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…]

African policy to end hunger silent on climate risk

By Baraka Rateng’

This article was originally published on SciDev.Net. Read the original article.

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People digging an artificial pond to alleviate drought in Ethiopia. Photo credit@ UNDP Ethiopia

The African Union’s Malabo Declaration adopted in 2014 to double agricultural productivity and end hunger by 2025 underestimated the risk that climate change will pose, a report says.

The declaration failed to consider investing in Africa’s scientific capacity to combat climate threats, according to the report, which was produced by the UK-based Agriculture for Impact, and launched in Rwanda this month (14 June).

“Food security and agricultural development policies in Africa will fail if they are not climate-smart”, says Gordon Conway, director of Agriculture for Impact and chair of the Montpellier Panel, which is made up of African and European experts in fields such as agriculture and global development, in a statement.

“It is important that African governments have a voice in the international discussions and commitments on climate change.”

Ousmane Badiane, International Food Policy Research Institute

[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…]

Sustainable water management in African agriculture

By Katrin Glatzel

Ngomene Farm Senegal June 2015 (15)

Credit: Katrin Glatzel, 2015 (Senegal)

In sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) where agriculture is predominantly rainfed, farmers’ access to water is often limited based on seasonal variation. Yet water scarcity in the region is not necessarily caused by a physical lack of water, but rather by an ‘economic water scarcity’. This implies that the necessary public investments in water resources and infrastructure are not substantial enough to meet water demands in an area where people do not have the means to make use of water sources on their own. In fact, in many parts of SSA there is plenty of water available. However, groundwater resources, such as aquifers, remain a relatively abundant yet underused resource, with less than 5% of the water used for irrigation coming from groundwater.

The challenge is therefore to increase the amount of available water that is ‘harvested’ for crop growth. Such water harvesting can be done at the field, farm or watershed level. In some places, there is a potential for groundwater extraction using boreholes. And research by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) has shown that motor pumps have the potential to expand the amount of agricultural land irrigated during the dry season to 30 million hectares — four times the current area. There is urgent need to sustainably increase the amount of irrigation from the current 6% of arable land. Until then an estimated 200 million people in SSA – that is 18% of the continent’s population – face serious water shortages.

Furthermore, climate change and a growing population continue to pose additional challenges to water management in agriculture. Prolonged periods of drought in many parts of SSA are becoming increasingly frequent. This increases pressures on valuable water resources and agricultural irrigation. In response, water conservation policies, strategies, and activities such as water harvesting, are ever more important to manage and protect fresh water as a sustainable resource to meet current and future human demands. [Read more…]

Remembering our roots: new books and resources

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Photo by Danilo Rizzuti

Now going for close to four years, this blog began as a platform to allow us to continually update and review the content of One Billion Hungry: Can we feed the world? Between the publication of The Doubly Green Revolution and One Billion Hungry, the agricultural development and environmental landscape had changed so much that it was important to find a way to remain relevant in order to help to bring about the changes needed for a food secure world. As such we like to periodically bring you a selection of up-to-date, interesting and thought-provoking books and resources, and here are our picks for early 2016. If you know of any interesting or pertinent books or other materials we’d love to hear your suggestions.

Books

Otsuka, K. and Larson, D.F. (Eds.) 2016. In Pursuit of an African Green Revolution. Views from Rice and Maize Farmers’ Fields. Springer.

This book explores recent experiences in trying to bring about a Green Revolution in Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), focussing on rice and maize. Authors find that an African Rice Revolution has already begun in many irrigated areas, using Asian-type modern varieties, chemical fertilizer, and improved management practices. The same technological package significantly increases the productivity and profitability of rice farming in rainfed areas as well. By strengthening extension capacity and providing management training to smallholders, African governments can boost productivity and accelerate the pace of Africa’s Rice Revolution. The story for maize is quite different, however, where most farmers use local varieties, apply little chemical fertilizer, and obtain very low yields, and thus the success of Africa’s Maize Revolution will require a different approach based on hybrid maize, chemical and organic fertilizers, and stall-fed cross-bred cows.

Moseley, W.G., Schnurr, M.A. and Bezner-Kerr, R. (Eds.) 2016. Africa’s Green Revolution: Critical Perspectives on New Agricultural Technologies and Systems. Routledge.

This book examines the dominant neoliberal agenda for agricultural development and hunger alleviation in Africa. Authors review the history of African agricultural and food security policy in the post-colonial period, across a range of geographical contexts, in order to contextualise the productionist approach embedded in the much heralded New Green Revolution for Africa. This strategy, supported by a range of international agencies, promotes the use of hybrid seeds, fertilisers, and pesticides to boost crop production. This approach is underpinned by a new and unprecedented level of public–private partnerships as donors actively work to promote the private sector and build links between African farmers, input suppliers, agro-dealers, agro-processors, and retailers. The chapters in this volume raise serious questions about its effectiveness as a strategy for increasing food production and alleviating poverty across the continent.

Brautigam, D. 2016. Will Africa Feed China? OUP USA

Over the past decade, China’s meteoric rise on the continent has raised a drumbeat of alarm. China has 9 percent of the world’s arable land, 6 percent of its water, and over 20 percent of its people. Africa’s savannahs and river basins host the planet’s largest expanses of underutilized land and water. Few topics are as controversial and emotionally charged as the belief that the Chinese government is aggressively buying up huge tracts of prime African land to grow food to ship back to China. In Will Africa Feed China?, Deborah Brautigam, one of the world’s leading experts on China and Africa, probes the myths and realities behind the media headlines. Her careful research challenges the conventional wisdom; as she shows, Chinese farming investments are in fact surprisingly limited, and land acquisitions modest. Defying expectations, China actually exports more food to Africa than it imports. But is this picture likely to change?

Lumumba-Kasongo, T. (Ed.) 2015. Land Reforms and Natural Resource Conflicts in Africa: New Development Paradigms in the Era of Global Liberalization. Routledge.

This book is a critical examination of the place and role of land in Africa, the role of land in political formation and national identification, and the land as an economic resource within both national economic development and liberal globalization. Colonial and post-colonial conflicts have been rooted in four related claims: the struggle over scarce resources, especially access to land resources; abundance of natural resources mismanaged or appropriated by both the states, local power systems and multinationals; weak or absent articulated land tenure policies, leading to speculation or hybrid policy framework; and the imperatives of the global liberalization based on the free market principles to regulate the land question and mineral appropriation issue. The actualization of these combined claims have led to conflicts among ethnic groups or between them and governments. This book is not only about conflicts, but also about local policy achievements that have been produced on the land question. It provides a critical understanding of the forces and claims related to land tenure systems, as part of the state policy and its system of governance. [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…]

Agricultural biotechnology and development: unintended consequences and unheard voices

 

Date palm tissue culture laboratory – Picture from FAO

GM crops have once again come under the spotlight with the recent news that Burkina Faso will no longer be growing Bt cotton (a genetically modified cotton variety, which produces a pesticide to counter the insect pest bollworm). Originally an early adopter of the technology, Burkina Faso became one of the first African countries to develop and release, with Monsanto, crosses of local and Bt cotton crops in 2008. As one of Africa’s largest cotton producers, their adoption of GM technology was ground-breaking. And, at least for some time, successful, increasing cotton production, yields and profits while reducing the number of pesticide sprays needed. With some 140,000 smallholders cultivating Bt cotton, it was also seen to de driving rural development, the average Bt cotton farming family reaping 50% more profits than families growing conventional cotton.

So why the reversal? The lint quality of Bt cotton varieties is poor and, as such, results in economic losses for the Burkinabè cotton companies that market it. Since they provide all seeds and inputs to cotton farmers, they have the power to phase out Bt cotton growing in the industry, which will take place over the next two years. In this case while the technology was boosting production and reducing pesticide use, an unintended impact on lint quality has become too big a hurdle for cotton companies to overcome. Now questions are being asked as to whether the same is likely to happen in other locations and situations, perhaps as a side effect of a “narrow, trait specific approach to addressing agricultural development”.

Despite this news from Burkina Faso, the argument in support of GM crops has somewhat intensified, with a recent article from Tim Benton, Professor of Population Ecology, University of Leeds reasserting that GM crops are one of a myriad of technologies and practices that we will need to feed the world. Since growth in yields are no longer increasing fast enough to meet projected food demand, we will need to expand crop land by an estimated 42% by 2050. This has broader consequences for biodiversity and ecosystem services as well as for greenhouse gas emissions, of which those associated with farming and food are currently set to push us past the 1.5℃ temperature-rise target set in Paris in 2015.

As Professor Benton explains, to avoid food shortages or the broader impacts of agricultural expansion we must either reduce demand for food or increase supply. The latter is about employing more efficient forms of agriculture, better land management but also technology to raise yields. How much of this technology will be comprised of biotechnology or genetic modification is unknown.

Some would like to see this be zero – for genetic modification to have no role in shaping future food supply. But could this opinion and the campaigning of anti-GM groups be harmful to food security? The Information Technology and Innovation Foundation (ITIF), in their new report, estimates that “the current restrictive climate for agricultural biotech innovations could cost low- and lower- middle-income nations up to $1.5 trillion in foregone economic benefits through 2050”. They also calculate that due to regulations and export limits that prevent widespread adoption of biotechnology, the lack of access to biotech innovations in farming has cost African agricultural economies at least $2.5 billion between 2008 and 2013. [Read more…]