Transformational adaptation: the community ecosystems-based adaptation assemblage in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa.
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Climate change poses a fundamental global threat to society, especially for those who depend directly on natural ecosystems for their survival and sustainable livelihoods. The lack of research on climate adaptation interventions was identified by the 2019 National Adaptation Strategy of South Africa as a stumbling block to climate adaptation. This thesis investigates and tracks the emergence, evolution and scaling up of a Community Ecosystems-Based Adaptation (CEBA) intervention that is operated by Wildlands, an NGO in KwaZulu-Natal, as a local response to the current climate adaptation deficit. My original contribution is the application of an assemblage approach that characterises an integrated CBA-EBA adaptation intervention (Wildlands CEBA Assemblage) as an adaptation assemblage, and to build on the established knowledge of Transformational Adaptation, which is the primary theoretical underpinning of this research. The four study objectives are as follows: 1) to understand the complex range of factors that have influenced the mainstreaming of the Wildlands CEBA Assemblage and a marginalised (adaptation) agenda; 2) to explore the upscaling of the Wildlands CEBA Assemblage; 3) to explore the impacts of the Wildlands CEBA Assemblage on the livelihoods of participating communities in KwaZulu-Natal and 4) to explore the utility of an assemblage approach to understanding adaptation. The thesis embraces a practical approach for advancing knowledge on Transformational Adaptation by engaging with aspects of poverty reduction through livelihood diversification, as well as the challenges associated with the ambiguities and uncertainties. To achieve the research aims, a multiple case study design and a pragmatic and interpretive approach were adopted by using the mixed methods research technique. Interviews for the main study subsequently commenced with 29 key informants and 157 participating community members across seven sites, using a semi-structured interview guide. Thematic and inductive analyses were used to generate data that spoke to the organisational development, poverty reduction and individual capability themes within the research. Furthermore, I developed a CEBA Analysis Framework that focused on analysing and interpreting the research findings by drawing on the theories of assemblage thinking and transformation, guided by the supplementary theories of discourse analysis, managerial roles, sustainable livelihoods and individual capabilities. The assemblage approach is a key contribution to this thesis through which interconnected parts of an adaptation intervention can be investigated. Characterising the Wildlands CEBA intervention as an assemblage brings into perspective how it can spread over time and space, by territorialising different geographical landscapes and communities. In addition, the CEBA Analysis Framework made it possible to assess additional aspects. The discursive dimension of the study shows that changes in climate discourses have influenced the evolution of the Wildlands CEBA Assemblage, by expanding the definition and interpretation of the concept of ‘adaptation’. The results pertaining to the ‘enviropreneurship’ livelihood support mechanism within CEBA revealed an increased awareness of climate change, the potential to reduce poverty by direct monetary gain and the diversification of livelihoods through barter and trade mechanisms within the Wildtrust programme suite. However, the implementation of CEBA was not without some confusing and demoralising effects on the communities. A lack of transparency, communication, capacity building, monitoring and evaluation were overshadowed by other organisational and donor priorities, which enhanced the challenges of achieving transformational adaptation for systemic change. Ambiguity and uncertainty were present in the Wildlands CEBA Assemblage, where varying interpretations of ‘CEBA’ negatively impacted the workforce while daily operational work was undertaken; in many cases, this caused confusion and conflict amongst the participating community members. Overall, the Wildlands CEBA Assemblage was rhizomatic in nature as it expanded across political and geographical boundaries, revealing that upscaling climate change adaptation interventions at a landscape level was indeed possible by employing an integrated CBA-EBA approach. While challenges, changes and ‘reassembling’ occurred, the assemblage remained intact. This thesis contributes to the new ‘Transformational Adaptation’ school of thought by being one of the first studies in South Africa to apply an assemblage approach to a landscapelevel climate change adaptation intervention. The thesis suggests that adaptation studies should not only involve a ‘birds-eye view’ of the adaptation intervention (the whole system) in its entirety, but that it is equally important to scrutinise, explore and investigate the actors, discourses, practices, governance regimes, technologies (the ‘moving parts’ of the system) and incentives that influence the system itself.