Africa: a continent of resilience and opportunity

ID-100224355Africa is often referred to as a continent of opportunity, economic or otherwise. In part because of the progress made – since 2000, rates of extreme poverty and hunger have dropped as have the number of new HIV infections, and access to education and health care is increasing. But also due to the predicted changes to take place over the next few decades – 6 of the 10 fastest-growing economies are in Africa, and a growing youth population means that the continent will have a working-age population bigger than that of China or India by 2035.

Indeed the theme of the first ever US-Africa Leaders Summit which recently drew to a close, was “Investing in the Next Generation.”. 40 or so heads of states and government from across Africa joined President Obama in Washington to discuss the opportunities for developing sustainable African economies. A key message from the summit is that to achieve future growth, economies must tackle the drivers and impacts of climate change, and John Kerry remarked at a Working Session on Resilience and Food Security in a Changing Climate that in order to “ensure that farmers, fishermen, and the billions who depend on the food that they produce are able to endure the climate impacts that are already being felt, let alone yet to come” is to focus our efforts “on the intersection of climate and food security, by adopting creative solutions that increase food production and build resilience to climate change”.

Some political progress on supporting climate change adaptation is happening. The African Union agreed in the 2014 Malabo Declaration to increase agricultural growth to cut poverty and hunger in half by 2025, to double agricultural productivity, halve post-harvest losses and reduce stunting to 10% across the continent as well as to reduce vulnerability to climate and weather risk, and mainstream resilience.

The Global Alliance for Climate Smart Agriculture, planned to launch at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit on September 23, is an international alliance, aiming to drive momentum and interest on climate smart agriculture (CSA) and to become a platform to coordinate the adoption of CSA. The USAID and the Rockefeller Foundation have also recently announced a $100 million Global Resilience Partnership to “accelerate promising technologies and ideas and identify new opportunities that can better build the resilience of families, communities, countries and regions”, for example, improving drought cycle management and expanding climate-resilient agricultural practices.

Also recently launched in Nairobi, a UNEP report, Keeping Track of Adaptation Actions in Africa, presents practical examples of successful low-cost adaptation solutions from around sub-Saharan Africa. The report details several examples of adaptation projects that have helped people cope with the impacts of climate change and have also stimulated local economies and incentivised government investment and policy change. The report is in part responding to the 2013 Africa Adaptation Gap Report which recognised the potentially staggering costs of climate change for Africa.

The report begins by detailing the current and predicted impacts of climate change on livelihoods, agriculture, and human and ecosystem health going on to describe the action countries can take to improve and restore ecosystem function, improve agricultural productivity and collect and store water through low-cost climate adaptation actions.

For example, in Zambia, which has experienced an average decline in rainfall of around 58mm, a delay in the onset of the rainy season and an increase in the frequency and magnitude of droughts and floods in the last twenty years, some 1,500 farmers along with extension workers were trained in Sustainable Organic Agriculture (SOA) techniques covering such practices as minimum tilling, composting and manure application, and crop rotation and diversification. In follow up visits most farmers had allocated some of their land to SOA or were adopting some types of SOA techniques alongside more conventional practices and the percentage of respondents practicing maize monoculture dropped from 78% to 6%. Maize yields as a result increased from 1,175kg per hectare to 2,948kg/ha and the percentage of participating households who had one or more surplus farm products to sell increased from 25.9% to 69%. The cost per person was $207 and the project is now being scaled up across Zambia, Burundi and Malawi.

As a huge threat to the progress of sustainable development, the report finds that investing in climate change adaptation can ensure that climate change does not reverse current development progress or hinder future advancement. As an example, water is expected to decline by 20-50% in Africa (when?), which will likely contribute, along with the other impacts of climate change, to a 15-20% drop in crop yields in some areas of Africa, a result likely to reverse some of the progress made in reducing hunger and poverty.

The message across a range of platforms is clear – in building resilience to climate impacts, alongside mitigation, we can not only prevent the loss of human development progress but can create opportunities for businesses, entrepreneurs and young people across Africa as well as create sustainable, vibrant and growing economies for the future.

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