Climate change is a major threat to the livelihood of smallholder farmers in rural communities in many parts of sub-saharan Africa.
Changes in rainfall are already having a devastating effect on farming practices. In many instances traditional coping strategies are ineffective, while uptake of technology and alternative practices have been slow.
A Maynooth University project, TEN-Hunger, is working with communities in Malawi and Zambia to help them transform their capacity to cope with the challenges, particularly around issues such as food security and nutrition.
A key plank of the project is the way it involves farmers in discourses with researchers and large organisations concerned with agriculture, food security, nutrition and climate change, with a view to coming up with joint solutions.
Participants working with these communities are completing an interdisciplinary masters which explores how cultural, social and political factors influence how those vulnerable to impacts of global climate change can respond to its effects.
The project was motivated by a sense that relationships between the smallholder farmers - who have considerable expertise in surviving in difficult places - and large organisations such as governments, businesses and NGOs were not always working well.
Through TEN-Hunger the voices of the most vulnerable could feed into research and teaching agendas of universities, while links to policy that universities hold are critical to ensuring the wellbeing of communities.
Another important aspect of the project is the combination of social sciences and physical sciences, bringing together researchers from Maynooth's departments of Adult and Community Education, Biology and Geography, which has a particular expertise in climate change.
Three African universities are partners in the project. This autumn, 36 students in Africa enrolled in a new masters programme on transformative community development, delivered in Africa by the four partner universities. There is a real benefit to Irish universities from such a programme as they we can get a real sense of the experiences, strengths and needs of vulnerable communities and they can integrate these into our teaching and research.
The inter-disciplinary nature of the project has been an invaluable experience for us, learning to collaborate across the different disciplines of adult education, geography and biolog.
The lessons we learn from these communities of remarkable survivors will be stored in a dedicated repository that will make them available to everyone to use in easing the effects of climate change.
Dr Bernie Grummell is part of the Maynooth Unviersity TEN-Hunger project. It is funded by the Programme of Strategic Cooperation between Irish Aid and Higher Education and Research Institutes.