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Social Vulnerability
(to Environmental and Climatic
Evan Fraser and Andy Dougill,
School of Earth and Environment, University of Leeds
Social Vulnerability
(to Environmental & Climatic Change)
Introductory Lecture (35 minutes) – Climate Change, Food
Security & Coping Strategies;
- Livelihoods Analysis & Integration with Environmental Research
– Case Studies and Research Challenges
- Group Exercise (35 minutes) on Drought Impacts on Global
Food System
- Research Programme Planning Challenge (35 minutes)
- Wrap-up (15 minutes) : Challenges for Future Research
Programmes & Interdisciplinary Environmental Research Agenda
• Sustainability Science as academic context
• Impact of climate change on food security
– Lots of examples historically of climate causing mass
problems (Maya, Ethiopia)
– Need to predict impact
– First generation of simple models
• Links to ongoing social science livelihood
vulnerability research & reasons for these
– Approaches & African Case studies
• Global Models of Food Trade and Aid System
• Briefing on Group Exercise – Drought in
American Grain Belt
Sustainability Research Strategies
• “Sustainability science differs to a considerable degree
in structure, methods and content from science as we
know it” (Kates et al., 2001, p.641). It must – Span range of diverse scales (e.g. globalisation & local
farming practices)
– Account for temporal inertia & urgency of problems
– Deal with functional complexities of societal root causes of
environmental problems
– Recognise the wide range of outlooks on the use of
‘knowledge’ within both science and society
• Need to ‘Rethink Science’
What role for Environmentalists?
• Have we reached limits of where env science can go?
– Public awareness achieved, but actions still needed by all to
challenge worrying trends
• Environmentalism now driven more by local societies
(& need for identities in globalised world) than by
• Needs to be more closely tied to Social Democracy
groups to push agenda’s forward towards social &
political change
• Need to put ‘People, power & politics before
conservation and CO2’
Global Hunger Map - FAO 2000
Social / Political Context
• MDG 1, Target 2 – “Halve between 1990 and 2015,
the proportion of people who suffer from hunger”
• In South Asia the challenge is improving the
distribution of plentifully available food
• In Sub-Saharan Africa the challenge also involves
agricultural productivity or better
connection to aid / trade
Global Trends in Food Production
Global Environmental
Degradation & Poverty Links
• Global & National Degradation Estimates
• Degradation - Poverty - Famine links
• Added complexity due to climatic change
Global Map of Predicted Climate
Changes …
US Grain yields and IPCC
Adams, R., Rosenzweig, C., Pearl, R., Ritchie, J., Mccarl, B., Glyer, J., Curry, R., Jones, J., Boote,
K. & Allen, L. (1990) Global climate change and U.S. Agriculture. Nature, 345, 219-224.
Limitations of Current Modelling
• Assumes logical, immediate behaviour of
farmers (e.g. to swap crop type, livestock
breed etc.)
• No realistic input of local environmental
conditions (e.g. field scale soil conditions
• No real evidence of global models
providing useful outputs to positively affect
farming practices and livelihoods
Need for ‘Bottom Up’ Participatory
• Examples exist throughout the ‘developing
world’ of science-driven ‘transfer of technology’
that have failed to improve food security or
poverty problems
• Rangelands – Tragedy of Commons removed
access to resources for poor & removed
traditional management systems
• Mixed Farming Zones – Expensive investment in
soil and water conservation projects (e.g.
terracing, machinery) that have failed due to
mis-understanding of local social & envtl context
Problems of Past Interventions
• All spheres of Overseas Development Assistance experienced
problems in effectiveness
• “Delusion and disappointment, failures and crimes have been
the steady companions of development and they tell a common
story: it did not work”
– Sachs, 1995; p.1
• “From the early colonial era to the present, attempts have been
made to introduce SWC measures in a wide range of settings,
yet many have failed.”
– Scoones et al., 1996; p.1
• “The last 30 years have seen the unremitting failure of livestock
development projects across Africa”
– Scoones, 1994; p.3
• For every problem there is a solution that is simple, direct &
Conventional approaches to
Development Intervention
• Standard solutions to standard problems - often
focused on mechanical conservation of soil, reducing
overgrazing based on ecological indicator species
• Often strictly enforced against desires of local people
& undermining traditional practices
• Lack of local involvement meant poorly maintained
after initial expenditure
• Experience shows - ‘Aid can Work’
when local learning enabled
• How do we learn appropriate aid??
Problems for Soils and Land
Degradation Researchers
• Requires a completely new way of doing research to match
holistic view of farming systems & farmers livelihoods
• “Soil science has been brilliantly informed by reductionist
physics and chemistry, poorly informed by ecology and
geography, & largely uninformed by the social sciences”
– Swift (1998) quoted from Scoones et al., 2001
• “Land degradation cannot be judged independently of its
spatial, temporal, economic, environmental & cultural context.
Evaluations are therefore almost infinitely variable & very
– Warren, 2002; p.49.
• Key aspect is that –
Environmental Change  Degradation
• Global / regional / national estimates contain major
uncertainties / oversimplifications
Alternative Sustainability Assessments –
Sustainable Livelihoods Approach
• SL – a way of thinking about objectives, scope and priorities for
development, formalised by many development agencies
(DFID, UNDP, World Bank etc.)
• Formalises need for integrated social, economic, political &
environmental basis for research
• “A livelihood comprises the capabilities, assets (both material
and social) and activities required for a means of living. A
livelihood is sustainable when it can cope with and recover from
stresses and shocks and maintain or enhance its capabilities
and assets both now and in the future, while not undermining
the natural resource base”
– Chambers and Conway, 1992
• See
Sustainable Livelihoods Research
Framework (DFID, 1999)
Need bits building SLA methods /
pentagon ??
Views Through Time
• SLA enables a picture of the ‘here and now’ but
we also need information through time on how
people & institutions react (cope or adapt) to
environmental changes
• Oral histories (or ‘appreciative enquiry’)
techniques can be used to gain information on
peoples ability to adapt (social resilience?) to
specific events / shocks (e.g. drought / flood)
• More difficult to discuss more gradual changes /
trends (e.g. ecological change, nutrient depletion
or climatic desiccation)
Soils & SL Research in Practice – Case
Study 1 Niger
• See Sahelian Soils debates of Warren et al., 2001 –
The Geographical Journal, 167(4), 324-341.
• Examines whether ‘capitals’ framework helps
assessments of sustainability ‘strength’
– “Strong sustainability” - no loss of natural capital (e.g. soil)
– “Sensible sustainability” - conversion of some natural into
other forms of capital, increase total capital base over time
– “Weak sustainability” - just increase total capital
Sahelian Soil Erosion - E. Niger
• “Despite high rates of erosion, we find it difficult to
decide whether the system is sustainable (using the
capitals or any other framework). It is even dubious
whether sustainability is an urgent concern”
– Warren et al., 2001; p.324
• Other (more important?) concerns –
Rainfall (climate change)
lack of labour / illness
• Livestock / urbanisation futures => why conserve soils
Problems of Environmental
• Drive for soil conservation from agronomists & soil
scientists, rather than from local communities
• Sustainability of natural capital conflicts with the
sustainability of livelihoods (social sustainability)
– “to be ‘socially sustainable’, some farmers must engage in
practices that lead to erosion” (Warren et al., 2001; p.333)
• How can you monitor / assess the ‘critical natural
capacity’ needed for ‘sensible sustainability’ ?
– Often relates to maintaining environmental diversity that
enables risk management by societies
– Often less visible environmental changes (nutrient depletion)
more important than visible soil erosion
– Concept has serious methodological difficulties
Sustainability Science & New
Methods of Soil Degradation
• Must involve farmers in assessment process to focus
on issues of real concern that impact on yields
• Usually involves simple, reliable ‘degradation
indicators’ that are well known to farmers – e.g.
– yellow leaves for N deficiency;
– stunted patchy crop growth – general nutrient deficiency;
– scorching of leaf margins, restricted root growth and plant
death – low pH leading to metal toxicity
• See Stocking and Murnaghan (2001) for excellent
Soils & SL Research in Practice – Case
Study 2 South Africa / Botswana
• See Dougill et al. (2002) and Twyman et al. (2004)
Aim - combine different information sources for simple and
applicable land degradation assessment and subsequent
agricultural extension advice
1. Inventory of conventional environmental indicators of soil
degradation & livelihoods survey identifying farmers concerns
2. Participatory nutrient budget studies - farmer interviews
aimed at quantifying nutrient fluxes
3. Soil chemical analysis (N, P, K, pH & OM)
from fields chosen by farmer
4. Soil degradation discussions - two-way
discussion of soil degradation constraints
on farming practices and crop yields
5. Local and national workshops
Research Results - Key
• Field-scale nutrient budget analysis highlight that in drought
year nutrient inputs > outputs when farmers add fertilisers excess nutrients will increase risk of soil acidification
• Manure inputs alone lead to soil nutrient depletion (even
for low rainfall study year)
• Perception of need for no fertiliser
addition to groundnuts leading to
soil nutrient depletion
• Integrated nutrient management
as used by 2 of 15 study farmers
capable of avoiding most soil
degradation processes
Opportunities Provided by
Integrating Information
• Simultaneous collection of several indicators of land
degradation (& processes causing it) leads to more
applicable assessment of land degradation and relevance to
land users - better assessment
• Shared understanding of land degradation pressures
provides the basis for Learning and Action - better
• Improved extension advice can involve some farmers in
experimentation, monitoring and evaluation of adaptations
• Lack of farmer interest in integrated nutrient management
decisions (due to non-farming livelihood options, or due to
lack of manure caused by decline in herd size) will lead to
difficulties in ensuring long-term environmental sustainability
- i.e. social not an environmental problem?
Community-Based Natural Resource
Management Challenges
• UN FAO now formalising farmer-led assessment
approaches to attempt more applicable degradation
• Starts from Livelihoods analysis of farmers concerns
(threats) & opportunities (strengths) with eventual aim
to provide improved development support
• Vulnerability / resilience assessment needs analysis
through time in range of interconnected systems
(environmental, socio-economic & political)
Problems with Existing Approaches
• Timescales – long v. short-term (shocks or
trends require different responses)
• System memory / inertia – reflective approaches
need to be tested to assess their reliability and
current value
• Prediction / anticipatory problems on what
farmers will actually do in different situations
• Links between scales – scaling from the local to
the national and global
A further link slide ??
THE TASK: background
• A gov’t funding agency is concerned with
the possibility of a drought in the US.
• This is a key regions for three reasons:
– 1. historically droughts have hit this area.
– 2. this area provides food for all sorts of uses
and all around the world
– 3. this areas is using up its ground water
US Drought in the 1950s
This map was taken from the NY Times
online resource on the Ogallala Aquifer
World Grain Flows
Source: Figure 24: CIA, 1999. Handbook of International Economic Statistics.
Available on line:
What the food produced in the
US is used for…
Taken From Heller, M. and Keoleian, G. (2000), Life Cycle-Based Sustainability Indicators for Assessment of the U.S. Food System. Ann Arbor,
MI: Center for Sustainable Systems, School of Natural Resources and Environment University of Michigan.
The tasks: specifics
The agency would like you to develop an
interdisciplinary set of linked research projects to
identify and predict the global effects of drought
in this region.
• List the key factors that determine food production and
distribution from this critical region.
• Use a flow chart to begin sketching out the ways these
• Use flow chart to identify:
– 1. research projects
– 2. data requirements
– 3. disciplinary perspectives required to evaluate.
Ground water
Food flows
Policy and
of food
Feed for
Policies and
Ground water
Food aid
Works for
Works for
Not enough
Wrap up…
• Seem ambitious ????
– The research councils are demanding this
– Key quotes from RC brochures…
– RELU and QUEST as key examples of this
sort of project in action.
Why this matters to you - Future
Environmental Science Agenda’s
• Strong Government / NERC support
– “Some of the most interesting scientific advances occur at
the intersection of disciplines”
Chancellor’s Budget Statement March 2006
– “Interdisciplinary science is core business for NERC … the
social, political and economic sciences and engineering are
becoming increasingly involved” Alan Thorpe, NERC Chief
Executive, Planet Earth, Summer 2006
• Many Interdisciplinary Initiatives
– Leeds – Strategic Investment in Climate & Environmental
– Reading – Walker Institute soon to be launched
– UEA – CSERGE, Tyndall etc.
Examples of Interdisciplinary
Programmes In Action
• UK scale programmes are being supported – e.g.
ESRC/NERC/BBSRC Rural Economy and Land
Use (RELU) programme -
(£24 million from 2004 – 09), but no Climate
Change related research funded!
• Challenge remains for current & future
programmes (e.g. QUEST !) as to how to facilitate
interdisciplinary research that addresses long-term
climatic & environmental changes in a people &
policy-relevant manner
QUEST 3 – (Hopefully) The Next
Step Towards Being Joined-Up
Some sort of wrap up “it aint easy but is
needed” type quote!?
Thank You !
• Questions / Reflections Welcome
Throughout Rest of the Day !!