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Adapting to Drought in the Sahel: Lessons for Climate Change

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Adapting to drought in the Sahel: lessons for climate change
Michael Mortimore∗
The Sahel’s experience of adapting to changes in rainfall on a scale at least comparable to that of climate change scenarios, between the 1960s and the 1990s, suggests that lessons can be learnt that may have a wider utility for policy in the future. The Sahel is a major global agroecological region and its success in adaptation will influence the achievement of the global Millennium Development Goals. From simple typologies of adaptation strategies, our understanding of adaptive capacity has evolved over time (with accumulating observations) into a contextual model which places drought management at the center of a development process. Climate change impacts in future are very uncertain. Policies and interventions should therefore aim to build on the platform of past achievements and existing local knowledge to enable flexibility and diversity and the protection of assets of small-scale farmers and herders .  2010 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd. WIREs Clim
Change 2010 1 134–143

‘Africa is the most vulnerable region to climate change, due to the extreme poverty of many Africans, frequent natural disasters such as droughts and floods, and agricultural systems heavily dependent on rainfall’.1 ‘the continent’s low adaptive capacity serves as a major constraint to her ability to adapt’ (Ref 2. p. 6). ‘It is uncertain how rainfall in the Sahel, the Guinean coast and the southern Sahara will evolve in this century’ (Ref 3, p. 866).

here is good reason to examine the adaptive capacities of societies who have lived for long with unpredictable environmental change.4 This article is about experience in the Sahel drylands of sub-Saharan Africa during the past 50 years.a ‘Ecosystem responses to past rainfall variability in the Sahel are potentially useful as an analogue of future climate change...

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