When I think about climate change in Africa, the word that comes to mind is ‘injustice’ – the reality that those least responsible for climate change, are the one’s most exposed to its impacts.

Simultaneously, they’re the communities least capable of coping with those impacts: already-vulnerable farming families who can only just afford to plant an annual crop and feed themselves, now being pushed even closer to the limits. We’re talking chronic food insecurity, sterile soils, and erratic weather.

18 September 2012 Malawi Famine Documentation

Already in 2002, communities in Malawi were living with severe climate impacts. Here women farmers stand in their dry, barren fields. On their heads are aid organisation handouts. This area, though extremely poor had been self-sufficient with food in the past, now these womens children are suffering from malnutrition.


Which is why a new study got my attention.

Based on research from East Africa, the paper documents a number of changes that are being made by small-scale farmers to cope with climate impacts.

Here are three adaptions being made:

· More than half of households have started planting at least one shorter-cycle crop variety. Crops that need to be in the ground longer before each harvest are more susceptible to climate impacts, so farmers are changing what they grow

· 50 percent of households are planting trees on their farms to help stabilise soil erosion, an effect of droughts and heavy, erratic rainfall. Planting trees increases water and soil quality, and provides fruit, tea, coffee and oil, etc.

· About a quarter of households have started using manure or compost, and have started mulching. These techniques help improve soil quality, increase water retention, and reduce the need for expensive chemical fertilizers.

Last year Greenpeace produced a documentary (watch it here) about climate impacts in three different communities in South Africa, Kenya, and Mali. We wanted to find out more about the human face of climate change.

Although the people we interviewed didn’t always know the term “climate change”, they were very well acquainted with its effects and the impact it was having on their daily lives. 

So what I really like about this new study is that brings some agency and human creativity back into the story: we aren’t just talking about communities being ravaged by climate, but people who are fighting back. These communities don’t have the luxury of waiting on their governments to take action on climate change, they have to start acting on their own terms, doing what they can right now.

And that’s something we can all learn from. World leaders have had countless opportunities to take meaningful action, and they have failed on all those occasions. But far from stalling action on climate change, this should drive it even harder, out on the streets and in fields around the world; people-powered movements to tackle climate change from the grassroots up.