There is considerable evidence that rural economies in Africa use diverse strategies to adapt to environmental variability and change (Davies, 1996; Scoones, 1996; Mortimore, 1998; Mortimore and Adams, 2001; Eriksen et al., 2005). This finding is reiterated in to the context of climate change (for example Thomas et al., 2007). Much of the evidence so far, however, has been location-specific and has not drawn out commonalities between context-specific adaptations, particularly on how they are accessed, by whom, and their relevance for policies and planned adaptation responses to climate change. It is thus not clear to what extent location-specific findings provide useful lessons for adaptation policy and practice, and what opportunities and barriers may exist. We address this gap in the understanding of adaptation by comparing local adaptation responses to similar climatic events in rural societies across three case study locations in South Africa, Tanzania and Uganda. The chapter captures the diversity of adaptation actions in a wide range of livelihood contexts that include economies with arable farming, livestock, fisheries, forestry, and strong urban linkages through migration, arguing that there are common constraints to accessing adaptation strategies. In other words, it is wide resource access and appropriate governance structures that are the keys to successful adaptation.
We draw on theories on entitlements and access (Sen, 1981; Leach et al., 1999; Ribot and Peluso, 2003) to conceptualise barriers to and opportunities for adaptation in terms of access to resources mediated by institutions.