According to a 2014 report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), by 2050, the impacts of climate change and extreme weather events could increase hunger and child malnutrition by as much as 20 percent. This would mean an enormous setback in Africa’s progress toward the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and could significantly slow the region’s economic development and growth.
Agriculture is closely linked with both economic development and climate risk in Africa, as highlighted in a new briefing paper from the Montpellier Panel. According to the paper, the agricultural sector makes up the backbone of most African economies, accounting for around 40 percent of the region’s total export earnings and employing as much as 60-90 percent of the region’s labor force. At the same time, agriculture is a major contributor to climate change; the IPCC estimates that agriculture contributes 14 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions, and that number is expected to grow by 1 percent per year under a “business as usual” scenario.
As Africa’s population continues to grow, particularly in urban areas, agricultural production will need to increase to feed more people, and this increase will need to occur in a sustainable manner in order to protect the region’s natural resource base and mitigate the adverse impacts of climate change. Investing in climate-smart agricultural practices, and making those practices available and accessible to Africa’s many smallholder farmers, will be key in helping the region sustainably increase agricultural production and economic growth and achieve the development targets set forth by global agreements such as the SDGs and COP21 and regional agreements such as the CAADP and the 2014 Malabo Declaration.
The Montpellier paper presents a collection of successful climate-smart agricultural programs that have been enacted throughout Africa; these programs have the potential to be scaled up both nationally and regionally to support and strengthen smallholders’ livelihoods and resilience to climate change. The programs cover a range of categories, including political leadership and capacity building, technology and innovation, risk mitigation, sustainable intensification, and financing.
Scaling up climate-smart agricultural practices will require governments to build human and institutional capacities, support research and innovation, invest in improved infrastructure, and provide financial incentives and appropriate economic policies. The paper presents the West African Science Service Center on Climate Change and Adapted Land Use (WASCAL) as an example of how investments in research and education can enhance agricultural resilience to climate change. The program aims to strengthen West Africa’s research infrastructure and capacity by pooling the expertise and resources of 10 West African countries and Germany. The program has established a Competence Center in West Africa that conducts research and provides evidence-based analysis to policymakers regarding climate change impacts and mitigation and adaptation measures; it has also established ten graduate schools in the region to train and support African scientists and policymakers in the fields of climate change research and land management.
HarvestPlus’ work with high-iron bean and orange maize varieties in Zambia is highlighted as a successful program focusing on technology and innovation to enhance smallholders’ resilience and capacity. These improved bean and maize varieties are both more tolerant to drought and high heat and provide higher nutrient values than traditional varieties, allowing farmers to both improve their households’ nutrition and expand production in the face of climate change. The paper cites that more than one million farming households in Zambia have adopted the high-iron bean varieties, while the Government expects at least 500,000 farming households to adopt orange maize by 2020.
Farmers face a slew of market and production risks that can make them less willing to invest in new technologies and practices and that can harm their livelihoods and food security. Programs to mitigate these risks, such as index-based insurance programs to protect farmers during weather shocks, can help smooth incomes, promote agricultural development and expanded production, and make disaster relief programs more effective. Ethiopia’s Productive Safety Net Programme (PSNP) is one of the region’s most successful risk mitigation programs. The program, introduced by the Ethiopian government in 2005, provides cash or food transfers for food-insecure households in exchange for labor on public works projects such as constructing terracing or rehabilitating land for agricultural use. According to the paper, these projects have increased land productivity in Ethiopia by 400 percent. The country’s Household Asset Building Programme (HABP) was established in 2010 to support the PSNP by increasing smallholders’ access to credit so that they can diversify their incomes and build up productive assets.
Sustainably intensifying agricultural production is crucial for Africa’s economic development, but smallholders often lack the ability to adopt sustainable intensification practices. In Kenya, the introduction of drip irrigation technology, in the form of low-cost bucket drip kits, have helped farming households respond to unreliable rainfall and deliver water to crops in a less labor-intensive, more cost-effective way than traditional hand-watering. The report estimates that the kits, developed by the Kenya Agricultural Research Institute, have helped farmers achieve profits of as much as USD 400-600 per season.
Finally, financing of climate-smart agricultural practices needs to be significantly stepped up if Africa is to see any significant climate change adaptation or mitigation action. One program that is focused on providing such financing is IFAD’s Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme. Established in 2012, program invests in teaching smallholders climate-smart practices such as mixed crop and livestock systems, crop rotation, and agroforestry. These practices can improve the region’s soil quality, increase water availability, and provide farming households with additional income.
While the first step is identifying successful existing programs, the report points out, scaling those programs up successfully will require governments to integrate climate change plans across departments and ministries and to more closely link food security and agricultural goals with climate change goals. The report recommends that African governments and the international community focus on: collecting comprehensive national and regional data on climate change and food security, increasing investments in research and training for smallholder farmers, and easing access to global financing, such as that provided through the Green Climate Fund.
These recommendations can help Africa’s policymakers ensure that the development goals set out by the Malabo Declaration are not threatened by climate change.
By: Sara Gustafson, IFPRI