Local governments instrumental in driving community adaptation in Benin with Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL)

Local governments instrumental in driving community adaptation in Benin with Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL)

Local governments instrumental in driving community adaptation in Benin with Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL)

Local governments instrumental in driving community adaptation in Benin with Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility (LoCAL)

The walls inside Tchenti Koutre’s local government office are a vivid pink, though visitors might be forgiven for not noticing as he works in shuttered gloom to keep out the heat of the sun. As Chef d’Arrondissement in Tampégré, Benin, Mr Koutre is responsible for public order and implementing the decisions of the mayor and local council. It’s a role that puts him at the heart of community affairs, grievances and day-to-day concerns and central to all his communities’ troubles are the impacts of climate change.

Smallholder farmers barely eke out a living from increasingly infertile land as they struggle with shorter rainy seasons and increased difficulties in accessing water. Production is falling, as are incomes. While problems are varied and numerous, they are connected, or exacerbated, by changing weather patterns, Mr Koutre explained. At every meeting he has had with community members in his more than two years in office, he makes a link with the problems the community faces and the reality of climate change.

“One understands that climate change is a reality and that we really have to adapt,” said Mr Koutre, speaking from under the shade of a tree outside his office. “At every meeting, when we have an opportunity to speak to [the community], we say ‘Hey, don’t forget. This situation? It’s climate change. And it’s a reality that you have to take it into account when you plan to sow [your crops].’”

Local authority officers like Mr Koutre are the closest representations of government to communities with a mandate to address local issues, concerns and small-scale development projects. This makes them a potentially powerful ally when it comes to implementing adaptation to the impacts of climate change, which is most acutely experienced at the local level. The Local Climate Adaptive Living Facility, designed by UN Capital Development Fund over ten years ago, channels finance to local governments for locally led adaptation to the impacts of climate change. Finance is dispersed in the form of grants, not loans, and is accompanied with capacity building and guidance in the form of technical assistance, to strengthen understanding of climate change and ensure investments are sustainable and future-proofed.

The Tampégré Arrondissement of Toucountouna Commune, is made up of six agrarian villages with a total population of just over 10,000 people – over half of which are children under the age of 15. Household incomes are limited and reliant on small-scale and non-industrialised farming, carried out mainly by women using hand-held hoes to till small parcels of rainfed land. With support from LoCAL, local government officers are raising their own and their community’s awareness of climate change, and have used a LoCAL grant to construct a climate change resistant water source.

“We were concerned here that the dry period is long and the rains arrive late,” said Boni Louis Sagui, who is responsible for Water, Hygiene and Sanitation at the Mairie of Toucountouna as he explained that the solution was not just a matter of sinking a borehole. “The water had really dropped to a low level… We had to find a special machine to reach the water. We drilled three, four, five times and only on the sixth attempt did we reach water.”

The super-deep shaft stands within site of community’s hand-dug artisanal well, that ran dry many years ago. Women and young girls have to use their entire body weight to jump and push down on a foot-pump that forces the water up from reservoirs over 70 metres below. The cool, clean and drinkable water is collected in large aluminium containers for carrying home to their families on their heads.

“Before the borehole and pump, us women used to spend a lot of time every day in search of water,” from streams and ponds, explained Nahini Sokotohou, who estimates she is 42 years old, but looks much older, and has five children between the ages of 16 and 22 years old. “Before we used to get sick all the time, the children were ill, we had diarrhoea, we were always going to the hospital. But that’s much less now.”

Identifying, locating and budgeting climate change investments would not be possible without the involvement of local government authorities, according to Déré Nah Chabi, Préfète of the Atacora Department, in north-west Benin, which includes the commune of Toucountouna.

“It’s us, the municipalities, who started becoming aware of the [climate] situation: the proof, the budgets that we submit. [The local authorities] become aware of this issue and they try to plan,” said Ms Chabi, dressed in ceremonial attire following a morning attending a polio awareness event. “But […] the issue of resource mobilization always arises particularly at the level of the commune […]. The commune alone cannot [adapt] we need LoCAL to help the commune to achieve objectives,” Ms Chabi added.

LoCAL’s system of Performance Based Climate Resilience Grants is becoming institutionalised in Benin’s approach to adaptation. Before PBCRGs are allocated, technical experts work with the national government to identify regions and communities most vulnerable to climate change and then guide the local governments in drafting a menu of eligible investments for effective and sustainable climate adaptation. Atacora Department, in north-west Benin, is one of the poorest regions in the country according to UN figures with 60.5% of the population living below the poverty line. The area abuts Togo to the west and to the north lies Burkina Faso, where jihadist insecurity is on the rise and recently spread into Pendjari National Park, which staddles the border between the two countries. Foreigners are warned from travelling to the region, squeezing meagre earnings from tourism.

LoCAL implementation also comes with technical support and capacity building. Local governments have support from the local administration training centre, CEFAL, whose staff are trained in LoCAL implementation. In June 2022, the LoCAL-Benin team organised a three-day training of trainers’ session in the south-central town of Bohicon, some 125 km north of the capital Cotonou. Attended by 12 CEFAL trainers, the aim of the workshop was to create a body of trainers who can provide instruction and support in LoCAL implementation to local government authorities.

CeFAL participants learnt how to support local government authorities in understanding climate change adaptation and its mainstreaming into local planning processes, the fundamentals of the LoCAL mechanism and its tools to realize adaptation actions at the local government level. The training built on previous cooperation between LoCAL and CeFAL, which involved the development of a training module to better understand climate change risks and impacts to inform development plans at the local government level. But as many local government positions are allocated through elections every six years, courses need to be regularly re-run requiring regular and reliable financing.

“We found that the majority of the mayors that we had trained were not re-elected,” said Christian Raoul Kouthon, Director General of CEFAL, explaining that investment needs to be consistently applied and reliably available if capacity is to be baked into a system where teams can be overturned following an election. “Of the 17 mayors that we had trained,” said Mr Kouthon, talking about a recent training course run out of his facility, “only seven [mayors] were returned to office.”

The government and UNCDF are committed to growing and expanding activities in Benin and further entrenching the PBCRG approach into national systems as results at the local level have been strong.

“The directorate general for the environment and climate is in charge of the challenge of regulation, policy and strategy in terms of the environment and the management of climate change and operationalize these different aspects, which are for the most part better delivered with the support and work of LoCAL,” said Martin Pépin Aïna, Director General for the Environment and Climate (DGEC) in Benin. “[LoCAL] has been very successful at the level of local actors. So, we have to continue, therefore, strengthening this mechanism and expanding it and allowing people to be able to adapt to climate change.”

In 2021, Benin transitioned to LoCAL Phase II, consolidating LoCAL actions in nine communes and benefitting more than 860,000 individuals with support from African Development Bank and the government’s own resources from the National Fund for Environment and Climate (FNEC). With LoCAL support, FNEC received Green Climate Fund accreditation in 2019, at the same time receiving re-accreditation to the Adaptation Fund. A proposal has been submitted to GCF for funding from LoCAL expansion to another 25 communes within five years.

“All initiatives in the field of climate change are most visible at the grassroots level – at the local government level,” said Appolinaire Gnanvi, Director General of FNEC. “And that is why Benin has chosen this [LoCAL] approach and is implementing this approach with the United Nations team.” Adding that “with our application for accreditation to the Green Climate Fund, LoCAL really was our battle horse.”

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of United Nations Capital Development Fund (UNCDF).