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25 March 2019

HSRC to lead a study on the health impacts of climate adaptation actions in rural Southern Africa

Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)
Press Release

Pretoria, Tuesday 19 March 2019 – The Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC), working with researchers based at universities in Zimbabwe, the United Kingdom and the USA, will lead an evaluation of the nutritional and psychosocial health impacts of certain major adaptation actions in rural Southern Africa.

Funded by the Wellcome Trust, this study will look at how communities situated in the mid-Zambezi Valley area in Zimbabwe, along the borders with Mozambique and Zambia, have adapted their food production and farming methods to respond to effects of climate change as rainfall variability, increasing drought cycles, and high temperatures as well as the health impacts of the adaptation actions.

The selected case study area is particularly interesting for this evaluation as it is classified among Southern Africa’s climate change hotspots. The area is also beset by pronounced non-climatic stressors such as a weak health system, seasonal malaria, poverty and food insecurity, poor linkage to profitable output markets for agricultural produce, infestation of tsetse-fly and high wildlife presence making the area marginal for livestock production.

While local communities have adapted to these climatic and non-climatic stressors in various ways, two of the main climate adaptation actions whose nutritional and psychosocial health impacts will be evaluated on this project are:

  1. The shift from predominantly maize farming in main dryland fields, to the drought-tolerant sorghum crop over the years; and 
  2. 2. Increased reliance on indigenous knowledge: (a) in wild fruits (during crop failure), and (b) to predict rainfall patterns and droughts using unique meteorological, insect and atmospheric indicators.

Contextualising the significance of this study, lead researcher Dr Admire Nyamwanza says, “explicit focus on understanding the health impacts of climate adaptation actions in Africa has not been appreciated, yet individual, household and community health aspects are directly linked to livelihood resilience, sustained household and community adaptive capacity as well as the physical, social and economic well-being of a society. This study will therefore advance our understanding in this area.”

This study will therefore aim to:

  1. Identify the positive and negative nutritional and psychosocial health impacts of the two adaptation actions under focus in the case study area.
  2. Evaluate the ways in, and extent to which the impacts have manifested in different social and vulnerable groups (e.g. children, women, the elderly, households of different wealth statuses, people living with chronic illnesses such as HIV/AIDS).
  3. Explore how best the positive health outcomes can be sustained and the negative ones addressed.
  4. Suggest ways on how recommendations from this impact evaluation can be effectively upscaled and applied in similar vulnerability contexts in Zimbabwe and in Southern Africa at large.

The study is expected to commence in May 2019 and conclude in September 2021.

Researchers are available for interviews.

Notes to the Editor

About the Human Sciences Research Council (HSRC)

The HSRC was established in 1968 as South Africa’s statutory research agency and has grown to become the largest dedicated research institute in the social sciences and humanities on the African continent, doing cutting-edge public research in areas that are crucial to development.

Our mandate is to inform the effective formulation and monitoring of government policy; to evaluate policy implementation; to stimulate public debate through the effective dissemination of research-based data and fact-based research results; to foster research collaboration; and to help build research capacity and infrastructure for the human sciences.

The Council conducts large-scale, policy-relevant, social-scientific research for public sector users, nongovernmental organisations and international development agencies. Research activities and structures are closely aligned with South Africa’s national development priorities.

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For more information or to set up interviews, please contact:

Manusha Pillai

Mobile: 082 389 3587