate variability experienced in the region, and there is reason for concern that conditions will deteriorate in coming decades - both because climate change may bring more frequent drought and more intense rains and because land use pressures are increasing under rapid population growth. These changes have implications for food and water security throughout the region. However, the same coupling of natural and human systems that currently reinforces poverty in this region also offers opportunity. Vulnerability to climate change is determined by the magnitude of that change, the sensitivity of human and natural systems to change, and the capacity of communities to adapt in ways that reduce impacts. The proposed research approach combines best-available scientific tools for monitoring and projecting climate impacts with an unprecedented community-driven evaluation of potential adaptation strategies across a physically and culturally diverse landscape. As such, the study will advance understanding of how vulnerable communities can best make use of uncertain climate projections for future planning. More generally, the development of climate impacts scenarios at the level of the agricultural ecosystems represents a new approach to climate impacts analysis that will be broadly applicable in the U.S. and elsewhere.