Climate change adaptation for smallholder farmers in the Lake Chad Basin

The Lake Chad Basin (LCB) is among the world’s biggest, located in the Sahel region of Africa (Abubakar, n.d.). It also has one of the largest sedimentary closed groundwater basins in the whole of the African continent. With its vast pasture of cultivable land and wealthy fish stocks, it is an essential area both economically and environmentally to the riparian states of Chad, Cameroon, Libya, Nigeria and Niger (GIZ, 2015b). 


 UK Mission to the UN/Lorey Campese, 2014, Flickr

Photo: UN Security Council United Kingdom Field Mission to the Lake Chad Basin. Photo credit: Lorey Campese, 2014, Flickr.

Approximately 38 million people from diverse ethnic cultures presently live in the LCB (GIZ, 2015b). The majority of these people are from poor rural households and survive on subsistence farming (GIZ, 2015b). Recent occurrences, due to severe climate events, have put the lives of people living in the region in a precarious situation. For instance, the LCB has witnessed the drying up of water from the lake. Social protection policies and programmes have the potential to improve the resilience of the crops of smallholder farmers in the region, thereby reducing their vulnerability to climate-related shocks.  


Climate change and agriculture in the Lake Chad Basin:

1. Current climate change vulnerability

The International Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) claims that climate change and the consequential rise in temperatures and rainfall variability are set to have a severe impact on agriculture in the Sahel region (GIZ, 2015b). Similarly, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) affirms that half of the shrinkage of the LCB can be attributed to climate change and climate variability (GIZ, 2015b).

Climate change has an intense effect on agriculture, cattle farming and fisheries (GIZ, 2015b). Inadequate rainfall and high-annual variability in rainfall, make the LCB and its agriculture extremely vulnerable. What’s more, the Sahelian droughts in the 1980s and 1984s decreased water flow to the basin. Owing to climate change, vis ὰ vis water scarcity and other human factors, the LCB is becoming a dry land.


2. Climate change impacts on agricultural production

Water scarcity in the LCB has resulted in a reduction in fish production. For example, the annual fish catches decreased from 141,000 tonnes in the 1970s to 70,000 in 2002 (WFP, 2016). Additionally, inadequate water supply to the lake has increased drop fishing activities (Abubakar, n.d.). The Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) recognised that since 1963, the LCB has lost some 90 percent of its water mass with devastating consequences for food security and the livelihoods of people depending on fishing and irrigation-based agricultural activities (FAO, 2017).

Due to this combination of climate change, demographic pressures, human activities, and the mismanagement of remaining water resources, the United Nations has expressed concern for what it deems an impending “ecological catastrophe” (Daily Trust, 2015).


Agricultural adaptation to climate change:

Concerted efforts are being initiated to reduce the impacts of climate change in the LCB. For example, various forms of adaptation strategies are being rolled out to identify best practices and make them available to stakeholders (GIZ, 2015a).

1.        A sustainable and integrated system of water resources management: This adaptation measure is undertaken by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), in collaboration with the Lake Chad Basin Commission (LCBC). Its mandate is to help improve socioeconomic conditions and the environmental situation in the LCB, coordinate member states in relation to the use of water and defuse a potential conflict over natural resources.  

2.       The Lake Chad Climate resilience action plan: This measure intends to contribute dramatically to food security, employment, and social inclusion of the youth by enhancing resilience in a sustainable way. The adaptation plan includes the improvement of capacity in terms of: data gathering, sharing of information, and carrying out analyses important to the governance of the basin’s shared natural resources.


In addition to the above adaptation plans, there is a need to include the following plans to make climate change resilience feasible in the LCB:

1.       Adaptive social protection: Since most of the farmers in the LCB practice subsistence farming, whenever there are severe climate conditions, they are pushed more below the poverty line. Cash transfers would support these farmers in adapting to severe climate conditions. By investing cash in improving the resilience of their crops, this would reduce their vulnerability to shocks and crisis related to climate change. Evidence has shown that cash transfers have a positive impact on climate resilience in some developing countries (for further details, see CARE International 2017; Eriksen, Brown, and Kelly 2005; Lawlor et al. 2015; Asfaw et al. 2016).

Social protection instruments have played a significant role in responding to climate shocks. For instance, in Zambia, cash transfers helped reduce people resorting to negative coping strategies linked to poverty traps and increased the likelihood of them embracing positive coping strategies (Lawlor et al. 2015).

2.       Planting of drought-resistant varieties of crops: Considering one of the impacts of climate change in the LCB is water scarcity, planting drought-resistant would help in reducing vulnerability to climate change. For instance, wheat requires less irrigation water compared to dry season rice (Akinnagbe and Irohibe 2014). Drought-resistant crops have been used by smallholders farmers as an adaptation strategy in Burkina Faso, Ghana, Nigeria and Senegal (Ngigi, 2009). Similarly, in the desert margins of Kenya, nomadic pastoralists have adopted strategies against droughts (Langill and Ndathi, 1998).



Abubakar, B. (2017). The Impacts of Global Climate Change in Africa: the Lake Chad, Adaptation and Vulnerability. Accessible:

Akinnagbe, O. and Irohibe, I. (2014). Agricultural Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change Impacts in Africa: A Review. Vol. 39. Accessible:

Asfaw, S., Carraro, A., Davis, B., Handa, S. and Seidenfeld, D. (2016). Cash Transfer Programmes for Managing Climate Risk: Evidence from a Randomized Experiment in Zambia, 2016 AAAE Fifth International Conference, September 23-26, 2016, Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. African Association of Agricultural Economists (AAAE). Accessible:

CARE International (2017). The Impact of Cash Transfers on Resilience: A Multi-Country Study, CARE International. Accessible:

Daily Trust. (2015). Environmental degradation, climate change and conflict: The Lake Chad Basin area. Accessible:

Eriksen, S. H., Brown, K. and Kelly, P. M. (2005). “The Dynamics of Vulnerability: Locating Coping Strategies in Kenya and Tanzania”, Geographical Journal 171 (4):287–305. Accessible:

FAO (2017). Lake Chad Basin: a crisis rooted in hunger, poverty and lack of rural development. Accessible:

GIZ (2015a). Adapting to climate change in the Lake Chad Basin. Accessible:

GIZ (2015b). Africa Supra regional Adaptation to Climate Change in the Lake Chad Basin, Climate Change Study. Accessible:

Langill, S. and Ndathi, A. J. N. (1998). “Indigenous knowledge of desertification: A progress report from the Desert Margins Program in Kenya,”  People, Land and Water Series Report 2. Ottawa: International Development Research Centre. Accessible:

Lawlor, K., Handa, S., Seidenfeld, D. and the Zambia Cash Transfer Evaluation Team (2015). Cash Transfers and Climate-Resilient Development: Evidence from Zambia’s Child Grant Programme, Innocenti Working Paper No.2015-03, UNICEF Office of Research, Florence. Accessible:

Ngigi, S. N. (2009). Climate Change Adaptation Strategies: Water Resources Management Options for Smallholder Farming Systems in Sub-Saharan Africa, PreventionWeb.Net.,2009.

WFP (2016). Lake Chad Basin - Desk Review: Socio-economic analysis of the Lake Chad Basin Region, with focus on regional environmental factors, armed conflict, gender and food security issues, April 2016, United Nations World Food Programme - Fighting Hunger Worldwide. Accessible:


Social Protection Programmes: 
  • Social assistance
Cross-Cutting Areas: 
  • Agriculture and rural development
  • Disasters and crisis
  • Environment and climate change
  • Food and nutritional security
  • Resilience
  • Risk and vulnerability
  • Cameroon
  • Chad
  • Libya
  • Niger
  • Nigeria
  • Middle East & North Africa
  • Sub-Saharan Africa
The views presented here are the author's and not's