Women in a focus group discussion in Tiessembougou villagein Southern Mali describe their efforts to adapt their livelihoods to the changing climate.

Local Government: A Channel for Action on Climate Adaptation

By Climatelinks

New research in Mali highlights a promising opportunity for action on climate change adaptation: local government development planning.

Tim Finan and Mamadou Baro of the University of Arizona presented results of a study supported by USAID’s Adaptation, Thought Leadership and Assessments (ATLAS) project on January 12 at USAID’s monthly Adaptation Community Meeting. The study explored ways in which Mali’s 25-year old decentralized governance system empowers local government to help communities adapt to the changing climate.

The qualitative research focused on a key feature of Mali’s local governance system, a legally-mandated 5-year plan, known locally as a Plan de Développement Economique, Social et Culturel, or PDESC.  The findings suggest that the PDESC holds promise as a vehicle for engaging communities and integrating adaptation into local development planning, but that more needs to be done to strengthen the process.

Centered in the southern regions of Mopti, Koulikoro and Sikasso, where most livelihoods derive from farming and livestock, the study also found that decentralized governance creates particular opportunities to facilitate problem-solving across villages and build external linkages to NGOs, donors and others.

Such relationships are important as households increasingly compete for water and land for grazing and farming, and trees for charcoal and fuelwood. With higher temperatures and decreasing rainfall likely in these regions in the future, effective management of natural resources is vital to maintaining livelihoods and minimizing conflict.

“What we are arguing here is that local governance has an impact and can catalyze significant change on adaptation,” said Mamadou Baro, who presented the research with colleague Tim Finan. “But to be serious about sustainable development in Mali, we have to invest in the quality of the PDESC.”

The study recommended stronger coordination between the Government of Mali, donors, NGOs and local bodies to take actions such as:

  • Revise PDESC procedures to mandate climate adaptation as an organizational theme, as well as improve monitoring and evaluation and financial planning;
  • Coordinate a national strategy to support preparation of climate-sensitive PDESCs;
  • Invigorate the PDESC as a “living document” by promoting it in villages, translating it into local languages, and increasing opportunities for public participation;
  • Invest in training and information-sharing for local stakeholders.

Supported by USAID’s ATLAS project, the study was conducted by the University of Arizona and the Malian NGO, Sahel Eco.


Focus groups and interviews were conducted in three regions of Southern Mali, in five communes per region, and three villages in each commune.

While based on Mali, many findings are relevant in other contexts. For example, community-based structures such as women’s savings groups, which exist in many countries, may provide a platform for collaboration with local government on climate adaptation, particularly on information-sharing across villages.

Questions from the ACM audience, which included 90 in-person and online participants, catalyzed a rich discussion on topics including alternative livelihood strategies, land ownership and social capital.

The next Adaptation Community Meeting, on the assessment methodology NOAA used to assess climate risks to its facilities, will be held February 16.

Learn more about USAID’s climate change work in Mali.

Strategic Objective
Adaptation, Climate Policy, Conflict and Governance



Climatelinks is a global knowledge portal for USAID staff, implementing partners, and the broader community working at the intersection of climate change and international development. The portal curates and archives technical guidance and knowledge related to USAID’s work to help countries mitigate and adapt to climate change. 

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