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Agriculture must be climate smart to achieve Malabo Declaration goals

For many countries, but African countries in particular, climate change presents a real threat to economic prosperity.

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George Oketch Achola is a farmer preparing the new bean varieties for market in Kenya. Photo Credit: CIAT 

Smallholder farmers are acutely aware that the climate is changing. Many report growing seasons getting shorter with erratic and unpredictable weather. This makes it difficult for them to plant and harvest effectively. The impact of climate change can mean that crops fail or yields are lower than expected; farmers then earn less money and have less food to feed their families.

Sadly, this situation is only predicted to worsen. Mean temperatures across Africa are expected to rise faster than the global average and could reach as much as 3°C to 6°C greater than pre-industrial levels. Studies project that each degree celsius of global warming will lead to an overall loss in crop yields of about 5%. As climate change continues, it is increasingly likely that growing certain crops in certain regions will cease to be viable all together. By 2050, as many as 35 million farmers could be forced to switch from having crops and livestock to only having livestock because of changes in climate. The pressure on African countries to sustainably boost productivity and accelerate growth is now higher than ever.

 graph climate change 

Climate change will affect Africa’s ability to meet the commitments of the 2014 Malabo Declaration especially those to increase agricultural productivity and intraregional trade, halve poverty, and end hunger. Under this commitment African leaders agreed to help build households resilience to climate- and weather-related risks. In order to do that leaders need to understand what is changing and what policies and interventions work best to build resilience.

Last week, 170 delegates from across Africa, Europe and the US gathered in Maputo, Mozambique for the annual ReSAKSS - The Regional Strategic Analysis and Knowledge Support System – conference. The conference aimed to provide an evidence-base for policy makers to implement policies that will help farmers in Africa succeed as the climate changes.

ReSAKSS’s flagship report 'A thriving agricultural sector in a changing climate: Meeting Malabo Declaration Goals through Climate-Smart Agriculture' rightly recognizes that climate change will affect Africa’s efforts to meet the commitments of the Malabo Declaration. It also examines the potential of climate-smart agriculture to help farmers, and countries, combat some of the negative impacts of climate change.

Climate-smart agriculture refers to agriculture that does three things. First, it sustainably increases productivity, second, it helps farmers to adapt to climate change and third, it reduces agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. The adoption of climate-smart agriculture acknowledges both: agriculture as a victim of climate change (the vulnerability of agriculture and farmers to the effects of climate change) and agriculture as a culprit of climate change (contributing to greenhouse gas emissions).

In order for the agriculture sector and the farmers within it to flourish, new ways of growing crops will be needed that increase productivity and increase farmers resilience to weather extremes, while reduce greenhouse gas emissions and protecting natural resources.

For example, in the Sahel droughts are common. Sparse rainfall tends to arrive in sudden downpours, meaning that water runs off the baked ground quickly, taking the nutrient rich topsoil with it. In order to counter this, farmers can build stone bunds that slow the runoff and allow water to soak into the soil and protecting valuable organic matter from washing away. 

Although yields are significantly better for farmers who harvest water in this way, it can cost up to US$200 per hectare to construct stone bunds, making investment a significant barrier to farmer uptake. Because of this, it is vital to facilitate access to finance for smallholder farmers and their families. Without this, farmers will struggle to find the resources to invest in building their own resilience.

The report argues that the effectiveness of climate-smart agriculture will largely depend on its widespread adoption and implementation and that will require innovation and policy actions. The report argues that climate-smart agriculture:

·       has on-farm and off-farm benefits that far outweigh their investment and therefore policies need to be urgently developed that favour its uptake;

·       should be interpreted broadly and include the whole food system i.e. (trade, stocks, nutrition, and social policies);

·       would benefit farmers who use precision agriculture;

·       needs to develop policies that treat smallholder farmers as entrepreneurs; needs better storage facilities and investment;

·       needs to be supported by a sophisticated toolkit to cope with risk, including risk management strategies, and

·       needs to be supported by investment, technology, and the removal of institutional barriers in order to be adopted widely.

The recommendations laid out in the report suggest that an approach that involves all stakeholders, particularly farmers and policy makers, will be essential to implement successful climate-smart practices across Africa. This needs to include farmers’ organizations and agro-industries, governments, research organizations as well as development partners.

The launch of this report is timely. Next week, at COP23 in Bonn, governments are meeting to advance the implementation of the Paris Agreement. Programmes are scheduled to further examine the benefits and opportunities of climate-smart agriculture. It is clear that more research and dialogue is needed, but it is also clear that adoption of context specific climate-smart agriculture could be key to Africa achieving the goals of the Malabo Declaration.

The opinions represented in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of individual Malabo Montpellier Panel members and their organisations.