Climate resistant agriculture systems in Sub-Saharan Africa


Can agricultural systems in some of the world's poorest countries be made climate compatible? What are the incentives to develop climate resilient agricultural systems? Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) draw attention to the interdependence between food, agriculture and the climate system, reflected also in increasingly powerful global discourses such as 'Climate Smart Agriculture' (CSA) and 'Sustainable Intensification'. Yet beyond technical 'fixes', there are few clues on how to effectively address the governance challenges inherent in the inter-sectoral focus which climate-resilient agricultural systems require.

A better understanding of governance drivers and obstacles is increasingly urgent, particularly in poor countries where large populations have high vulnerability to climate change while at the same time high dependency on agriculture-based livelihoods.

  • Sustainable Development Goals

    This project examined the following SDGs:

    SDG 2 – Zero Hunger
    SDG 6 – Clean Water and Sanitation
    SDG 7 – Affordable and Clean Energy
    SDG 13 – Climate Action
    SDG 15  Life on Land
    SDG 17  Partnerships for the Goals

    Find out more about the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

Project description

This project analysed the incentives (and disincentives) that lead state and market actors in Africa to commit to implementing more climate resilient agricultural approaches and practices, increasingly under the banner of ‘climate smart’ agriculture (CSA), promoting more sustainable and pro-poor outcomes and impacts. It explored comparatively how countries with different governance systems are handling the complex interface between food, energy, water and climate in pursuit of the SDGs pertaining to these sectors. To do this, the project examined the governance of the interface between agriculture and climate change in four African countries across East Africa and the Horn of Africa – Ethiopia, Kenya, Rwanda and Tanzania – regions where the challenges of agricultural development in a changing climate are particularly acute.

Listen to Post-Doctoral Researcher, Olivia Taylor, outlining the project and how it tries to better understand the international SDG commitments within national contexts.

Timeline and funding


February 2017-February 2018




Undertaking mapping work, document analysis and policy level interviews, we developed a comparative framework which illuminated the crucial importance of:

  • governance and the role of the state, including degrees of de-centralisation and democratization and the nature of bureaucratic politics;
  • economics in terms of aid dependence and trading relationships as well as the organization of the agricultural sector in the country; and
  • socio-cultural factors, focusing in particular on the role of knowledge politics: whose expertise frames the options on the table, whose framings dominate, and whose metrics and indicators are preferred to measure performance against agreed targets.


There is a ‘triple disconnect’ between the global, national, and local scales as the trade-offs inherent in dealing with the political and ecological connections between SDGs and how they are negotiated across levels of authority.

The language of ‘synergy’ and ‘integration’ around the SDG objectives masks the reality of institutional jockeying for position between:

  • global governance institutions at the international level;
  • among governmental departments at the national level; and
  • between national and local government actors who seek to position themselves to benefit from new resource flows associated with climate finance and the SDGs. This competition tends to reproduce siloed policy practices within government and development agencies.

Moreover, the process is not a one-way, top-down imposition of a particular approach to CSA. Global interventions look different once translated into diverse domestic political and economic settings and refracted through local institutional processes. Competition between agencies, differing interests, and the very ambiguity of CSA, can create opportunities, as well as challenges, for national and local government officials to acquire authority and resources by invoking the label “climate smart.”

The reality of how different regions and social groups deal with these challenges on the ground is often very different from the way projects are imagined by donors and multilateral development banks (MDBs), as well as regional initiatives such as the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP).


To understand the prospects of effective implementation of the SDGs, we need to engage with the ‘messy’ politics of governing the relationship between SDGs which address food, agriculture and climate change. Such processes manifest themselves in institutional competition and battles over authority, struggles over resources and a contested knowledge politics.

Opening up policy-making processes for greater citizen engagement, for example, will be vital to realising the potential of the SDGs to benefit the lives of the poor and to build a more sustainable economy.

Useful links

Related work

2019 Frontiers Special Issue: 'The Governance and Politics of Climate-Smart Agriculture'.

The team

  • Principle Investigator (PI) and Co-Investigators

    Principal Investigator


    • Dr John Thompson, Institute of Development Studies
    • Dr Lars Otto Naess, Institute of Development Studies
    • Dr Hannington Odame, Future Agricultures Consortium, Centre for African Bio-Entrepreneurship (Nairobi)
    • Dr Joanes Atela, African Centre for Technology Studies (Nairobi)
  • Project team
    • Olivia Taylor, Post-doctoral Researcher, School of Global Studies
    • Dr Hussein Mahmoud, Future Agriculture Consortium and Technical University of Mombasa, Kenya
    • Dr Amdissa Teshome, Independent Consultant, Addis Adaba
    • Raphael Rurangwa, Rwanda Ministry of Agriculture
    • Dr Patrick Ndaki, ‎Centre for Climate Change Studies/Institute of Resource Assessment-University of Dar es Salaam

Where we worked

Kenya (lead country and conference location), Tanzania, Ethiopia and Rwanda.