Perceptions, trends and adaptation to climate change in Yala wetland, Kenya

Date

2023-09-06

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International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management

Abstract

Purpose Tropical wetland ecosystems are threatened by climate change but also play a key role in its mitigation and adaptation through management of land use and other drivers. Local-level assessments are needed to support evidence-based wetland management in the face of climate change. This study aims to examine the local communities’ knowledge and perception of climate change in Yala wetland, Kenya, and compare them with observed data on climate trends. Such comparisons are useful to inform context-specific climate change adaptation actions. Design/methodology/approach The study used a mixed methods approach that combined analysis of climate data with perceptions from the local community. Gridded data on temperature and rainfall for the period from 1981 to 2018 were compared with data on climate change perceptions from semi-structured questionnaires with 286 key informants and community members. Findings Majority of the respondents had observed changes in climate parameters – severe drought (88.5%), increased frequency of floods (86.0%) and irregular onset and termination of rains (90.9%) in the past 20 years. The perceptions corresponded with climate trends that showed a significant increasing trend in the short rains and the average maximum temperature, high incidence of very wet years and variability in onset and termination of rainfall between 1981 and 2018. Gender, age and education had little influence on knowledge and awareness of climate change, except for frequency of floods and self-reported understanding of climate change. The community perceived the wetland to be important for climate change adaptation, particularly the provision of resources such as grazing grounds during drought. Research limitations/implications The study faced challenges of low sample size, use of gridded climate data and reproducibility in other contexts. The results of this study apply to local communities in a tropical wetland in Western Kenya, which has a bi-modal pattern of rainfall. The sample of the study was regional and may therefore not be representative of the whole of Kenya, which has diverse socioeconomic and ecological contexts. Potential problems have been identified with the use of gridded data (for example, regional biases in models), although their usefulness in data scarce contexts is well established. Moreover, the sample size has been found to be a less important factor in research of highly complex socio-ecological systems where there is an attempt to bridge natural and social sciences. Practical implications This study addresses the paucity of studies on climate change trends in papyrus wetlands of sub-Saharan Africa and the role of local knowledge and perceptions in influencing the management of such wetlands. Perceptions largely influence local stakeholders’ decisions, and a study that compares perceptions vs “reality” provides evidence for engagement with the stakeholders in managing these highly vulnerable ecosystems. The study showed that the local community’s perceptions corresponded with the climate record and that adaptation measures are already ongoing in the area. Originality/value This study presents a case for the understanding of community perceptions and knowledge of climate change in a tropical wetland under threat from climate change and land use change, to inform management under a changing climate.

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Citation

Githiora, Y.W., Owuor, M.A., Abila, R., Oriaso, S. and Olago, D.O. (2023), "Perceptions, trends and adaptation to climate change in Yala wetland, Kenya", International Journal of Climate Change Strategies and Management, Vol. 15 No. 5, pp. 690-711.