African agriculture requires bold actions to fight climate change

Sun, 21 Sep 2014 Source: Hinneh, Samuel

By Samuel Hinneh

“Crop production has reduced considerably over the past years. This is attributed mainly to the unreliable patterns of weather, rainfall has become something that is difficult to predict. The seasons we expect the rain to come, it does not, in some situations, when it does come, it results in floods. The drought and floods has made production of food crops difficult. Crop yields has dropped drastically compared to some years ago, when the rain came in as expected and so we were able to plant in seasons and the rain helped to irrigate the crops. The changes in the climate is not helping agriculture and if nothing is done about it, the years to come, it will be difficult to farm in the country’’. This is the voice of a frustrated smallholder farmer, Kwame Dankwa, 32 years, based in the eastern region of Ghana.

A farmer pondering after his farm is flooded

Governments have made several promises to mitigate climate change globally at lots of conferences and summits. Such words have over years been promising but there is the need to go beyond these words as well as policies which has stood for over a long period of time. With increasingly onset of activities destroying the earth via climate change, food production may become difficult to take place due to low rainfall, as well as soil nutrients. Population growth is also expected to increase substantially especially in developing countries, thus pragmatic actions needs to be taken to feed the increasing population.

It is expected that food production needs to increase by at least 60% over the next 35 years to attain the level of food security. This is crucial because 9 billon people are expected to occupy the planet by 2050, according to Untied Nations projections. The changes that are occurring in the climate directly impact on food security and the supply of nutritious, ample and safe sources of reasonably priced food for the planet’s 7 billion people as well as their growing demands. The warming of the planet is already affecting yields of crucial crops. Moreover, approximately one-quarter of all greenhouse gas emissions come from land-use, making sustainable practices in agriculture critical. As global leaders gather in United States for the UN Climate Summit in September 23, 2014, agriculture is key on the agenda, and rightly so.

Lydia sasu, the Executive Director of the Development Action Association (DAA) says African leaders in the coming UN Climate Summit need to make sure that they are able to put across proposals that will ensure developed countries help in proper mitigation of climate change in developing countries.

“Again, Africa and for that matter Ghana in their own little way need to put in measures that can reduce climate change. The use of dirty fossil energy, among others must be stopped. There is the need to ensure that clean and sustainable energy are given much attention to,’’ she added.

“Also, agriculture can only survive provided the necessary investment are paid much attention. Much attention needs to be channelled to research and development, as well as irrigation facility to support smallholder farmers,’’ Sasu noted.

Chibeze Ezekiel of Ghana Reducing Our Carbon (350 G-ROC) is concerned about the climate change impacts on Ghana’s agricultural sector saying that “climate change means an environmental situation affecting the agricultural sector which is believed to be the back-bone of Ghana's economy. It also means increased disaster occurrences. Our leaders must take action to salvage the economy from disaster with emphasis on the agricultural sector. They must act now if human lives and properties are to be protected from drought, floods and heat waves.”

African economise have made some growth over the last decade despite the global economic crisis. The growth is even expected to continue to an average rate of 5.3% in 2014, statistics from Africa Economic Outlook (AEO) 2013 has revealed. However, the wealth generated from economic growth still needs to spread to the poor majority whose livelihoods mainly depend on climate sensitive sectors such as agriculture and fisheries. The inability of Africa’s agriculture to match the needs of a growing population has left around 300 million people frequently hungry and has forced the continent to spend billions of dollars annually importing food. Climate change is expected to complicate efforts in finding solutions to the problem as it causes severe disruptions to agricultural production systems, the environment, and the biodiversity that supports food production systems.

According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Fifth Assessment Report, surpassing a 20 degrees temperature rise could worsen the existing food deficit challenge of the continent. The report further indicates that can hinder most African countries from attaining the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) of reducing extreme poverty and ending hunger by 2015. Hence, Africa must look into options that can turn climate challenges into opportunities, especially those that improve agricultural performance and enhance capacity to facilitate broad-based poverty reduction and food security for all.

Africa has the potential to reverse this perennial scenario of food deficit and rise to the challenge. Given the enormous land resources suitable for agriculture (of which 60% is unutilized) and ample fresh water bodies in the continent, Africa can transform its agricultural production systems. By empowering people with climate change information and knowledge, African farmers will be able to produce food not just for themselves but will be able to do so as a business and money-making venture. The use of climate knowledge will lower losses due to storage, high transport costs, and poor organization for processing and retailing. A focus on agricultural value chains, rural entrepreneurship, and ICT could also bring lucrative employment opportunities in rural areas and reduce the rate of rural-urban migration of the young. Attracting and retaining youth engagement in the agricultural value chain is critical in enhancing the performance and sustainability of agriculture, as future farmers will be dominated by younger people.

Prof Chris Leaver, the Senior Scientific Advisor to the Bioscience for Farming in Africa initiative, supported by the Templeton Foundation, says the challenges of climate change confronting the world is as a result of massive fossil fuel usage resulting in increased greenhouse gases and carbon dioxide levels, decreased water availability, environmental pollution, loss of biodiversity, and urbanisation.

“The major challenge for the future is to feed a predicted world population of 9 billion by 2050, 80% of whom will live in developing and transition countries with the majority living in an urban environment in mega-cities,’’ he stated.

“Each hectare of land in 2050 will need to feed 5 people compared to just 2 people in 1960. To feed this number food production will have to increase by at least 70 percent on essentially the same area of land with less available water. This will require ‘sustainable intensification - growing more from less’ by using land and resources more efficiently with the aim of meeting the current needs while improving the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.

In addition we must conserve natural resources and preserve ecosystem function while minimizing, adapting to and where possible, reversing the effects of climate change,’’ Prof Leaver, an Emeritus Professor of Plant Science, at the University of Oxford, UK, emphasised.

Africa’s capacity to feed itself now and in the future requires increasing investments in climate change research, biotechnology research and development, and innovation. The continent also need to make technology accessible and affordable to farmers, enhancing opportunities for easy access to agricultural finance and insurance, facilitating markets and trade at all levels, and creating enabling environment for private sector investment in the agriculture value chain. However, enhanced agricultural performance cannot be achieved without investing in the clean and efficient energy that is necessary to drive transformation of the agriculture. Equally essential involves a better understanding of the agriculture, energy, and water nexus and how Africa can harness ecosystems and natural capital to feed itself.

Columnist: Hinneh, Samuel