BLOG | Unlocking climate-resilient and inclusive economic development in drylands: pathways to a resilient world

By Eva Ludi, Principal Investigator, PRISE consortium


In a resilient world, marginalised areas like drylands are no longer overlooked, but instead are economically, socially and politically integrated with the rest of the country and home to thriving economic activity that is inclusive, fair and climate resilient. Dryland areas and countries will be able to meet the pace of global warming with adaptation, and societies and economies have the capacity to avoid, absorb and adapt to the impacts of climate change. This vision has guided researchers involved in the PRISE consortium – Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies – over the past 5 years.


Through its research and engagement with stakeholders ranging from individual pastoralists, farmer’s associations and small and medium businesses, to government departments and parliamentarians, PRISE has promoted an integrated approach to development and adaptation planning where ministries and sectors work together at all levels, from the local to the global, to first understand the drivers of marginalisation and vulnerability and then, more importantly, identify opportunities for climate resilient economic development and transformation.


Changing climates and contexts of production in drylands have led to greater mobility and trade exchanges across regions, communities and borders. This movement of people, goods and services has created opportunities for economic growth, but it has also brought about challenges such as competition over natural resources and political influence. PRISE’s research in Senegal, Burkina Faso, Kenya, Pakistan and Tajikistan has shown that adaptation policies need to recognise and work with the specific characteristics of drylands – their specific geography and climatic characteristics, the mobility of people, assets and finance, and the informality of many economic activity. These characteristics need to be mainstreamed into national development planning and monitored to avoid maladaptation. PRISE research found that much of the adaptation on the ground is done by private actors – including producers, households and small- and medium-sized enterprises – who need to be supported by an enabling environment that provides the right incentives for adaptation to be a viable investment. Adaptation options must be socially acceptable as well as economically viable. Inclusive, gender-focused policies and support are required to harness the potential of women and other marginalised groups, including youth.


Looking back over the 5 years of PRISE and the research evidence generated by the different research teams, we have clearly seen that climate vulnerability is conditioned by broader socio-economic vulnerability and inequalities in drylands. We have also seen that even though producers, households and businesses have developed a range of coping and adaptation strategies, these are often no longer sufficient to deal with weather extremes and climate change impacts. Producers and business owners face a series of barriers that undermine their ability to adapt sustainably, in part because proposed adaptation strategies don’t build on the specific characteristics of drylands: seasonality, mobility and informality.


PRISE research identified the opportunities that exist in drylands to realise climate-resilient development, especially in production systems that are rooted in drylands. We argue that climate-resilient, inclusive and equitable economic development is possible in drylands when:


  1. Initiatives and interventions start with building on existing productive sectors and approach this via value-chain transformation;
  2. a conducive enabling environment is built around appropriate policies and institutions; resilient infrastructure, markets and technology that support economic activities in drylands; accessible and relevant data, information and capacity development; and an appropriate economic and financial environment;
  3. mobility as a sustainable adaptation strategy is being recognised and actively supported;
  4. the most vulnerable groups are the focus of interventions and policy support;
  5. transboundary collaboration is fostered; and
  6. investments in drylands by public and private actors are supported by targeting climate funds specifically to these areas.


Despite drylands getting hotter than the global average and rainfall becoming even more unpredictable (IPCC, 2014), our research findings and intensive engagement with a broad range of stakeholders in the private and public sector point to concrete adaptation actions that can be taken now to ensure economies in drylands are transforming in a way that increases their resilience and inclusiveness and prepares people for future climatic and non-climatic changes.