Farmers adapt to a new climate reality in Benin

The project has increased output by 40 percent and benefited more than 12,000 people including 4,000 women. Photo: Elsie Assogba/UNDP Benin

Emilienne Houson, 30 years old, lives in Houedo-wo village along the Ouémé River in southern Benin. Since she started growing off-season crops, providing for her four children is no longer a problem.

"We invest about US$50 to farm a hectare of pepper every year,” Emilienne says. “When we pay off our debts, we will buy a plot on the other side of the river, to avoid being flooded."

The waters of the river, once rich in fish and a source of nutrients for crops, have been severely affected by climate change in recent years. Floods in August, September and October, sometimes three metres high, destroy harvests and pollute drinking water.

The impact of climate change is felt throughout the country, threatening the livelihoods of poor people.  But things are starting to change in nine pilot villages, located in four of the most vulnerable agro-ecological zones in Benin. With support from the Global Environment Facility (GEF), UNDP is working with the Government of Benin on a project to help villagers counter and cope with to the impacts of climate change.

Highlights

  • More than 12,000 people in nine villages have benefited from the project, including 4,000 women.
  • 250 hectares of fast-growing forest species have been replanted.
  • Off-season crops have helped to increase output by about 40 percent
  • Nine pilot sites have received rainfall stations, allowing residents to measure rainfall and take appropriate adaptation measures.

In Houedo-wo, fast-growing pepper cultivation has become part of life for the villagers during the dry season thanks to the installation of solar pumps for crop irrigation. Output has increased by about 40 percent, enabling villagers to make profits exceeding $500 per hectare.

To deal with the strong winds that wreak havoc during the rainy season, destroying harvests and socio-economic infrastructure, almost the entire village has mobilized to replant trees and erect a protective "wall".

"We are already seeing the benefits of reforestation," says Lucien Houessou, the village chief. "We now understand that the wind caused devastation because we had cut down all the trees and destroyed the vegetation."

The nine sites received rainfall stations to help residents measure the quantity of rainfall and take adequate adaptation measures. Some villages also have an automatic agro-meteorological station to collect and transmit data on climate parameters. A local observer is trained to analyze data.

At Sehomi, a village located on an island, it is fish farming that is adapting to climate change. Early or particularly long floods delay the growth of fry, limiting farmers to only one production cycle per year.  And very often, the fish do not grow large enough to tempt consumers.

With the help of the project, villagers have received floating cages and fish holding pens to farm fish species that are resilient to climate change. The infrastructure is managed by groups of fishermen identified by the community using a participatory approach.

From alternative crops to appropriate fishing techniques, local authorities help communities identify problems and find solutions specific to each ecosystem. The solutions can then be replicated in other villages with similar agro-ecological characteristics.

Starting with these nine pilot villages, the Government has gained a better understanding of the challenge of mainstreaming climate change adaptation into public policies, including public spending.

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