||Chirwa, Paxie W.
||Thesis (PhD)--University of Pretoria, 2017.
||Forests play an important role in climate-change management, particularly at rural community
level. At the same time, forests are essential resources for human welfare and an important part
of the landscape. In addition to providing vital environmental services, forests provide goods
that are crucial to the wellbeing of many communities living in and around them. Thus, forests
are valuable resources for poor and vulnerable populations in developing countries. However,
the observed and predicted impact of climate change is projected to have an extensive range of
consequences, many of which represent major threats to forest-dependent communities.
Consequently, an investigation of the vulnerability of forest-dependent communities to climate
change has become necessary and important.
Within academic and research circles on social vulnerability assessment at rural community
level, the IPCC’s [Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change] concept of vulnerability has
gained wider acceptance. The IPCC definition conceptualizes vulnerability as a product of
exposure to a climatic event, the sensitivity of a system, and the system’s adaptive capacity.
Thus to assess the vulnerability of a community, the factors that contribute to the three elements
of exposure, sensitivity, and adaptive capacity must be identified and analysed.
Operationalizing the IPCC concept in vulnerability assessment often focuses on the use of
empirical models and climate-change projections to assess potential impacts. This entails
measuring exposure by the degree and magnitude of climatic hazard to which a community is
exposed; sensitivity is measured by the degree to which a community is affected negatively by
changes in climatic conditions; and adaptive capacity is quantified and measured by using
assets and capitals as indicators of the community’s ability to adapt. This concept and this
approach to vulnerability assessment have been used widely to analyse communities’
vulnerability to climate change. Although such studies have contributed immensely to our
understanding of the bio-physical processes and impacts of climate change at global and
regional level, they are unable to capture the micro-level specificities of climate change.
Moreover, regardless of how ‘climate change’ is perceived by scientists, individual perceptions
of its meaning are likely to relate more to the public discourse and wider debate about the extent
of its impact.
This thesis addresses the need for detailed understanding of forest-based rural communities’
vulnerability to climate change. The methodological novelty of the study entailed a
modification of the IPCC vulnerability framework to tease out the key factors characterizing household vulnerability to climate variability and change at forest-based rural community level
in Vhembe District, South Africa. Vegetation type was used as a criterion to select Makhado,
Mutale and Thulamela municipalities, which together with Musina, constitute Vhembe
District. Seven rural communities in each municipality were selected. Using the stratified
proportionate random sampling procedure in combination with weighted enumeration area
(EA) for these communities, 366 households were chosen and interviewed. The study used
local knowledge gathered through a household survey to analyse rural people’s
conceptualization of climate change and its perceived impact on forest-based livelihoods in the
This was done by extending the IPCC concept of exposure to include local sociocultural
understanding of climate change. Sensitivity was modified so that it did not focus only on
households’ level of dependence on vulnerable forest resources, but examined their capacity to
engage in sustainable forest use and management. This was based on the understanding that
forest dependence could be a source of both vulnerability to and resilience against climate
change. Adaptive capacity was extended to include examination of how people interact with
social and institutional resources in their community, as well as how this enhances or constrains
their adaptive capacity.
The study used a four-tiered approach to assess key factors that characterized household
vulnerability to climate variability and change at forest-based rural community level in South
Africa. The approach started by investigating the people’s exposure to climate variability and
change events. This entailed investigation of local sociocultural understandings of climate
change, and how this connects with people’s use and management of forests (Chapter 3). The
second stage involved a perception-based analysis approach to assess people’s perceptions of
climate variability and change events and their effects on forest-based livelihood in their
communities (Chapter 4). The third stage of the study involved assessment of households’ level
of dependence on forest resources and the people’s capacity to engage in sustainable forest use
and management as a means of reducing vulnerability to climate change (Chapter 5). The last
stage of the study investigated how various intangible and dynamic processes – including
human capital, information, household coping responses, institutional services, and social
support services in the communities – interact to dictate the people’s adaptive capacity and
vulnerability to climate change (Chapter 6). The findings of this research highlighted the local conceptualization of climate change and its
influence on the people’s attitudes to forest use and management with respect to climate-change
intervention initiatives. In addition, the study provided important insight on how the people
perceived the risk of climate change to forest-based livelihoods in their community, and the
relationship between climate change perception, and the people’s socioeconomic
characteristics. The findings of the study support the notion that improving communities’
capacity to engage in sustainable forest use and management is essential to climate-change
management at rural community level. The study also reveals vital information on the people’s
range of coping responses, the current role of forests in coping practices, and factors
influencing the people’s adaptive capacity
Overall, this thesis demonstrates that, for the future, a more holistic approach to understanding
rural communities’ vulnerability to climate change would entail recognition of the people’s
sociocultural understanding of climate change, their concerns, and perceptions of climatechange
impacts on their lives and livelihood, as well as an understanding of how the various
dynamics and intangible processes at community level interact to dictate households’ adaptive
||Plant Production and Soil Science
||National Research Foundation (NRF)
||South African Forestry Company Limited (SAFCOL)
||Ofoegbu, C 2017, An assessment of the local sociocultural concept of climate change and its perceived effect on forestbased livelihoods : case study of rural communities of Vhembe District South Africa, PhD Thesis, University of Pretoria, Pretoria, viewed yymmdd <http://hdl.handle.net/2263/60297>
||University of Pretoria
||@ 2017 University of Pretoria. All rights reserved. The copyright in this work vests in the University of Pretoria. No part of this work may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, without the prior written permission of the University of Pretoria.
||An assessment of the local sociocultural concept of climate change and its perceived effect on forestbased livelihoods : case study of rural communities of Vhembe District South Africa