Published | 29th March 2018

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Great Ruaha River Basin Climate Vulnerability and Capacity Analysis (CVCA)

The Great Ruaha River, in south-central Tanzania, provides a critical source of water for a diversity of users, including large- and small-scale irrigated agriculture, livestock, hydropower, households, and biologically and economically significant ecosystems, such as the Usangu wetlands and Ruaha National Park. Since the early 1990s, the Great Ruaha River ceased flowing during the dry season, with consequences for the lives and livelihoods of the six million inhabitants of the basin. The CARE-WWF Alliance is embarking on an ambitious initiative to have an impact at scale on food and nutrition security and climate resilience. Community-level Climate Vulnerability and Capacities Analysis (CVCA) were undertaken in the Mbarali and Ndembera sub-catchments.

What is climate change vulnerability?
Vulnerability is a consequence of the climate-related impacts communities are exposed to, how sensitive their lives and livelihoods are to those impacts, and their ability to cope and adapt to those changes.

What climate-related impacts are the Great Ruaha Basin communities exposed to?
The rainy season has become more erratic and unreliable. The rains are expected from November through to March, however, now the rains often come early, late, end early, pause mid-season, or come in very heavy rainfall events. The El Niño of 1998, one of the strongest global episodes on record, caused heavy rain on a scale not seen before or since. This resulted in flooding, landslides, prolonged hunger, and water-borne diseases including cholera. For many, drought and hunger followed in 1999, the consequence of the corresponding strong La Niña, and a one-in-ten-year trend for significant hunger events was indicated.

Some communities reported increased temperatures in recent years, observed through the late arrival of snow, new crop opportunities, and malaria in areas it was previously not experienced. Increasing outbreaks of pests, crop diseases, and fungus were also linked to changing temperatures and rainfall patterns, as well as farming practices. Other key hazards were strong winds, landslides, and floods, often occurring together.

In what ways are communities sensitive to these impacts?
Rain-fed mixed-maize and Irish potato farming are key livelihood activities which are sensitive to unreliable rains, shorter rainy season, and increased incidence of crop diseases and pests. When crops fail farmers have less food and income, and the price of maize increases, combining to result in hardship. These key income sources have one annual cycle; therefore it can be a year or more before farmers recover from these losses.

Water and land shortages are widespread due to inward migration for agricultural opportunities; forced removal from other places; population growth; weak governance and planning; deforestation; perceived declining fertility of land; and local agricultural practices that degrade water sources. These shortages reduce farming productivity; limit options to adapt to climate change; cause conflict; and reduce domestic water supply. Unreliable rainfall patterns and increasing temperatures are exacerbating these existing challenges.

Drinking water sources are often contaminated by heavy rainfall events causing disease outbreaks (including cholera) as a result of poor public water and sanitation infrastructure, which is costly to communities and particularly women who carry the burden disproportionately.

Cutting trees for firewood, charcoal, timber, and clearing land for farming, as well as trees lost to fires caused by farming practices and conflict, have left villages less protected from strong winds and landslides.

In what ways are communities able to cope and adapt? What are the challenges and trade-offs?
Rice farming has grown in areas with natural flooding and where irrigation schemes have been established. These schemes are a lifeline for food production, income, and family subsistence in years with poor rains or floods. However, the profitability of smallscale irrigated farming is generally poor due to fees, expensive input needs, and poor market access; and farmers rarely have long-term security of land ownership.

Women have a high degree of flexibility in their income generating activities as a way to cope with hardship. In farming activities, they delay planting even if rains come early (as the rains tend to stop before restarting), and use faster-maturing crops if rains are late or other losses are suffered. Women also engage in a wide variety of other income-generating activities to provide household income when there is none from farming.

Natural resource managing is improving and Water User Associations are active in educating communities and protecting water resources by planting water-friendly trees, enforcing a national ban on cultivating within 60m of water sources, and replanting trees in degraded areas. However there are food and nutrition concerns regarding the implications of banning vinyungu – a key way communities manage crises. Whilst natural
resource management and governance seems to be improving, it is not inclusive and equitable, and particular interests seem to be prioritised over others and conflict results. Pastoralists are particularly marginalised.


  • Investment is needed in small-scale rain-fed agriculture to address unreliable rainfall patterns: Rain-fed agriculture is inherently sensitive to changes in rainfall patterns, seasons, and temperatures, such as those now being experienced. Therefore investments are needed that support small-scale producers, such as through access to and use of seasonal forecasts.
  • Both productivity and profitability of small-scale agriculture needs to be addressed in the context of existing water and land shortages and stresses, and a changing climate: Even when farmers are able to produce enough, they struggle to make a profit, due to production costs and market instability. Environmental decline has led to increased use of expensive inputs and is one factor in reducing profits.
  • Reducing food and nutrition security risks associated with one farming season a year is required to increase resilience: These communities are vulnerable to any disruptions to seasonal patterns, as this impacts on income and food and nutritional security for the whole year, and reduces farmers ability to invest longterm in livelihoods.
  • Farmers, NGOs, and governments must be more aware of, and better prepared for predictable interannual climate variability and its cumulative impacts: Actions must be taken in advance of strong El Niño and La Niña events, rather than afterward when it is harder to reach people.
  • Programmes designed now must be forward-looking, considering climatic, demographic, and other changes over the next 5 to 30 years: Inward migration, changing farming practices and market opportunities, and climatic changes are changing access to and availability of resources. Ignoring changing conditions has led to the failure of public water systems in the villages studied, and must now be factored into all project design.
  • Food and nutrition security risks as a result of the ban on vinyungu must be addressed: The impacts of this ban on incomes and access to nutritious food – particularly in times of crisis – must be assessed, and investments made to ensure that food and nutrition insecurity does not become an unintended consequence.
  • Women’s adaptive capacity should be harnessed and barriers to transformation removed: Women are highly adaptive in their approaches to managing periods of hardship, farming activities, and household budgets; however they face considerable barriers preventing them from using these skills to pursue longer-term investments and for adaptation due to domestic violence, men’s control over their assets, unequal burden of family economic and domestic responsibilities, and inadequate domestic water systems.
  • Smallscale producers face an uncertain future without secure land tenure and political prioritisation: There are many of examples of farmers losing land through land disputes and removal policies, and few smallscale producers have a formal land title. Secure land ownership is important for adaptive capacity and enabling smallscale producers to plan for their future.
  • The marginalisation of pastoralists, and a culture of blame, undermines adaptation for all: Pastoralists are not assured access to the resources they are entitled to, are excluded from governance processes, and are scapegoated. Engagement of all stakeholders is required for effective natural resource management and to
    enable adaptation to climate change.
  • NGOs must learn the lessons from the failures of new ‘opportunities’: New opportunities for small-scale producers are important, but they come with risks which must be understood and managed if new activities are promoted, so that maladaptation is avoided.
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