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This report sketches the outlines of our research agenda on the intersections of climate change, agrarian change, and rural livelihoods.

The report marks an important change for us.  For more than twenty-five years we have been documenting the changing nature of rural livelihoods and agrarian relations on this continent, and the transformations wrought by politics, by agricultural commercialisation, value chain restructuring, and by the changing nature of tenure regimes.  That basic focus is not changing. But over the years it has become evident that a central driver of these changes are the eco-politics of climate change and ecosystem crisis. 

This report, produced by Andrew Bennie in consultation with our own researchers, provides an extensive overview of the literature and the debates on climate change and land based livelihoods in Southern Africa. It provides an overview of the politics of climate change, its impacts, and responses in Southern Africa, and highlights the central issues that will shape our organisational agenda for mainstreaming climate change work within our research. 

  • It shows that while Southern Africa is a climate change hotspot, it is a blind spot for responses. Many Southern African states have low technical, institutional, and financial capacities to respond, and specifically to support adaptation. This is in no small part as a result of historical global inequalities, including the structural adjustment policies of the 1980s and 1990s.
  • The global discourse on climate change, especially for Africa, is currently shaped by the predominance of corporate power, Western donors and NGOs. These narratives have been hotly contested from the Global South, and by heterodox experts and activists in the West. 
  • Institutionally-organised responses to climate change in Southern Africa are shaped by the ideological contention between these competing narratives. But actual outcomes are produced by the responses and dynamics that unfold within existing societies and ecologies. What the plans and proposals of policymakers and development agencies actually mean in practice for situated rural livelihoods is powerfully shaped by the complex interactions of existing histories and processes.

These realities suggest a clear agenda for our research going forward. Above all, we argue that policy making and climate response needs to be guided not only by natural sciences, but also by insights from qualitative social science about the real politics of adaptive change on the ground. 

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