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Building climate resilience in a Small Island State: Learnings from the Seychelles

Rachel Brisley and Niamh Neale, Ipsos UK

The first citizen engagement as part of the Global Science Partnership took place last week in the Seychelles. Read on to find out more about how citizens came together to discuss potential approaches to enhance the climate resilience of food production.

The Seychelles is a Small Island Developing State with a population of just 100,000 across its eight inhabited islands. Well known as a holiday destination for its idyllic sandy beaches and turquoise ocean, the Seychelles has a small yet important agriculture sector for local fruits, vegetables and livestock. On the global stage, the Seychelles is an insignificant emitter of greenhouse gases, yet it is particularly vulnerable to the environmental challenges of climate change. These issues include sea level rise, increased air and surface temperatures, increased flooding, saline intrusion and an extended dry season accompanied by rainfall variability. No one is more aware of these challenges than the people whose livelihoods depend on the land, so climate change adaptation is a national priority in the Seychelles.

Policymakers in the Seychelles identified a need to implement appropriate climate smart technologies and practices that support an integrated approach to landscape management, to address the interlinked challenges of food security and climate resilience.

There is a Seychellois Creole saying that roughly translates into: “You can’t squeeze water out of a stone, but you can collect water on top of it”, meaning that when there is a seemingly impossible feat, improvisation and intuitive thinking is necessary to get your desired outcome. This is where this innovative research methodology comes in; combining scientific knowledge with grassroots citizen participation identifies creative and desirable solutions and can therefore contribute to policy outcomes which are more effective, more inclusive and can better predict the challenges ahead.

Citizen engagement in the Seychelles

The two-day Global Science Partnership deliberative mini public was hosted by the University of Seychelles, designed and run by Guy Morel, SGM and Partners Consulting, with support from Ipsos, and facilitated by a team from the University and the Seychelles Government.

The initiative is also supported by the Seychelles government, with Mr. Xavier Estico and the Science, Technology and Innovation Division playing a key role in embedding this methodology into policymaking and supporting the citizen engagement process. As part of their trip to the Seychelles, Rachel and Niamh met with Ms Devika Vidot, Minister of Investment, Entrepreneurship who outlined how the priorities of government are aligned with this research project.

The aim of the workshop was to explore agricultural climate-smart technologies that could be implemented to support climate resilience and enhance food security. The workshop participants were farmers, household growers and students from the Seychelles Institute of Agriculture and Horticulture (SIAH). Participants explored:

  • Climate challenges, resilience, food security and carbon emissions in the Seychelles.

  • Key trade-offs – for instance, domestic food production versus imports.

  • Climate-smart technologies, focusing on drip irrigation, weather information, climate resilient seeds, and contour farming as key technologies.

  • Challenges, opportunities and priorities for climate smart technology implementation.

The workshop was designed to encourage an inclusive, context specific and reflective discussion, aiming to understand the priorities of the three sub-groups and the overall group. Rachel Brisley and Niamh Neale from Ipsos supported and participated in these workshops. Here are five key insights and learnings from their involvement in these workshops, and time spent in the field:

  1. The impact of climate change on day-to-day life in the Seychelles is substantial so climate change is a national priority: Climate change is taken seriously in the Seychelles. It’s not something that might happen in the future, it’s already happening and affecting infrastructure, the environment and food production. This was very evident from the workshops where Government representatives, farmers, household growers and students spoke about their experiences of waist-high flood water, livestock dying in front of their eyes from overheating, crops failing from high temperatures and infrastructure damaged by landslides.

  2. Securing food security and resilience is a strong focus and priority for climate action: The farming community was passionate about the need to enhance food security within the context of a changing climate. Ensuring everyone has access to affordable and nutritious food, including the ~400,000 tourists that visit the Seychelles every year, is a clear priority.

  3. We need to think and act ‘as a system’: The importance of a systems-based approach to drive sustainable change was reinforced throughout the discussions. The impacts of climate change on food production and subsequently food security has implications for multiple agendas and policy areas – economy, tourism, biodiversity, health, and education in the Seychelles.

  4. Technologies have potential to help address these system-wide challenges, but there are barriers to implementation that need to be overcome: It was clear that the technologies discussed have strong potential to address climate resilience, climate mitigation and food security, and that they can be combined with the traditional techniques of the existing farming community. However, key barriers were identified as access to funding and expertise and these need to be addressed to enable wider scale implementation of the technologies.

  5. There was substantial appetite for engaging and convening diverse groups together to deliberate on these issues in the Seychelles: The importance of bringing the existing farming community and agricultural students together was very evident. The established farming community recognised that the students present are the farmers and policy makers of the future that we are influencing now and therefore their involvement is crucial.

The Citizen Engagement Workshop received substantial media attention, including features on two national television stations and two major newspapers. The passion and enthusiasm were evident from all participants and facilitators enabling very open and honest communication with everyone appreciating others’ points of view. Participants appreciated the novel grassroots approach and hope this will mean Government will take their views into account and act on the identified priorities.

Please click below to see the footage of the two-day workshop

Next steps for Seychelles as part of the Global Science Partnership

The Global Science Partnership was launched by the UK COP26 Presidency in 2021 and aims to turn climate commitments into science-based and citizen-focused action by better using science and citizen’s views to inform the development of climate policy.

The Seychelles, Kenya and Colombia are piloting the new methodology focusing on net zero and climate resilient food systems. This blog summarises initial insights from citizen engagement – which will feed into the policy research led by Ricardo, bringing together the findings from the scientific investigation and citizen engagement for the Seychelles. Findings from these pilot projects will also inform the development of a final report and toolkit from across all pilots, including the Seychelles, in summer 2023 to showcase best practice, share lessons learned and insights on how this approach can be scaled globally.

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