Why partnerships are key to boosting smallholders’ resilience to climate change

By Katrin Glatzel and Gordon Conway

This article was originally posted by The World Farmer’s Organisation e-magazine. Read it here.

As we all know, crops, grazing land, fisheries and livestock are already negatively affected by climatic changes and extremes. The recent El Niño, likely to be the strongest on record, has affected the food security of a vast number of people across the world. Among them, millions of smallholder farmers in developing countries, who own less than one hectare of land, live on less than US$1 per day and do not grow enough food to feed their families.

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Credit: HarvestPlus, Zambia

Across Africa, achieving food security for all will become increasingly difficult, and governments are under more pressure than ever to boost productivity and accelerate growth. However, the agricultural growth and food security goals set out by the African Union’s Malabo Declaration have underestimated the risk that climate change will pose to food and nutrition security, according to a new briefing paper by the Montpellier Panel.  The paper, “Set for Success: Climate-Proofing the Malabo Declaration” argues that the Declaration, adopted in 2014 by African Union nations to double agricultural productivity and end hunger by 2025, is an important step in the right direction, but has failed to emphasise the risk for smallholder agriculture to climate change. [Read more…]

Institutional support of weather index insurance for smallholder integration

By Christopher Au, PhD candidate, Imperial College London, and 2016 Next Generation Delegate

Originally posted by The Chicago Council on Global Affairs, July 21st 2016

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Credit: Flore de Preneuf/World Bank

Growing Food for Growing Cities, by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, delivers prescient conclusions on the future manifestation of supply chains, as urbanization and wealth generation influence the structure and orientation of social activities. Currently, the quantity of smallholder produced food to meet domestic demand is underwhelming, primarily caused by lagging productivity rates. From a social welfare perspective, smallholder agricultural underperformance constitutes a drain on economic activity.

Stagnant productivity rates are in part due to sparse use of improved inputs, where uncertain crop performance and risk of lost income deters investment, locking smallholders into a low risk, low return production strategy. Uninsured risk prompts costly self-insurance strategies, stunting economic development, hindering poverty alleviation efforts, and preventing a meaningful contribution from smallholders to food security. [Read more…]

Protecting Africa’s Backbone: transforming agriculture in the face of climate change

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

Smallholder farmers in Africa are already aware that the climate is changing. For many, the growing seasons are becoming shorter and more difficult to plan, because of erratic and unpredictable weather including droughts and floods. Often this means that crops fail or yields are lower and livelihoods are impacted with less produce to feed the household, let alone surplus to sell at markets to gain an income. Unfortunately, the climatic conditions are likely to only get worse, with mean temperatures across Africa expected to rise faster than the global average, reaching as high as 3°C to 6°C greater than pre-industrial levels. The pressure on African countries to boost productivity and accelerate growth is now higher than ever and is being further complicated by the potential adverse impacts of climate change and extreme weather events.

In this context the Montpellier Panel  has launched a new briefing paper today – Set for Success: Climate-proofing the Malabo Declaration . The Panel urges African governments to fully recognise the scale of the threat posed by climate change to smallholder farming and to build climate-smart agriculture strategies into their National Agricultural Investments Plans that will help farmers mitigate the risks and adapt to the changing weather conditions. The paper also highlights more than 15 examples of success stories and programmes that have been shown to be impactful and can be scaled-up. Building resilience will be key to achieving the shared agendas of the Malabo Declaration, the 2015 Paris Agreement, and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). To this end, the Montpellier Panel make the following recommendations:

  1. diagramSupporting the Malabo Declaration by building comprehensive information on climate-related stresses and shocks, both nationally and regionally, as well as their impacts on food and nutrition security.
  2. Mainstreaming climate-smart agriculture programmes into the next generation of National Agriculture Investment Plans to ensure a stronger focus on climate change and extreme weather events.
  3. African countries need support, through the African Union, NEPAD, CAADP and regional associations of National Agricultural Research Systems, to develop country investment plans that reflect a stronger, collective voice for Africa in international climate policy processes
  4. Facilitating African governments’ access to climate funds through the Green Climate Fund and other innovative finance mechanisms that will help countries implement climate-smart agriculture programmes.
  5. Improving Africa’s scientific capacity which will guide climate change adaptation and mitigation interventions in agriculture.
  6. Improving training for farmers on sustainable farming techniques, through improved extension services, farmer field schools and utilisation of digital technologies.

[Read more…]

Three reasons to protect agricultural biodiversity

By Alice Marks, @alicemarks0

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Durum wheat variety, Ethiopia. Credit: Bioversity International

Even though new species are being discovered every day, one in five plants are threatened with extinction, according to the first annual State of the world’s plants, 2016 published by Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew in May 2016. Somewhat unsurprisingly, the largest threats facing these endangered plant species are the conversion of land for agriculture and biological resource use – the deliberate or unintentional consumption of a ‘wild’ species. Indeed, agriculture has been identified as the main threat to 85% of all threatened species, plant and animal, on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List. For example, the growth of palm oil plantations has led to significant losses of natural forests and peatlands, with accompanying impacts on biodiversity.

Agricultural biodiversity, defined by Bioversity International as “the variety and variability of animals, plants and micro-organisms that are used directly or indirectly for food and agriculture,” is facing serious decline. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) some 75% of genetic diversity has been lost since the 1900s. There are several causes of this loss of diversity, but the main reasons are ease of production and changes in consumer expectations and preferences, leading to an ever greater uniformity in the end product. If the produce is what people want to buy and it’s easy to produce why should it matter if there is less biodiversity? Here are three, of many, reasons why it is of paramount importance:

  1. Genetic diversity is important for an uncertain future
varieties of quinoa credit FAOALC

Several different varieties of quinoa grown in Peru. Credit, FAO

Genetic diversity in agricultural systems may be lost if species go extinct or different varieties of a species fall out of favour. If this happens, genes that are important for resistance to pests or diseases, confer tolerance to changing weather patterns and extreme weather events, or make the crop nutritious, may be lost. Even if these traits are not evident or useful now, the advantage they confer may be valuable for future generations, and may be difficult or impossible to recreate once they are gone. Indeed, work by Bioversity International highlights how the wild relatives of cultivated crops are already becoming increasingly important in the search for traits that farmers can use to improve domesticated varieties through crossbreeding. [Read more…]

Climate change, food production and food security

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Photo by 9comeback

Last week we introduced a study looking at how climate change will potentially affect crop growing in sub-Saharan Africa and how extreme the changes to farming methods will need to be in order to adapt. Now several recent articles researchers explain how food and nutrition insecurity is likely to worsen in the face of climate change and how we can prevent our food production systems from undermining efforts to mitigate the long-term climate effects.

A recent study in The Lancet, building on previous research, indicates that global food supply as impacted by climate change could cause over half a million deaths by 2050, largely due to a rise in undernutrition. While it is understood, at least to some degree, that crop yields will be affected, largely adversely, by climate change, the findings that it will also affect the composition of many people’s diets is relatively novel. The study also predicts the impacts of climate on diets will surpass undernutrition as a major cause of death.

The availability of healthy foods is expected to decline under climate change with consumption of fruits and vegetables predicted to decrease by some 4% by 2050, in comparison with a scenario free of global warming. And while this decline is likely to be most severe in low and medium-income countries in the Western Pacific region, the impacts will be felt everywhere including high-income countries.

And we are already seeing the effects of climate change in Southeast Asia and Africa where droughts have increased undernutrition in children, food prices have dramatically increased and crop production declined. Obviously since the poorest households spend the highest proportion of their income on food, low food availability and increased food prices will have a substantially greater impact on them. While meeting commitments made in the Paris Agreement will go some way to minimising the effects of climate change on diets and nutrition, governments will also need policies in place to address shortfalls in both production and in consumption. [Read more…]

Earth Hour 2016

Earth-Hour-2016“As the world stands at a climate crossroads, it is powerful yet humbling to think that our actions today will decide what tomorrow will look like for generations to come.” Saturday 19th March at 08:30 pm local time is Earth Hour, a worldwide grassroots movement organised by WWF, which originally began as a lights-off event in Sydney, Australia in 2007. Since then this annual global celebration where people switch off their lights for one hour has become a symbolic display of how much we care for and want to protect the planet. Last year a record number of people from across 172 countries celebrated Earth Hour.

A recent article from WWF outlining climate events of 2015, makes it clear that Earth Hour this year is crucial to continued progress on climate change. Firstly changes in our climate continue to be worrying: 2015 became the official hottest year on record, winter sea ice in the Arctic reached a record low and the haze crisis brought about by illegal slash-and-burn methods to clear land for palm oil and paper production hit Southeast Asia. But there is also significant progress being made in policy that needs to be celebrated but also built upon: the “Well-being of Future Generations” bill passed by Wales, the 114 companies who committed to reduce emissions on the sidelines of COP21, the 1000 mayors who committed to 100% renewable energy and of course the Paris Climate Agreement. [Read more…]

Top 8 Quotes from “African Farmers in The Digital Age: How Digital Solutions Can Enable Rural Development”

“African Farmers in the Digital Age” is a special edition anthology, published in partnership with Foreign Affairs that brings together the views of twenty leading thinkers on all aspects of food systems, smallholder farming, and the transformative opportunity presented by digital technology. The authors of the essays in this collection paint a picture of what a thriving African food system can accomplish and lay out some concrete steps for building that system. According to the editor, Gideon Rose, “From mobile phones to big data, nutrition to climate change, the collection covers it all, with authors who have something powerful to say and the authority to be heard.” Here are some of the most insightful and salient quotes to give you a taste of the wisdom the anthology has to offer:

  1. “The combination of digital technology and human creativity in deploying it will revolutionize life for Africa’s farmers by overcoming isolation, speeding up change, and taking success to scale.” — Kofi Annan, Sir Gordon Conway and Sam Dryden

Access to digital technology can make the distance between a remote farmer and the market even shorter than a straight line. Whereas many smallholders live several hours by foot from most markets, mobile platforms can share market price information or connect farmers to buyers in an instant.

  1. “It is time to change the way we think. Farmers are not the cause of Africa’s poverty; they are a potential solution. They are key to creating the future envisioned by the SDGs.” — Kofi Annan, former UN Secretary General

Check out this blog “Agriculture in Every SDG” to find out how agriculture is a central element for achieving each and every one of the recently adopted 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  You might also want to have a look at the report “No Ordinary Matter” – the Montpellier Panel shows several ways that farmers can help to improve their soil quality and even sequester carbon!

soil carbon sequestration

  1. “If Africa’s evolving food system leaves its smallholder farmers behind, the continent will not reach its immense potential.” — Sir Gordon Conway and Sam Dryden

[Read more…]