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African Farmers Face Failed Seasons

african farmers
In a new report released by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa, African farmers, small-scale farmers in particular, are facing serious risks from climate change.

Accounting for approximately 80 percent of farmers in Africa, small-scale farmers are at risk especially due to their small plots of land and lack of resources, hampering their ability to develop effective and reliable irrigation systems. With insufficient labor and resources, these farmers have low input and low-yields, resulting in essentially subsistence level agriculture.

Released at the African Green Revolution Forum, which drew approximately 1,000 delegates including heads of state and government, scientists and business leaders, the report highlighted the consequences of the changing climate of the continent, both in the short and long term.

The report estimates that climate change could increase the number of malnourished from the current 223 million to 355 million by 2050, a 40 percent increase.

The variation in climate, such as prolonged droughts or torrential downpours, has introduced the concept of “failed seasons;” growing seasons that are particularly hampered by the effects of climate change. Increased temperatures have already plagued farmers and average temperatures are expected to continue to rise, with a 1.5 to 2.5°C increase expected by 2050.

Changing climate conditions also has the potential to lower mineral concentrations such as iron and zinc in crops, aggravating the existent problem of nutrient deficiency in Africa.

For some basic crops, the conditions have already become too extreme to tolerate. In East and Central Africa where beans are grown, the effects of climate change could reduce its current seven million hectares by 25 to 80 percent. Land in West Africa and the Sahel suitable for growing bananas could also see a drop of eight and 25 percent respectively.

With food production difficult even now, climate variations threaten to exacerbate the situation further with intense food shocks and cement a perpetual cycle of rural poverty.

Such extreme effects have already begun to take place. Parts of Angola can no longer be used for agriculture after a prolonged three year period of little rainfall and drought.

To adjust to the almost inevitable effects of climate change, the report recommends small-scale farmers adopt a number of ‘climate-smart’ techniques and policies.

Dr. Ameyaw, director of strategy monitoring and evaluation for AGRA, stressed the “efficient use of water—groundwater, surface water and rainwater” in a system that is 98 percent reliant on rainfall.

Included among these climate-smart investments are improved soil and water management, utilizing new crop varieties and improved efficiency through mechanization.

Furthermore, a shift in culture toward sustainability is encouraged. Developing stronger land rights, for women in particular; improving information systems; investing in research and encouraging the preservation of biodiversity are all potential areas of expansion that would help improve the situation.

The authors of the report also emphasize other trends to be concerned about such as rapid population growth and urbanization, which both can affect development and growth.

William Ying

Sources: Africa Agriculture Status Report 2014, BBC, Phys.org, AllAfrica 1, AllAfrica 2
Sources: MSU