Community Adaptation to Climate in Open Spaces of the Semi-arid Region of Northern Nigeria

Community Adaptation to Climate in Open Spaces of the Semi-arid Region of Northern Nigeria

Résumé en français

Dans les zones semi-arides, les espaces ouverts sont utilisés pour les manifestations socioculturelles, les loisirs et les festivités religieuses. La désertification a un impact sévère non seulement sur les terres agricoles, mais aussi sur ces espaces. La menace de la dégradation des terres nécessite le développement de stratégies d'adaptation par les communautés locales pour faire face à ce problème. Cependant, ces efforts seront difficiles à soutenir s'ils ne sont pas appuyés par des plans ou des structures d'adaptation viables à long terme et ce par l'observation sur le terrain et par des entretiens approfondis avec les chefs des cinq communautés dans la zone de gouvernement local de Batagarawa de l'État de Katsina et l'utilisation de l’ATLAS.ti pour le traitement des données. Les connaissances indigènes se sont avérées essentielles dans le développement de plusieurs options et stratégies d'adaptation pour les espaces ouverts communautaires. Cette étude recommande l'établissement d'un cadre d'adaptation pour ladurabilité des espaces ouverts en introduisant les connaissances indigènes. Les résultats de cette étude contribueront à l'élaboration de politiques adaptées au context local.

Open areas are used for socio-cultural displays, recreation, and religious festivities in semi-arid areas. Desertification has severe impacts not just on agricultural land, but also on open spaces. The menace of land degradation necessitates the development of adaptation strategies by local communities as coping mechanisms. However, adaptation efforts will be difficult to sustain if they are not supported by viable long-term adaptation plans or structures. Through field observation and in-depth interviews with community heads of five communities in the Batagarawa local government area of Katsina State and the use of ATLAS Ti for data processing, Indigenous knowledge was shown to be critical in the development of several adaptation options and strategies for community open spaces. The study recommends the establishment of an adaptation framework for the sustainability of open spaces by incorporating indigenous knowledge. The findings of this study will aid in developing contextual policies that consider local nuances.


The term 'open space' is used by planners and landscape architects to describe land purposefully used as fields and woodlands, while the area around it contains buildings and paved areas (IFLA Asia, 2017). Any open area of public significance, regardless of its configuration, including formal sports fields, interior open spaces within buildings, sidewalks, and national parks, are referred to as 'open space.' Green space, also known as active and passive vegetated land, is frequently confused with open space (Haq, 2011; Taylor and Hochuli, 2017). The purpose of open spaces is to improve well-being, foster a sense of security, promote social integration and group responsibility (Francis et al., 2012), and support healthy social living, thus producing lively communities, especially for the less privileged groups, who would use such spaces to connect and socialise (Agboola, 2019).

Open space serves as a mirror to the community, reflecting its culture and beliefs, and accommodating  constantly changing community social interactions.

Interconnectivity is another fundamental role of open space, where connectivity may be understood as a corridor connecting different land uses in terms of access and bringing people together (Moore, 2021).

Any active open space fulfils several functions, providing opportunity for social engagement, and cohesiveness (Nochian et al. 2015). In some regions, open spaces are used for cultural events, rituals, family gatherings, guest receptions, or as burial sites (Afon and Adebara, 2019). Property values rise in tandem with the expansion of open spaces and protected lands (Kakkar and Supriya, 2014). Furthermore, open space attracts people and businesses, stimulates economic development in neighbouring regions, protects environmental services and lowers healthcare costs, being less expensive than alternative forms of development (Crompton and Nicholls, 2020).

In semi-arid regions, community open spaces promote social connection and accommodate cultural performances. According to Shafqat et al. (2021) community open spaces in semi-arid regions develop from the community's lifestyle, beliefs, and attitudes. According to Doosuur (2021), open spaces in many communities in northern Nigeria's semi-arid region are 'one-size-fits-all', although there is a need for contextual adaptation to specific communities and regions. Physical adaptation strategies  may include modifying the environment to adequately accommodate one's needs. These strategies are termed 'reactive' when personal change is involved, or 'interactive' where individuals interact with the environment to influence change (Nikolopoulou, 2011). Psychological adaptation is a change in attitude in reaction to stimuli. Adaptation is 'reactive' when responding to a changing climate and 'proactive' when taken in anticipation of such effects (Shahid et al.,2021).

However, considering current climatic uncertainties and a lack of an acceptable adaptation structure, adaptation efforts might be challenging to sustain and perhaps negatively impact on how communities value open space. It is therefore critical, to re-look at community-based adaptation strategies, especially the proactive approaches.


The study was conducted in Batagarawa Local Government Area of Katsina State, which is part of northern Nigeria's Semi-Arid area, close to the border with Niger, in the Sahel Savannah. Katsina State is bordered by the states of Kaduna, Zamfara, Kano, and Jigawa, and is Nigeria's fifth-largest state by population (Abdulmalik et al., 2019). The major ethnic group is Hausa-Fulani, and Islam is the most widely practised religion. The state reflects the typical characteristics of North-Western Nigeria, allowing the findings to be extrapolated to the entire region.

According to Kumar (2011), the nature of the social phenomenon being studied determines the research approach. The researcher needs to decide on data required and then looks for appropriate sources. A semi-structured in-depth interview with community leaders was conducted since community leaders are responsible for sustaining the community's culture and values. Because respondents express themselves better in their language (Coleman 2019), in-depth interviews were conducted in Hausa. The interviews were transcribed and translated into English through professional transcription and translation services. This study focused on five rural communities: Dan-Iyau, Dabaibayawa, Kayauki, Tsanni, and Zango.

Thematic analysis was used to categorise data into specific identifiable themes and patterns. This approach enables the researcher to get an in-depth understanding of the activities of the community while also assisting with observation and interpretation. The study used ATLAS Ti for data analysis, as recommended by Kalpokaite and Radivojevic (2020). Atlas Ti data processing is divided into three steps, with the real analysis taking place during the writing phase while summarising and interpreting the findings. In content analysis, a form of qualitative analysis, the data were studied and analysed based on the three stages below:

i. Coding is the process of converting disorganised, fragmented data into well-organised concepts, and is used to ask analytical questions about the data and then respond with code labels.

ii. Data description is the process of examining, analysing, or navigating through data to identify interesting details that you begin to discover while coding. The goal is to create a code list that identifies and defines the problems, features, phenomena, and themes present in the data. It attempts to make sense of them in terms of similarities and differences.

iii. Finding solutions or discovering connections through data. Search results may be shown as numerical data, coded quotations, or visual representations.

Limitations of the Study

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic interrupted almost all social activity. COVID-19's induced total lock-down, movement restrictions, and social distancing impeded research and access to vast amounts of factual data. The background of the researcher and the community leaders' ability to provide the required information were both enough for the investigation. The researcher's involvement in data collecting, transcription, and translation confirmed the data's accuracy and sufficiency; nonetheless, the study's language barrier was a hurdle. The interviews were performed in the local language, then translated and transcribed by professionals.

Results and Discussion

Indigenous Knowledge to Predict Weather and Climate by Rural Community

Rural communities in the Semi-Arid Region of Nigeria rely on Indigenous knowledge to forecast weather and climatic conditions. Observing the behaviour of plants and animals, as well as the sky, moon, and wind, are examples of native indicators used by communities.

Table 1 below shows how rural communities forecast the weather using atmospheric conditions, plants, and animal behaviour. When cold weather persists for an extended period of drought, the table predicts the intermittent emergence of "black ants" during the dry season. The flowering or blooming of Acacia senegalensis signals a major rainy season. Any of the indicators could provide essential information. Community elders pass on their knowledge to younger members of the community (Chikaire et al. 2018; Gbangou et al., 2021). Similarly, Rankoana (2022), observed that farmers in Malawi continue to use indigenous indicators in weather forecasting.

Table 1

Community Open Spaces in the Semi-Arid Region of Nigeria

Kasuwa,Yara, Kofar Fada, and Filin Makaranta were identified as five (5) different forms of open space typology in Nigeria's rural areas. Kasuwa and Yara are inextricably linked because they are market places where people buy and sell commodities. Because the palace is also a house, the palace square might be referred to as a house-front as also presented in Gidado et al. (2022). Figure 1 below depicts these connections.

Figure 1: Open space typology and connections

Adaptation Strategies to Open Space in The Semi-Arid Region

The study highlighted how communities in the study areas used Indigenous knowledge to adapt to environmental changes affecting their open spaces by utilising locally accessible resources, such as indigenous materials and local knowledge to create a microclimate that makes the open areas habitable and comfortable. The study found that the Neem tree, one of Nigeria's native trees that spreads its green leaves during the hotter months, luring a variety of birds and offering shade below, is utilised. To prevent birds from littering the ground, a roof constructed of Gamba grass is employed. This grass is native to the area and has the potential to absorb moisture and maintain cool temperatures below the roof.

The local communities used a variety of adaption strategies, as also demonstrated by Gidado et al (2022) which include:

a. Cultural adaptation: altering the time and location of some activities, and in some cases, by totally abandoning locations of certain activities. For example, a cultural event known as 'Kalankuwa' that usually takes place between October and November has been re-scheduled to take place between February and March due to climate change. The local wrestling, which used to be held in kasuwa (market square) has been relocated to the yara because the market square has been engulfed by sand. Although a community's culture has a variant that becomes adaptive in response to a change in the environment (Fogarty and Kandler, 2020), this strategy should not be continued since it undermines the communities' socio-cultural preferences as a result of the current climate uncertainties.

b.  Psychological adaptation: People believe that certain risks, such as windstorms, extremely cold temperatures, and gully erosion are caused by people straying from the path of righteousness, and that the only way out is through prayer and devotion to Almighty God, an adaptation strategy supported by Schuman et al. (2018) on communities in South Africa. Communities in Nigeria's semi-arid region demonstrate this strategy mostly during religious activities, when they spend long periods in the scorching sun on the hot ground surface, believing that by doing so, the Almighty will consider their piety and improve their situation.

c. Physical adaptation: by utilising local materials such as tree branches, grass, and sand (mud), locals construct shades or "runfa", which they use as protection against heat. Runfa creates a conducive microclimate even during hot periods.

d. Environmental: planting trees that are resilient and suited to the region, such as Azadirachta indica, Mangiferaindica, Khaya senegalensis; and Bauhinia thonningii. This strategy has been in use as observed by Msalilwa et al (2017). This strategy works effectively, with the exception that plants are difficult to maintain in semi-arid areas where people exploit trees for household uses including firewood for cooking, as well as for construction.

The main image at the top depicts how a community creates a micro-environment to make its open space habitable and comfortable. The Neem tree is one of the indigenous trees in northern Nigeria that spreads its leaves during the hotter months, attracting a variety of birds and providing shade below. A roof made of gamba grass, also native to the area is used to keep birds from cluttering the ground.

One of the principal communal open spaces, Kofar Gida (house-front), also serves as a manufacturing facility, such as cap production, or blacksmithing (Figure 2). In all of the photographs, a standard roof made of Gamba grass and Neem tree branches, together with mats woven from local materials are used.

Figure 2: House-front used for manufacturing

The findings show how communities have adapted to environmental change by using readily available resources. In contrast to Irwansyah et al (2019), this study found that community adaptation along the river area does not reflect the environmental culture in the same way. Friday et al (2019) carried out a community study in an area with similar ecological conditions to this one, focusing on community perceptions of climate change and how they dealt with it. The findings suggest that community members continue to believe that climate change is a natural process to which humans must adapt.

Conclusion and Recommendations

Overall, the study discovered that communities use local knowledge to forecast the weather, and indigenous materials in their adaptations to weather and climatic variations. According to the study, communities in northern Nigeria implemented three adaptation strategies to their open spaces: behavioural, structural, and environmental. The study also discovered that house fronts in northern Nigeria's semi-arid region are prominent and host a variety of activities, their design defining the community's landscape.

From the study findings, we propose that the local government councils should design a framework for managing climate adaptation to open spaces in the semi-arid region that engages all stakeholders in decision-making and ensures valorisation and continuity of cultural values, strengthening the role of local communities in adaptation to open spaces. This framework should form the basis for establishing a strong partnership between communities and the meteorological centre to provide  up-to-date and accurate weather forecasts that supplement local indigenous knowledge.


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The author wishes to thank the TET Fund Nigeria and Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria Nigeria for sponsoring the study.

All three authors participated in the study. The first and second authors performed the analysis. The second and third authors aided in interpreting the results. All authors discussed the results and contributed to the final manuscript. The second and third authors were involved in planning and field research.