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Affordable Technology is Crucial for Smallholders to Address Climate Change

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By Friday Phiri | IDN-InDepthNews Analysis


PEMBA, Southern Zambia (IDN) - Using a simple but viable 400 dollar irrigation technology derived from an unconventionally modified motorised machine powered by a 12 volt solar panel, Hosea Mwaana, a small-scale farmer of Sibbuyu Village in Pemba district, waters over one hectare of land.

“I was introduced to this by a colleague about two years ago and since then I have been looking for ways to multiply the technology for the sake of other farmers,” says Hosea Mwaana, beaming with pride of this unconventional technology he calls the Zambian ‘Centre Pivot’ system.

According to Mwaana, the technology is more suited to farmers with sloppy landscapes as it is able to pump water to the elevated portions of the field for an even distribution of water to the planted crops.

The importance of the technology being used by Mwaana lies in the fact that in recent times, cheap and easily accessible irrigation technology has been the highlight in the agricultural sector following the increased water stress situations resulting from climate change induced droughts.

For such communities whose livelihoods are dependent on climate sensitive activities such as agriculture and fishing, adaptation to climate change is imperative. And for Mwaana and other smallholders, their definition of adaptation must include such simple but viable technologies.

Dr Hezron Mogaka of the Association for Strengthening Agricultural Research in Eastern and Central Africa (ASARECA) of Uganda says, while there could be misgivings around Africa’s capacity, time had come to start highlighting the continent’s potential to add value to its abundant resources and ideas.

“We need to start telling the world that Africa has the potential to rise,” says Dr. Mogaka, pointing out that the argument should change from one of pleading for resources to presenting Africa’s potential to add value to the global economic politics through its vast natural resource base.

Dr. Mogaka adds that “research shows that if each African country commits 0.01% of their Gross Domestic Product (GDP) into energy investment, Africa would experience massive economic transformation never seen before.”

Against this backdrop, climate change adaptation at the local level is difficult to separate from development, implying that the approaches taken should address the vulnerability context, rather than addressing the impacts of climate change alone.

According to a concept note prepared by the African Climate Policy Centre (ACPC) ahead of the Conference of Parties (COP 21) from November 30 to December 11 in Paris, climate change could stimulate developing economies into adapting sustainable development paths, through entrepreneurial opportunities to investors, and spaces for policy makers to address equity concerns in gender and youth policies.

However, opportunities from climate change are significantly attenuated by its costs, a factor that requires a proper balance between costs and benefits so as to carefully develop a narrative that is realistic.

ACPC is a hub for generating demand-led knowledge on climate change in Africa of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA).

A major issue at the COP21 is the question of means of implementation – finance, technology transfer and capacity building – which has remained unresolved to date.

The question of means of implementation is rooted in the equity of approach premise that rich countries should assist poorer countries to transition their economies to climate friendly production technologies as well as provide assistance to cope with the impacts of climate change on economies and livelihoods.

Mithika Mwenda, Secretary General at the Pan African Climate Justice Alliance (PACJA) says, Africa must unite and push loss and damage into a fair and equitable climate deal for its most vulnerable people.

According to him, during the September 11 session in Bonn – which hiosts the United Nations Framework Climate Change Convention (UNFCCC) – Africa, small island states and the least developed countries “unequivocally demanded that ‘loss and damage’ should be a stand-alone pillar of the Paris deal”.

“There is the urgent need to scale up adaptation finance to a level that will help the poor people build resilience. Because we have not mitigated enough and we have not also created an effective adaptation mechanism, we will be forced to deal with inevitable loss and damage. The Paris deal has to tackle the increasing climate damages, and not just the causes.”

Unfortunately, the technology transfer debate seems to be shrouded in intellectual property rights and it is believed that most of the technology being discussed is owned by private entities.

However, Professor Oliver Ruppel, Coordinating lead Author for Africa in the IPCC, says while this could be the case, Africa could still find a way of pushing its agenda.

“For example, lawyers helped to push the agenda of subsidised prices for HIV drugs to make them affordable for the poor in Africa and other developing countries amidst an intense intellectual property battle, and so the same can be done with climate change technology transfer”, Professor Ruppel told IDN on the sidelines of the Africa Climate Talks for Southern, Eastern and Indian ocean African states from September 3 to 5 in Dar-e-salaam, Tanzania.

But farmer Mwaana in Zambia could care less because his technology is a home grown idea and his only wish is to get support to expand it and benefit as many smallholder farmers as possible who are struggling to cope with effects of climate change in form of droughts.

“Climate change is now a common word in our community but most of us have taken it in the negative. For example, we complain of drought but drought comes with the sun (solar energy) which this irrigation technology thrives on.

“So, my appeal to government is to find ways of turning this problem into opportunities for the local people”, Mwaana told the Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock and his entourage when they visited his stand during an Agricultural show exhibition in Zambia’s tourist capital, Livingstone.

And in response, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Livestock, Greyford Monde assured Mwaana that government was already moving in the direction of empowering smallholders with irrigation technology to avert the challenges posed by climate change.

Monde cited the 2014/15 farming season that was punctuated with a month long drought in some areas affecting crop production, as a “wake-up call to agricultural stakeholders to shift to irrigation and crop diversification which the ministry is promoting”.

While the technology transfer debate rages on, Mwaana and his fellow rainfall dependent farmers in Zambia, and Africa in general, are waiting for realistic solutions to sustain their agriculture and feed their families even during drought stress periods.

“People in Africa are losing everything they have worked for during their lives to floods, drought and other catastrophic climate change impacts. The issue of cost should be a catalyst for action to be taken rather than being an obstacle for loss and damage to addressed,” says PACJ’s Mithika Mwenda. [IDN-InDepthNews – 29 September 2015]

Photo: Farmer Hosea Mwaana explaining how his simple technology works | Credit: Friday Phiri

2015 IDN-InDepthNews | Analysis That Matters
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