Blog Post

Climate Change and Smallholder Agriculture in Africa south of the Sahara

Smallholder farmers produce 80 percent of the food in Africa south of the Sahara, playing an important part in the region’s economy. But climate change is placing greater constraints on traditional agricultural methods, and farmers, both large and small, must find ways to adapt to this new environment.

In the second issue of its Africa Agriculture Status Report , the Agra-Alliance renews its call for climate-smart agriculture – technologies and practices that will help smallholders both adapt to a changing weather patterns and reduce their own contributions to further climate change. In particular, the report focuses on the importance of soil fertility and plant nutrition, and highlights the fact that changes in regional and global policies, institutions, and financial mechanisms will need to take place in order for climate-smart agriculture to truly take hold. The report calls for greater coordination between top-down and grassroots-level efforts in order to draw equally upon governments’ and international organizations’ resources and policymaking clout and farmers’ and regional organizations’ knowledge and local influence.

The report also makes a series of recommendations that fall under five major categories.

  1. The promotion of climate-smart agroecological approaches and solutions targeted to specific local conditions. Such solutions could be incremental, such as the introduction of improved seed varieties or expanded insurance and social safety net programs, or more dramatic, such as shifting away from crop production to livestock.
  2. Strengthening of local, regional, and national institutions to support climate-smart agriculture. This would include the promotion of producers’ organizations, the provision of agricultural extension services, and the collaboration among governments, private sector businesses, and development organizations.
  3. Improvement of technical capacity and knowledge management systems related to climate-smart agricultural practices. The report highlights the need to expand on South-South cooperation and existing regional integration in order to strengthen education and farmer training. In addition, expanded educational and training opportunities must be designed to include women and rural youths.
  4. Increased national investments in agriculture. This could include the provision of grants or loans, and the allocation of a larger share of national budgets to agriculture.
  5. The creation of innovative financing options. The use of weather insurance and agricultural credit will be important in helping smallholder farmers mitigate the risks they face from climate change. Financial support from bilateral donors and financial institutions, as well as from international climate organization such as UNFCCC’s Green Climate Fund, can play an important role.

For example, the Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project aims to promote climate-smart agriculture by reducing Kenya’s greenhouse gas emissions through soil carbon sequestration, or improving the soil’s ability to hold carbon rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. The project used carbon credits and a dedicated team of extension agents and farmer groups to promote a series of Sustainable Agricultural Land Management (SALM) practices that included residue, grassland, and manure management, cover crops, agroforestry, and composting and terracing. These practices were promoted on degraded cropland or grassland, but not on wetlands or forest land. The project’s results show that smallholder farmers who used the SALM techniques were not only able to increase their maize yields by 50 percent during the long-rains cropping season (from 2009-2012), they were also able to use their land’s new carbon stocks to access carbon markets and thus generate more income. The project also contributed significantly to the restoration of degraded land in Western Kenya.