Climate Change Adaptation

As climate change continues to bring more frequent weather shocks, such as drought and flooding, and make rainfall patterns more erratic, smallholder farmers in developing regions like Africa south of the Sahara are often hardest hit. A new e-book from IRIN reports that mean temperatures in the region are expected to rise faster than the global average, leading to reduced agricultural yields and increased poverty and food insecurity. Utilizing a series of field reports from Kenya, Senegal, Nigeria, and Zimbabwe, the book outlines the various climate threats faced by Africa’s smallholder farmers, as well as the various adaptation and finance strategies that can best be used to address the challenges of climate change.

One report focuses on desertification in Nigeria. Desertification is defined as the process by which dryland ecosystems are degraded by the removal of tree and plant cover; through this process, soils become eroded heavily salinized, reducing agricultural productivity and crop yields. According to the report, eleven states in northern Nigeria currently face desertification. These states constitute 35 percent of the country’s total land area, are home to 40 million people, and are important to both livestock and agricultural production.

Farmers have responded to this threat by planting trees, utilizing pumps for irrigation, and planting crops that are more resistant to dry conditions; similarly, several government initiatives have aimed to address the problem. However, the report highlights that these efforts have not been successful or sustainable at a large enough scale.  Specifically, national government initiatives have not translated into enough funding at the local level and have not actively involved local stakeholders. In addition, these initiatives have often not taken into account the underlying drivers of desertification, which include rural poverty. The report suggests providing economic incentives such as microfinance loans and subsidies for agricultural machinery, as well as investing in rural infrastructure, could help address these underlying causes and reduce pressure on arid cropland. Properly addressing Nigeria’s desertification crisis will require coordinated, multi-sectoral efforts that include both national and local actors.

A second report highlights the impact of fall armyworm, which first appeared in Africa south of the Sahara in 2016 and has since spread to 28 countries. Recent weather patterns in southern Africa – specifically periods of drought followed by heavy rain, driven by El Niño – appear to support the spread of fall armyworm; as climate change increases the frequency of such weather events, it could further boost the pest infestation. According to the report, Africa as a whole could lose up to USD 3 billion worth of maize in 2018 as a result of the pest. Smallholder farmers, who produce the majority of the maize grown in the region and who face limited access to agricultural inputs and services, stand to be hardest hit.

Fighting the fall armyworm infestation is both difficult and expensive. According to the report, Nigeria spent USD 8 million in 2017, while Zambia spent USD 3 million and Uganda spent USD 1.2 million. It also remains unclear which specific insecticides are most effective against the type of fall armyworm currently plaguing the region; in addition, the pest can become resistant to chemical insecticides, thus reducing their long-term effectiveness. At an FAO consultative meeting in Kenya in April 2017, a new regional framework was suggested that focused on surveillance and early warning, impact assessments, communication and awareness-building, and coordination among countries and actors. In addition, experts are calling for investment into the research and development of biopesticides and botanical insecticides, but such products can be costly and time-consuming to produce and distribute effectively. FAO experts have also suggested planting quick-maturing crop varieties and early planting to reduce the damage caused by the pest. However, the report concludes that no one solution has currently been identified that will completely stop the infestation.

The book also highlights adaptation strategies that farmers and policymakers can take to help tackle the challenges of climate change. One report focuses on the bottom-up strategy taken by several counties in Kenya. In these areas, neighborhood climate change planning committees have taken the lead in working with local residents to plan and execute adaptation projects, which are funded by local governments rather than national agencies. One such project involves a women’s cooperative group which produces and sells dried mango (among other products), who told their local planning committee that their biggest need was accurate, reliable weather information so they could plan when to dry their produce. To fill this need, the committee partnered with Kenya’s Meteorological Department, which now sends the cooperative’s members localized weather forecasts via text message every afternoon.

Funding for these county-level committees currently comes from the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) and is channeled through a consortium made up of local government bodies and both local and international NGOs. DFID estimates that as of the end of 2017, this consortium will have funded and executed local adaptation projects benefiting up to 2.5 million Kenyans. The report highlights that this bottom-up, localized approach could be key to driving stakeholder buy-in and increasing the adoption of successful climate change adaptation strategies.

Another report focuses on the importance of effective agricultural extension services in battling the negative impacts of climate change. Agricultural extension workers can introduce smallholder farmers to new information and technologies so that they can increase their resilience, better adapt to climate shocks, and improve their agricultural productivity and market opportunities. However, the report finds that extension services in Africa south of the Sahara are generally understaffed and underfunded. While the FAO recommends one extension worker for every 400 farmers, throughout Africa, this ratio remains at about 1:3,000.

To remedy this situation, many NGOs have turned to farmer-led, bottom-up approaches to providing extension services. As an example, the report introduces Farm Africa, an international NGO working in East Africa to encourage farmer-to-farmer extension services, in which neighbors collaborate and learn from one another, as well as partnerships between farmers and private businesses, in which businesses provide extension services directly to farmers and then purchase the crops grown using those services. Farm Africa has also promoted the use of mobile technologies like tablet computers, rather than traditional demonstration plots, to train farmers on improved agricultural practices. The growth of such advisory and information services, the report suggests, could represent an important channel for pro-poor agricultural growth and climate change resilience.

The report concludes that more international emphasis needs to be placed on climate change adaptation with a particular need to focus on financing adaptation strategies in developing countries. 

By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI

Photo credit:Remi Nono-Womdim/FAO