The PRISE vision

Pathways to Resilience in Semi-Arid Economies (PRISE) is a five-year, multi-country research project that generates new knowledge about how economic development in semi-arid regions can be made more equitable and resilient to climate change.

PRISE aims to strengthen the commitment of decision-makers in local and national governments, businesses and trade bodies to rapid, inclusive and resilient development in these regions. It does so by deepening their understanding of the threats and opportunities that semi-arid economies face in relation to climate change.

Ground breaking in its focus, PRISE research adopts a policy and development-first approach to engaging decision-makers in governments, businesses and trade bodies. Rather than starting with complex climate change projections, this research begins by identifying the decisions people need to make now about investment choices and development options for semi-arid regions.

Decision-makers and the research team decide jointly on the research questions and study areas to ensure that the research responds to demand. This approach means that PRISE has the flexibility to support policy makers and investors with quick-response research whenever the need arises, as well as the capacity to lead longer-term collaborative studies.

PRISE research targets semi-arid areas across six countries in Africa and Asia: Burkina Faso, Senegal, Kenya, Pakistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan. The research is focused around seven projects. Each research project is led by a consortium partner and engages researchers from across the five consortium members to ensure a blend of cross-disciplinary expertise and methodological insights.

Why semi-arid lands?

Globally, one billion people live in semi-arid areas. While there are many different technical definitions of semi-arid lands, they are usually recognised as being intermediate zones between deserts and less dry areas. Semi-arid lands have fragile water and soil resources, droughts and floods are common, and they are frequently remote, with weak linkages to markets and government services. As a result, poverty is common in semi-arid regions, and many of the one billion people living in these areas have precarious livelihoods. Semi-arid lands are regarded as especially vulnerable to climate change due to accelerating desertification, increased risk from droughts and floods, and the low capacity of their populations to adapt. This double jeopardy of poverty and climate risk makes semi-arid lands of particular interest.

What is different about PRISE?

There are three key aspects to PRISE that make it distinctive. The first is our focus on climate-resilient, inclusive economic growth. Most research projects on climate risk either focus on identifying and developing specific adaptation needs, or on building resilience to the impacts of future disasters. Instead, PRISE recognises that those most vulnerable to climate change are the poor, and that poverty reduction can have both immediate benefits and contribute to long term resilience.
The second aspect is that while most climate adaptation initiatives address actions by governments, civil society and communities, PRISE focuses on the private sector. This choice of focus is because the private sector in semi-arid lands, and how it can contribute to poverty reduction and climate resilience, is less-well understood.
The third is that PRISE is focused on the year 2030 rather than the later time-horizons of 2050 or 2100 that climate change projects usually consider, but which are too distant to be of immediate interest to most decision-makers.

Why is PRISE focusing on ‘inclusive economic growth’?

Although poverty is extensive in many semi-arid lands, there is also substantial investment in hydropower, extractive industries such as oil and mining, and in commercial agriculture in these areas. As markets globalise, developing countries have new opportunities to attract foreign capital, and these investments can benefit national economies. However, local communities often don’t share in these benefits, and can be negatively affected by investments that disrupt their water and land rights. Particularly in fragile semi-arid environments, people are highly vulnerable to these types of impacts, which can exacerbate both poverty and vulnerability to climate change. Economic growth that benefits the nation while further disadvantaging poor people and communities not only risks being a zero-sum game, it is fundamentally unfair. PRISE is therefore interested in private sector-led growth that offers immediate and direct benefits to poverty reduction, such as through creating employment and enhancing incomes.

Why focus on climate resilience?

Poverty traps are common in semi-arid areas. Fragile natural resource bases, uncertain rainfall and poor access to infrastructure, basic services, credit and markets, mean that the livelihoods of most people are precarious. Gains made by individuals, communities, businesses and governments are potentially fragile, and can be easily wiped out by the impacts of droughts, floods or other disasters. Poverty reduction and economic development should strengthen the ability of people to respond to climate risk, but some economic development pathways are likely to be more exposed and sensitive to climate risk than others, particularly in the long-term.

How will PRISE effect change on the ground?

PRISE will work primarily with economic development ministries, business associations, regional economic commissions, and other actors working to grow businesses, markets and economies in the semi-arid lands of Pakistan, Tanzania, Senegal, Burkina Faso, Tajikistan, and Kenya. By doing so, PRISE is responding to demand from these key decision-makers for evidence and policy advice on inclusive climate-resilient economic development.

Why these countries?

The countries are all different, and this allows PRISE to conduct research that makes interesting and useful comparisons between them. There are two focus countries in East Africa, West Africa and Asia, which allows for comparisons both within and between regions. Among other points of comparison, there are also examples of countries which are exposed to droughts and floods, that are warm and cold, that are landlocked or maritime, in which semi-arid areas cover greater or lesser parts of the country, and that have a variety of agricultural activities and non-agricultural sectors, including extractive industries, tourism and manufacturing.

Small Grants Programme

In its first year, the Small Grants Programme (SGP) within PRISE has awarded 12 grants to researchers who are either PhD students or have completed their PhDs within the last three years. The programme has a special focus on supporting early career researchers in developing countries, or associated with developing country research institutions. PRISE studies by SGP researchers specialise either in global semi-arid lands, or semi-arid regions in one or more of the PRISE core countries.