Botswana, India, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, Namibia

Adaptation at Scale in Semi-arid Regions

ASSAR’s overarching research objective was to improve the understanding of the barriers, enablers and limits to effective, sustained and widespread adaptation in semi-arid regions from now until the 2030s. To do this, the project conducted research on the socio-ecological risks and dynamics of livelihood transitions, and access, use and management of land and water resources in water-stressed environments. ASSAR worked regionally across seven countries: Botswana, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, India, Mali, and Namibia.

The consortium includes:

  • University of Cape Town (UCT), South Africa (ASSAR lead institution)
  • Indian Institute for Human Settlements (IIHS), India
  • International START Secretariat, USA
  • Oxfam, UK
  • University of East Anglia (UEA), UK
  • Map Part
  • Map Part
  • Map Part
  • Map Part
  • Map Part




Home to hundreds of millions of people, the semi-arid regions of Africa and Asia are particularly vulnerable to climate-related impacts and risks. These climate-change hot-spots are highly dynamic systems that already experience harsh climates, adverse environmental change, and a relative paucity of natural resources. People here may be further marginalized by high levels of poverty, inequality and rapidly changing socio-economic, governance and development contexts. These pressures are expected to amplify in the coming decades. Therefore, it is essential to understand what facilitates the empowerment of people, local organizations and governments to adapt to climate change in a way that minimizes vulnerability and promotes long-term resilience. 

To date, most adaptation efforts have focused on reactive, short-term and site-specific solutions to climate-related vulnerabilities. Although important, these responses often fail to address the root causes of vulnerability, and to shed light on how to proactively spur larger-scale and longer-term adaptation that has positive effects on socio-economic development. Using both research and practice to address this information shortfall, ASSAR produced future-focused and societally-relevant knowledge of potential pathways to wellbeing through adaptation.



ASSAR’s overarching research objective was to use insights from multiple-scale, interdisciplinary work to improve the understanding of the barriers, enablers and limits to effective, sustained and widespread adaptation in semi-arid regions (SARs) out to the 2030s.

To achieve this, the objectives of ASSAR were to:

1. Undertake high-quality, innovative, transdisciplinary research to generate new stakeholder-driven knowledge on vulnerability and adaptation to climate change in SARs.

2. Develop and trial relevant and actionable strategies for adaptation that inform and influence key stakeholders.

3. Create innovative communication approaches for effective knowledge sharing on climate change vulnerability and adaptation in SARs.

4. Enable systemic capacity strengthening for adaptation in SARs, in research, policy and practice domains, and create a new cadre of Southern adaptation specialists who can take on leadership positions in these domains.

5. Ensure that the ASSAR research is used during and beyond CARIAA to shape policies and practices that enable vulnerable populations and sectors adapt to climate change.



ASSAR worked in a coordinated manner across seven countries in India, East Africa, West Africa and Southern Africa: Botswana, India, Ethiopia, Ghana, Kenya, Mali, and Namibia. Focal research themes in each region were: 

     West Africa: agro-intensification

     East and Southern Africa: land and water access 

     India: land use, land cover and livelihood changes 

Using a case-study approach, the research strove to integrate climatic, environmental, social and economic change. The dynamics of gender roles and relations formed a particularly strong theme throughout the consortium’s approach.

Cross-regional comparison and integration of findings enabled ASSAR to develop a unique and systemic understanding of the processes and factors that impede adaptation and cause vulnerability to persist.

To ensure that project case studies were aligned with the needs and realities of people living and working in these regions, ASSAR sought to build meaningful and long-lasting relationships with a wide spectrum of stakeholders. It did this by:

     o guiding stakeholders through participatory scenario planning processes, to build a common understanding of current adaptation needs and past adaptation failings; 

     o using stakeholder mapping and analysis to better understand the power dynamics of different stakeholder groups;

     o working with and alongside boundary organisations and the private sector; and 

     o engaging in effective communication, capacity building and advocacy campaigns. 



ASSAR produced research that will be used to inform and build the capacity of key stakeholders—policy- and decision-makers, practitioners, primary stakeholders, academic researchers, boundary organizations, networks, platforms and other strategic alliances—with respect to adaptation pathways in semi-arid regions. The research will also contribute to greater integration of the domains of research, policy and practice. 

This knowledge and capacity gained promoted the following outcomes:

1. Actors and institutions, with interest and influence removed barriers and enhanced social enablers for climate change adaptation in SARs, enhanced human/social capital and underwent a change in attitude, behaviors and capacities. 

2. These same actors and institutions improved access to financial and other resources.

3. Actors and institutions without influence, power and agency were enabled to act on the removal of barriers and enhance enablers for climate change adaptation in SARs. 


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ASSAR people was composed of principal and co-principal investigators, a project management unit, regional teams in East Africa, Southern Africa, West Africa, and South Asia, and a cross-regional team.


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