Climate-smart Agriculture

Although El Niño responsible for extreme weather changes around the world since the end of 2015, more productive and resilient farming practices are necessary to mitigate the future impact of climate change in Africa: Climate-smart agriculture.

A new briefing paper by the Montpellier Panel, consisting of African and European experts from the fields of agriculture, trade and ecology, have determined that African food security and agricultural development policies will fail if they do not promote farming practices that are climate-smart. The panel’s conclusion comes as Southern Africa tries to recover from a severe drought caused by the strongest El Niño in decades.

The Montpellier Panel’s paper critiques the Malabo Declaration, which was signed by member states of the African Union in 2014. It commits to doubling agricultural productivity by 2025 to feed Africa’s rapidly growing population. Increasing investment in agricultural sectors and boosting intra-African trade in agricultural services are among the main instruments the union will rely on to end hunger.

The Montpellier Panel argues that the targets set by the Malabo Declaration underemphasize the risk of climate change on food security, productivity and the importance of investing in Africa’s science potential. According to the briefing paper, African countries must integrate climate-smart programs. These are currently small in scale and set up by international or local NGOs into larger agriculture investment plans.

Climate-smart agriculture involves increasing productivity, strengthening resilience to sudden weather changes and minimizing farming-related greenhouse gas emissions in a sustainable manner.

The Montpellier Panel’s release of the paper occurred as Africa tries to recover from the worst drought in a generation, which is linked to El Niño.

The Southern African Development Community has reported that crop failure and livestock deaths as a result of water shortages has led to higher food prices. Additionally, they have caused an estimated 41 million people in Southern Africa to become food insecure with 21 million needing immediate food assistance.

In Zimbabwe and Madagascar, last year’s harvest decreased “by half compared to the previous year because of substantial crop failures,” according to the Montpellier Panel. Cereal producers from South Africa to the Democratic Republic of Congo have also experienced a 9.6 million metric ton shortfall in production. South Africa is facing a 2.6 million ton deficit in maize harvests, the SADC said.

Although El Niño has ended and water deficits may improve if a La Niña weather pattern develops, climate change is expected to continue to have a significant impact on Africa. Over the next decades, mean temperatures across the continent will increase faster than the global average. Sea level rise will threaten land in the Nile Delta and other coastal areas.

The Montpellier Panel has recommended ways for African countries to expand the use of climate-smart agriculture and help farmers overcome the impact of droughts and other extreme weather changes.

The briefing paper stresses the need for investments in innovation and scientific research. These investments will develop drought-tolerant crops and expose farmers to more efficient agricultural methods that can improve soil fertility and reduce greenhouse gas emissions. Reliable climate information services that provide weather forecasts and insurance programs that compensate farmers after severe climate events can also increase reliance.

Several countries have already experienced the benefits of climate-smart agriculture.

In Kenya, bucket drip kits supported by the Kenya Agriculture Research Institute have helped farmers deliver water to crops effectively and at a cheaper cost than other irrigation techniques. According to the Montpellier Panel, high-iron beans and orange maize have also become staple crops in Zambia because of their ability to tolerate droughts and heat.

Sam Turken

Photo: Pixabay

smallholder farmers
Food manufacturing company Kellogg has teamed up with TechnoServe, an NGO focused on entrepreneurial initiatives in Third World areas, to launch an initiative helping female smallholder farmers receive training in climate-smart agriculture.

The initiative was unveiled on March 8, International Women’s Day. The work will predominately be focused in India to help 12,000 women who are smallholder farmers get access to tools, financing and agricultural inputs. A program will also be created in South Africa to train 400 women in improving the quality and quantity of their yields.

According to GreenBiz, the number of smallholder farmers around the world has been on the rise, and almost half of them are women. In developing countries where smallholding is a common practice, men are typically the ones trained in business transactions and financing. About half of India’s population is a part of smallholder families, and much of this group suffers from extreme poverty.

Diane Holdorf, Kellogg’s Chief Sustainability Officer, said in the GreenBiz report, “We know that in many of these societies, these women face very significant challenges; they lack access to training, lack access to financing and lack access to seeds that would really help them to improve their agricultural yields and livelihoods.”

Kellogg, like most multinational food companies, relies on international farmers to grow its ingredients. In India, GreenBiz reports that roughly 23,258 smallholder farmers supply the honey, wheat, rice, and maize that Kellogg uses in its nearby production.

About a year and a half ago, when the U.N. and the global business community began drafting Sustainable Development Goals to address world poverty, Kellogg investigated how to help female smallholder farmers. Kellogg then began a pilot program with TechnoServe to teach 3,000 smallholder farmers about sustainable farming, and now have established this official initiative.

With global warming becoming a growing issue, many farmers around the world are challenged with shorter planting seasons, droughts or floods. As a result, according to GreenBiz, Kellogg believes that helping smallholder farmers adjust will be both good business and good corporate citizenship.

Kerri Whelan

Photo: Flickr

The planet’s climate is changing. Rather than debating the details of who or what is causing the change, the bottom line is in the decades to come, people will experience the planet radically different than ever before. There are many consequences of climate change; one very important consequence is the impact on agriculture. As the climate changes, weather patterns, water availability, and pest and disease ranges are also changing. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) estimates that 842 million people went hungry between 2011 and 2013, or one in eight people worldwide. By 2050, another 2.4 billion mouths are predicted to need feeding. In order to feed such a large population, food production needs to increase by 70 percent. Until recently, agriculture has largely been left out of the climate change discussion. However, global agriculture ought to be at the center of that discussion, both for its role in causing climate change and for its ability to mitigate the impacts of climate change. About one-fourth of anthropogenic greenhouse gases worldwide are a result of agriculture. Methane, a powerful greenhouse gas, seeps out of rice paddies and cow farts. Overuse of nitrogen fertilizers creates dead zones, like the Gulf of Mexico, where vast areas become devoid of life. Cutting down and burning forests to create more farmland releases carbon dioxide, another greenhouse gas. But if agriculture is a large part of the problem, it can also be a large part of the solution. This is where climate-smart agriculture comes into play. The FAO defines climate-smart agriculture as having three main features. First, it must increase the sustainability of agricultural productivity and income of the farmer(s). Second, it must adapt and build resilience to climate change. Third, where possible, it must reduce and/or remove greenhouse gas emissions. What does that looks like in practice? A handbook, highlighting the 16 most effective climate-smart techniques, was published in the fall of 2013 by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS.) The 16 most effective techniques include the practices of intercropping and agro-forestry. Intercropping is when two or more crops are grown together at the same time. One example of this is when corn, squash and beans are grown together. Historically, this has been a common intercrop throughout Mesoamerica. According to research, “Grown together, these three crops optimize available resources. The corn towers high over the other two crops while the beans climb up the corn stalks. The squash plants sprawl along the ground, capturing light that filters down through the canopy and shading the ground. The shading discourages weeds from growing.” By growing all three crops at the same time, the land is used most efficiently, and nutrients are depleted evenly. A second effective technique is agro-forestry. Agro-forestry refers to the incorporation of trees into a farm. When crops are grown with tress, the partial shade from the trees increases photosynthesis of the crop, and so plants produce more. The presence of tress also reduces soil erosion and improves the quality of soil and water. These techniques, among others, were field-tested by CCAFS to help farmers adapt to the effects of climate change and to be more resilient to unexpected challenges like new pests. The next step is encouraging farmers to adopt climate-smart agriculture and to encourage governments to promote it.

– Claire Karban

Sources: Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security, Huffington Post, ATTRA Photo: How Stuff Works