Southern Africa has been hard hit with drought over the last year, with many areas facing increased food insecurity and several countries declaring national emergencies. According to researchers at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), these drought conditions could be southern Africa’s “new normal.” If this is the case, cereal and livestock farmers in the region will need assistance in building their resilience and adapting their production to the new, drier conditions.
A recent CTA report, Climate Solutions That Work for Farmers, covers a range of existing climate-smart agriculture (CSA) techniques and policies that have already helped farmers throughout Africa south of the Sahara adapt to climate change. These include low-cost water management and conservation practices, the adoption of more drought-resilient crop varieties, the adoption of fodder farming by livestock producers, the use of ICTs to spread climate and weather information, and the expansion of weather-based insurance products. The report also makes the important distinction between traditional drought relief (providing aid to farmers whose crops have already failed) and production relief (helping farmers change their production techniques to keep crops from failing, even in times of drought), arguing that a shift is needed toward the latter type of program.
One example of a successful water management technique is taken from the Rakai District of southern Uganda, where farmers have stepped up their use of traditional rainwater collection. Stone or earth embankments are used to reduce rainwater runoff; this helps retain moisture in the soil, reduce erosion and flooding, and enhance soil fertility. Researchers also found that the use of these embankments increased the yield of high-value crops like bananas.
Throughout the past two decades in northeastern Kenya, drought has led to severe livestock losses and subsequent food shortages among the pastoralist community. As a result, the government has encouraged livestock producers to start growing their own fodder, rather than relying on grazing or imported fodder, to help feed their herds during times of drought. Researchers found that among 250 livestock producers in 18 villages, fodder production has opened up new market opportunities and increased incomes. In addition, the production of local fodder has increased livestock survival rates and milk production.
In Zambia, the development of new varieties of sorghum has helped farmers better manage extreme weather events. Sorghum has deeper roots than other traditional crops like maize, making it better at holding the soil and retaining moisture; it can also grow under both flood and drought conditions and needs little fertilizer. Between 2007 and 2011, the Zambia Agricultural Research Institute provided over 20 different varieties of sorghum to 2,714 farmers, many of whom have seen significant increases in productivity and income. In one study region, sorghum yields increased over the study period from 1.7 tonnes per ha to 4.5 tonnes per ha.
The successful use of ICTs as a CSA technique is demonstrated through an agro-weather advisory service piloted in Kenya and Ethiopia by the World Bank and other key stakeholders (extension agencies, research organizations, and farmers’ groups). The program sends georeferenced information to farmers regarding the best time to carry out various farming activities, such as planting, for staple crops like maize, beans, and sorghum. Information is sent via text message, newsletters, and local radio. Research has shown that the yields of farmers who took advantage of this advisory service were 30 percent higher than the yields of farmers who did not receive the information; although other factors may be involved, these higher yields suggest that the provision of agricultural information via ICTs can have a significant impact on productivity.
To help pastoralists in drought-prone northern Kenya and southern Ethiopia, the International Livestock Research Institute launched an Index-Based Livestock Insurance Product in 2010; under this program, claims are based on the availability of forage. Forage levels are determined via satellite imagery and pastoralists are paid when forage falls below a certain level. Research has shown that households that use the insurance product increase their investment in veterinary and vaccination services, increase milk production, and see increased incomes. The use of the index-based insurance product also reduces households’ likelihood of selling livestock at reduced prices due to climate shock by 30 percent and reduces their likelihood to skip meals during times of drought by 25 percent.
The report points out that all of these techniques can help cereal and livestock farmers increase their resilience to climate shocks – but only if farmers are aware of and have access to them. In many countries in SSA, agricultural extension services are limited, as is private sector involvement in the agricultural sector. As a result, many farmers remain unaware of effective CSA or unable to implement them. Scaling up effective CSA programs will require increased access to agricultural inputs like improved seed varieties; increased access to credit; increased investment in infrastructure like weather stations; increased and improved data collection to monitor crop and weather conditions; and increased education and knowledge-sharing opportunities to train farmers on the use of these programs.
By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI