PROGRESA/Oportunidades: Social protection in Mexico (Image by: Peter Bate, IDB, 2004)

PROGRESA/Oportunidades: Social protection in Mexico (Image by: Peter Bate, IDB, 2004)

Global environmental change, particularly in the form of global warming, exacerbates the risks faced by vulnerable rural communities whose livelihoods depend on climate-sensitive activities. The occurrence of immediate climate shocks, such as unseasonal droughts or floods, negatively affects food systems, thereby reducing the economic welfare of rural populations. Climate change is essentially a developmental challenge.

Within the context of climate change, the frequency and impact of shocks is becoming increasingly uncertain. Multiple approaches such as social protection (SP), disaster risk reduction (DRR) and climate change adaptation (CCA) are necessary to improve resilience and reduce external risks. The common goal of all three approaches to risk management is to improve the level of development by reducing poverty within a community, country or region. This is done by tackling vulnerabilities to specific shocks, thereby enhancing individual, community and national resilience to said shocks.

In the context of Mexico, social protection strategies have been mainstreamed into development-but there is little inclusion of climate change adaptation, and disaster risk reduction remains institutionally weak.

The Programme for Education, Health and Food (PROGRESA) and its successor programme, Oportunidades, in Mexico have been praised for improving the capacity of families to pull themselves out of poverty. In 2001, the proportion of people with income levels under the poverty line fell by 10% from 1994, with the greatest improvement noted among the poorest populations. The success of the programmes is attributed to its ability to deal with multiple risks (education, health and food) simultaneously.

However, climatic risks are excluded from development planning. Because rural populations depend on weather-sensitive activities for their livelihoods, building resilience to climate change is fundamental to reducing rural poverty. The impacts of climate change on rural livelihoods remains uncertain.

Climate models predict an adverse impact on Mexican agriculture through an increase in the frequency and impact of weather extremes. Climate change impacts will have an overall negative impact on food insecurity. Changing disease and pest patterns, also associated with climate change, will reduce productivity.

In order to address such risks, it is also important to take into consideration local coping skills as incorporation of risk is commonplace in rural communities. Communities choose crops according to the risks intrinsic to their environment: sugar cane is selected in areas exposed to hurricane risk for its ability to resist high wind speeds and flooding.

Moreover, communities may accumulate assets to improve resilience to climate shocks. Diversification of livelihoods is an important method to encourage asset accumulation. In Mexico, agroforestry techniques have improved resilience to climate shocks. By introducing a woody perennial in a plantation, the farm plot becomes more resilient to climate risks. Farmers have reported lower losses in agricultural productivity following hurricane events after using agroforestry technologies due to increased ecosystem and structural stability. An additional benefit to multiple cropping is the accumulation of cash as the result of having additional crops-reliance on a single crop renders farmers vulnerable to a single market whereas having multiple crops allows farmers to depend on multiple markets. Furthermore, agroforestry techniques are inherently more labour-intensive and therefore encourage employment within a community. Such strategies can therefore be helpful in reducing the vulnerability of rural people to climate shocks but they need to be mainstreamed into development planning.

A combination of approaches may help in improving institutional coordination, and therefore improve both the efficiency and the effectiveness of poverty reduction strategy papers. However, a combination of policies also has the potential of obfuscating their specific roles: they may overlap both in their objective and in their focus, rendering them redundant. Specific policies will likely have very specific aims and objectives in an effective social protection approach. Social protection mechanisms should focus on meteorological phenomena and their impacts on agriculture and rural livelihoods. Social protection should increase resilience to disaster risks, while also acknowledging climate variability in the long-run. Rather than focusing on increasing assets or reinforcing coping mechanisms, social protection should aim to protect livelihoods from anticipated shocks; flexibility should also be given to respond to unexpected shocks. As such, it is important for social protection programmes to take into consideration the changing nature of climate and climate shocks.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email