Locally led adaption in practice: a community-based adaptation expert shares lessons

The principles for locally led adaptation have attracted international support – at the same time, community-based adaptation practitioners are pioneering innovative locally-led action around the world. Here, a practitioner talks about her experiences and the key questions for this year’s community-based adaptation conference in October.

Pauline Kariuki's picture
Insight by 
Pauline Kariuki
Director of Rural Women Kenya
28 July 2022
A woman bends over to pick beans.

A woman farmer in the Mount Kenya region involved in a project looking at the impact of climate change on agriculture (Photo: 2010CIAT/NeilPalmer, via Flickr, CC BY-SA 2.0)

The locally-led adaptation (LLA) principles have been developed to shape climate-change adaptation efforts. They are a guide to creating more effective, locally owned, socially just and transformative adaptation, aimed at donors, governments and others delivering adaptation.  

Many of the conversations that informed the principles took place during community-based adaptation (CBA) conferences or involved members of the international CBA community of practice.

The official endorsers of LLA and the CBA community share much common ground. While the LLA community is required to make changes in how they shape programmes and deliver funds, the CBA community provides the forum for sharing lessons, practical experience, networks and skills to drive progress and nurture ideas and expertise. 

CBA conferences focus on centring local and practitioner experience, perspectives and knowledge on key adaptation challenges. They have incubated many ideas, encouraging participants to try new methods and approaches.

With many years of experience carrying out adaptation at the local level, the CBA community is well placed to reflect on whether LLA is having an impact, and to share deep expertise to inform long-term learning about LLA’s progress.

Speaking from experience at the local level 

As local practitioners, our experiences are already generating insights that can inform the work of LLA endorsers. In 2021, we received a ‘catalytic grant’ from the Climate Justice Resilience Fund, the Global Resilience Partnership and the International Centre for Climate Change And Development (ICCCAD) to develop new collaborations for delivering climate action at the local level.   

The Rural Women Network in Kenya led a project to set up grassroots climate information learning centres to share nature-supportive agricultural and adaptive climate solutions, and to test new technologies to support local livelihoods and food security.  

We recognise that women support their communities in many ways. As carriers of the family and community, women are agents of change, educating children, connecting families and local livelihoods and cottage industries. They are often the first responders to climate risks.  

What we’ve learned

But we have learned that there are challenges in encouraging women’s leadership – women have less time available, and less time and money to engage in new activities outside their existing responsibilities – unless the potential value is clear.

While they understand first-hand how climate risks affect them, their knowledge of how to employ new technologies or apply local knowledge in new contexts can be limited. We’ve learned that it is essential to work with them to explore how to combine their understanding of local challenges and local resources with new technologies.

However, we were also surprised by the women’s resourcefulness once their training had been completed. For example, having established the value of the knowledge they had gained at the centres, women were able to engage their male counterparts in their learning and build recognition of their skills.

Our own experience is that following the LLA principles – prioritising bottom-up decision-making and ownership of processes – leads to more impactful, sustainable projects. Greater impact can be created using fewer resources – achieving more by spending less.

Community ownership of initiatives results in better, more careful and more sustainable management of new technologies or local infrastructure that are specific to context.

We have found that building women’s confidence through training encourages them to see themselves as climate leaders, willing to continually engage and improve climate responses over time – a commitment that is essential in managing unpredictable and variable future climate risks.

But it is also important to start small, piloting activities via existing social groups rather than creating new parallel structures. Beyond providing information, creating forums for participatory and practical engagement with new knowledge – such as climate information or technologies such as climate-smart and conservation agriculture that regenerates landscapes, is critical. 

Let local innovations inspire global action

Examples like ours, when shared throughout the CBA community, put CBA’s motto “local solutions inspiring global action” into practice. Communities, supported by local actors like the Rural Women Network, are developing innovations that can inspire and inform adaptation efforts elsewhere. 

At the same time, international actors can facilitate local action by advocating for and delivering finance that comes in meaningful amounts to facilitate the scaling up of activities.

The CBA conferences are one space where this learning and advocacy and come together, and we need you – adaptation practitioners, to help answer the next big questions. The LLA principles are widely recognised – but how do you see them working in practice to deliver effective adaptation?

At CBA16 in October, we will be exploring how practitioners are bringing LLA to life, what is being learnt about the challenges, the trade-offs between the principles, and the unanticipated successes and failures.