Climate-smart solutions for African agriculture

According to the latest Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report, published in October 2018, we have just 12 years to transform our energy and food systems to limit the irreversible impacts of climate change. The clock is most certainly ticking and to make matters more difficult, Africa’s population is projected to double between now and 2050. With an ever-growing number of mouths to feed and the rapidly changing climate to contend with, pressure on Africa’s natural resources and agricultural systems has never been greater. We must revolutionize the sector to ensure all food producers, smallholder and commercial farmers alike, adopt sustainable practices to become more climate-smart.

Climate-smart solutions for African agriculture

When we are presented with the daunting facts about climate change and population growth it is easy to feel overwhelmed or defeated, but all is not lost – at WWF, with support from our partners, we promote sustainable intensification and climate-smart agriculture initiatives, which we intend to scale up across the globe. Our call is for governments and the private sector to make sure we don’t lose more time by channelling investments into these tried and tested solutions that thrive under the climate change economy. Three critical areas of climate-smart agriculture that should be invested in are: biodiversity preservation, water efficiency and sustainable energy.

Biodiversity preservation

Agriculture is the single biggest threat to our natural world today – it is the most common form of land use and the cause of the majority of deforestation. The WWF 2018 Living Planet Report reveals that overfishing has led to the decline of 93% of all fish stocks to critical levels. In fact, the food system is responsible for 70% of biodiversity loss. At WWF, much like the Malabo Montpellier Panel, we aim to bring stakeholders from across the food system together to ensure food security and, at the same time, safeguard the entire ecosystem upon which human food production depends. Sustainable food production relies on the protection of forests and other habitats, as well as proactive efforts to reintroduce nature into farming landscapes. Every nation must develop sustainable food production systems to ensure they are able to feed their growing populations in the future.

Improving the health of degraded soils and training smallholder farmers in conservation agriculture can also have lasting benefits for biodiversity and food security. For example, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), in Zimbabwe and my own country, Zambia, WWF are working with thousands of farmers to increase food productivity through the promotion of conservation agriculture training and extension services. In DRC our work is delivered through a network of partner model farms and national agriculture federations. The program raises awareness of the need to protect the natural environment and helps to end the of use harmful practices, such as slash and burn agriculture and uncontrolled conversion of important forests. To effectively implement such changes for the preservation of biodiversity, we need to bring together rural communities, the private sector and governments to develop landscape-based approaches to farming that will ease the strain on nature.

Water efficiency

The global issue of water security, particularly in the context of climate change, is very real. Frequent flooding and drought are no longer the exception, but the norm. Water scarcity is not only a threat to food security, but also to national security – if there is not enough water to feed into key economic activities such as agriculture, social and political instability is likely to emerge. To prevent the occurrence of multiple crises, we need to increase water-efficiency and look into investing in technologies that will help us conserve our fresh water resources and recycle used water to feed into a circular ecologically friendly economy.

The Malabo Montpellier Panel’s upcoming report, Water-Wise: Smart Irrigation Strategies for Africa – due to be launched on 17 December 2018 at the next Forum in Rabat, Morocco – details some of the ways that African farmers can improve their water efficiency and start to address water sustainability issues. For example, water-spreading weirs harvest floodwater and distribute the runoff across fields to allow as much water as possible to infiltrate the soil. Additionally, most of our forests provide the watersheds that protect water sources, which is why WWF advocates for key forest and fresh water sources to be declared as protected areas.

Agriculture uses the majority of fresh water resources, so increasing the efficiency of food systems will in turn help to improve water efficiency. Currently, around one third of the food produced is lost in the supply chain or thrown away. If we focus on reducing this food waste, then we will avoid unnecessary water waste as well.

Sustainable energy

To halt the rise in global temperatures we must reduce our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. As the sector that emits the highest proportion of GHGs into the atmosphere, agriculture leaders have the responsibility to ensure that the sector’s energy usage is urgently adapted to move away from fossil fuels to clean, renewable energy. However, in doing so, we must respond to the needs of poorer sections of our communities who depend largely on forests for their energy. We have the technology to provide everyone around the world with renewable energy, but we must invest in the required infrastructure to promote the use of clean, alternative forms of energy. Such investments are good for people and are good for the environment

In Uganda, the Champion District Initiative has been working to increase access to clean energy by engaging local stakeholders at the district level to help connect off-grid communities to renewable energy sources. By 2020 the initiative intends to ensure that the entirety of Kasese district – over 130,000 households – has access to clean energy to meet 100% of domestic, productive and social needs. Context-specific projects like this are what is needed to transform energy use across Africa and reduce GHG emissions.

International cooperation

As world leaders and policymakers come together this week for the 24th Conference of the Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change in Katowice, Poland, the role of agriculture in mitigating climate change is sure to be high on the agenda. To address the global issue of climate change requires global cooperation and action, particularly in terms of the required transformation of our food systems. The enormity of the climate challenge should not cause despair, but rather inspire a global movement, characterised by increased adoption of an essential set of tested and scalable, context-specific practises and technologies, which protect the environment and ensure food security. To improve adoption of these practices and technologies, including climate-smart solutions for biodiversity preservation, increased water efficiency and sustainable energy use, initiatives must respond to the needs of the communities and countries that they are targeting.