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Africa: Facing the Challenge on Climate-Smart Agriculture

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By Tom Owiyo*
IDN-InDepth NewsViewpoint

South-South Cooperation initiatives can potentially help to unpack some of Africa's more persistent problems including the coordination of the generation and sharing of climate science data, improvements in the analytical capacity and the ready availability of information to promote decision-making on agricultural production.

ADDIS ABABA (IDN) - Producing food in sufficient quantity and quality has never received as much concerted global attention as it has in the last five years. A global food crisis side-by-side with the economic and financial crises of 2008 revealed just how much the agricultural sector has been neglected in the recent past. In most developing countries, especially in Africa, investment in the sector remained at just about 4 per cent even though the sector provides jobs to the majority and contributes to 30 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP).

This has led to a substantial reduction in financing for agricultural research programmes, extension services and capacity-building programmes in institutions of higher learning. The consequences have been a dearth of innovation, incubation, and poor dissemination of new technologies.

With climate change and climate variability, producing enough food for the projected global population of 9 billion people in 2050 must be done in ways that are climate smart: that increase the overall efficiency, resilience, the adaptive capacity and the mitigation potential of the agricultural production systems. Within the context of green growth, such a transformation must be environmentally and economically sustainable and socially inclusive.

In pursuing climate-smart agricultural production systems, the differing objectives and capacities of smallholder producers must be clearly distinguished from those of large-scale producers. The former form the majority in many Less Developed  Countries  (LDCs), and – unlike the large producers – for them, agriculture is a source of livelihood as well as of income. Africa's smallholder producers will likely bear the burden of the effects of climate change, even though they contribute the least to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

As such, while the large-scale producers in developed countries (Annex I Parties) pursue programmes that promote mitigation, the smallholders in Africa and other LDCs need mechanisms that enable them to adapt to the effects of climate change and climate variability.

To date, climate change negotiations have not resulted in a specific work programme for agriculture. During the Committee of Parties (COP) 17 in Durban, the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SUBSTA) was mandated by the parties to consider issues related to agriculture so that the subsequent COP might adopt a decision.

This is a reflection of the wide division that exists between the parties on creating a specific work programme for agriculture. Indeed, Annex I Parties seem only keen to have a work programme under the framing of mitigation and one with much less emphasis on adaptation. It is plausible that under mitigation, they aim to compensate emissions reductions in developing countries rather than cutting their own emissions.

For their part, LDCs continue to insist that a significant emissions reduction is a prerequisite for the success of adaptation programmes. Despite limited progress within the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), African countries still need to urgently improve their agricultural production systems and address the challenges of climate change and climate variability.

What can African countries learn from the green revolution?

A strong institutional framework that enhances the integration and coherence of the National Action Plans for Adaptation (NAPAs) and the Nationally Appropriate Mitigation Actions (NAMAs) with the national development strategies such as the Poverty Reduction Strategy Papers (PRSPs) is fundamental. At the continental level, African countries have taken a number of reform initiatives- for example, the Comprehensive African Agricultural Development Programme (CAADP). One of its key objectives is to promote public investments in the agricultural sector to about 10 per cent of national budgetary expenditure.

This would reinvigorate support to the key aspects of agricultural research and technological development, dissemination through extension services and provision of necessary financial support to producers to adopt transformational production practices. Such a transformation must essentially be at par with the requirements for a greener model of growth – that is, low carbon, highly resilient and socially inclusive – which will require approaches which focus not just on quantitative but also qualitative changes.

Climate-smart agricultural production systems can optimise the use of inputs and use efficient post-harvest management. On the input side, many practical approaches exist for soil and nutrient management: the use of improved seeds, water use efficiency, pest and disease control mechanisms, improved livestock and fisheries systems, the use of improved genetic resources and ecosystem management. Access to and affordability of energy is also critical for the agricultural sector, especially for post-harvest processing and to meet the needs of smallholder producers, particularly subsistence farmers, many of whom are poor.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), a key challenge for many subsistence farmers in Africa is the depletion of soil quality and poor nutrient availability. African governments must, therefore, support a suite of technological options that includes soil amendments through mineral and organic fertilisers and access to high-yield certified seeds.

Management of water resources is another critical element of making agricultural production in the continent climate resilient. Indeed, with appropriate water resource management and water harvesting techniques, Africa could significantly reduce the dual impact of floods and droughts that are frequent features of the production landscape.

Furthermore, with just under 4 per cent of its agricultural production under irrigation, Africa still has significant potential to increase agricultural production and productivity without necessarily opening up more land to cultivation. Water, both availability and quality, and the potential challenges posed by climate variability and change were among the issues raised by representatives from African Embassies at the 'International Seminar on the Role of South-South Cooperation in Agricultural Development in Africa' held in Brasilia on May 17, 2012.

What can South-South Cooperation offer a climate-dependent Africa?

A clear focus is needed on the key underlying challenges to production. Successful initiatives in one country are not always immediately adaptable to another. While it is often claimed that Brazil shares much in common with Africa, one significant difference is the amount of irrigated land as a percentage of arable land. Another is the access to and availability of technology and financing for innovation as well as experimentation.

South-South Cooperation initiatives can potentially help to unpack some of Africa's more persistent problems including the coordination of the generation and sharing of climate science data, improvements in the analytical capacity and the ready availability of information to promote decision-making on agricultural production.

As the FAO notes, the sustainable transformation of the agricultural sector which necessitates combined action on food security, development and climate change will come at significant costs.

The World Bank, for example, estimates adaption in the agricultural sector in developing countries, alone, to cost US$2.5-2.6 billion a year between 2010 and 2050. Many initiatives exist – for example, the Copenhagen Accord that committed developed countries to provide US$30 billion in fast-track start financing from 2010 to 2012 (divided equally between adaption and mitigation). However, the current performance of climate financing shows large gaps between resources pledged, deposited and actually disbursed.

Moreover, available financing mechanisms neither facilitate nor make possible such combined responses.

It is only by blending different financial resources, including national budgetary allocations, private-sector financing, Official Development Assistance (ODA), and opening windows for agriculture in existing mechanisms such as the REDD+ and the Clean Development Mechanisms together with new innovative approaches that Africa will be able to exploit its huge potential to make agriculture not only climate smart but an integral part of its green economy strategies. South-South cooperation provides a number of windows into the kind of mechanisms and approaches that can unlock this potential and make it a reality.

*Tom Owiyo is a Senior Specialist in Agriculture and Climate Change at the African Climate Policy Center (ACPC) of the UN Economic Commission for Africa. This Viewpoint is being published by courtesy of 'The Poverty in Focus' Number 24, a regular publication of the International Policy Centre for Inclusive Growth. [IDN-InDepthNews – July 06, 2012]

2012 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters

Picture: Tom Owiyo | Credit: iisd.ca

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