Climate Change: Re-adapting agriculture

By James Kinyangi
Posted on Monday, 8 December 2014 17:45

Consider that by 2050, the population of sub-Saharan Africa will be roughly double what it is today. And this is a region where already about a quarter of the population is undernourished.

for every dollar invested in crop improvement there is a saving of 68kg of carbon emissions

Avoiding a future of perpetual food crises will require Africans to increase crop production by a daunting 260 percent.

This herculean task must be accomplished in a world where climate change is expected to make droughts in large swaths of sub-Saharan Africa longer and more intense, while in other areas climate change could do the opposite: unleash a torrent of rainfall that will intensify flooding and soil erosion.

Climate change also is expected to increase encounters with crop pests, livestock diseases, and weed infestations.

At the same time, increased agricultural production can’t come from expanding the area under crops, because that would mean destroying forests, wetlands and grasslands—areas rich in biodiversity and environmental resources.

Converting these areas into farmland would not only increase greenhouse gas emissions; we would lose precious resources that many communities and animal species depend on.

Climate smart innovations

Yet amidst the gloom there is a legitimate reason to be hopeful. That’s because across Africa today farmers are embracing “climate-smart” innovations that could help fuel a dramatic increase in food production even as the agriculture environment becomes much more challenging.

Equally important, there is the potential to achieve these gains without adding to the global build-up of greenhouse gases.

But for Africans to secure a future in which they do not succumb to the depredations of climate change, many are looking this week across the ocean to Lima, Peru where talks are underway at the UN Climate Conference to craft an international climate change agreement.

There is an opportunity within this process to signal to leaders around the world that climate change poses a major threat to food security. And the treaty itself could include mechanisms that encourage new investments in vulnerable regions like sub-Saharan Africa to boost food production without exacerbating other environmental problems.

In fact, Africa can serve as an example for the innovations that can help address climate-related food challenges across the tropics and sub-tropics, where the International Panel on Climate Change Fifth Assessment Report (IPCC AR5) tells us yields may fall by 10 to 20 percent by 2050.

In a new publication Evidence of Impact: Climate-smart agriculture in Africa, we see examples of African farmers increasing yields and incomes despite the changing climate.

There are new, innovative forms of affordable crop and livestock insurance that use weather data to automatically send payments to farmers and herders facing climate stresses like droughts and floods in remote rural regions.

With insurance, rather than being ruined by climate stresses, farmers can continue to invest in more productive practices.

Policies are being adopted to facilitate the movement of seed between countries, increasing access to crop varieties that allow farmers to adapt to variations in rainfall and temperature that can depress yields of previously productive varieties.

There are new initiatives in which farmers are boosting productivity while improving the environment.

In Niger, farmers have improved soil fertility and significantly increased food production by planting 200 million trees on cultivated fields.

The effort has also pushed back against the degradation of five million hectares of land, sparking one of the largest environmental transformations Africa has ever seen.

Throughout Africa, these and other climate-smart practices are thriving. But they need to reach millions of rural farmers who currently have no access to important tools and ideas that could help lift them out of poverty.

But to make climate-smart agriculture ubiquitous in places like sub-Saharan Africa, it is essential for negotiators at the UN Climate Conference to recognise the link in agriculture, food security, and climate change.

They have the opportunity to bring agriculture from the periphery to the main text of the agreement that is being drafted in Lima and could be ratified at the 2015 UN Climate Conference in Paris.

Negotiators should take advantage of the fact for every dollar invested in crop improvement there is a saving of 68kg of carbon emissions.

We want the world to see what we in Africa increasingly observe, which is that agriculture can be adapted to overcome the stresses of climate change.

The challenge is huge, but the officials meeting this week in Lima can provide the impetus to action to make climate-smart agriculture part of a global solution to the many problems posed by climate change.

James Kinyangi is the East Africa program leader for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS)

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