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Making Climate-Smart Agriculture Work For Africa’s farmers

Caroline Mwongera Caroline Mwongera

Caroline Mwongera, a Food security, Climate change and Environment specialist at The International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, speaks to Farming First about what climate-smart agriculture looks like in practice across Africa.

When it comes to climate change, African farmers are in the firing line. Their livelihoods depend on weather patterns that are becoming increasingly irregular. It is estimated that six of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are in Africa, so urgent action is needed to make African agriculture “climate-smart”.

Which are the most effective climate-smart agriculture practices for Africa?

A new report launched at the UN climate talks this month has identified “best-bet” and “investment-ready” climate-smart agriculture practices for Arica.

The report is built on the work of 1,500 scientists and experts who analysed climate-smart agriculture across 33 countries, almost half of which are in Africa. Climate-smartness scores were given to techniques in use, with results varying considerably between regions.

In Africa, we discovered that contouring, agroforestry, and other land management or land reclamation technologies are more common than in other regions, as were disease management and livestock genetic improvement. Risk management technologies (representing less than three percent of all technologies considered climate-smart globally) are more commonly identified—especially climate services. Silvopasture (raising animals among trees) ranked as most climate-smart intervention.

What encourages a farmer to adopt climate-smart agriculture practices?

A recent study has analysed which factors contributed to farmers in the Ugandan district of Nwoya to adopt stress-tolerant varieties. Climate change is a serious issue for Uganda, with a decrease of a 2–4% in Gross Domestic Product foreseen, if sufficient measures to combat climate change are not taken into consideration

We discovered that access to NGO information was a key driver to adoption – farmers were 10 per cent more likely to adopt stress-tolerant varieties if reached by a trusted NGO that had been operating in the community. Bigger households were also identified as having a positive effect on the adoption of stress tolerant varieties. This is partly due to a greater number of household members meaning there are more people available to provide the intensive labour that comes with the adoption of new technologies.

A maize farmer in Mperu, Kenya. Credit: Neil Palmer/CIAT

Farmers who stayed in the village for more than one year were seven per cent more likely to adopt new seed varieties, farmers who had noticed a change in the climate were 11 per cent more likely to adopt improved varieties.

Further results show that stress-tolerant varieties have the potential of increasing net crop income within a range of $500–864 USD per hectare per year, corresponding to an 18–32 per cent increase.

Will climate change affect the whole agricultural value chain in Africa?

To climate-proof Africa’s food system, we need to go beyond interventions on the farm. The provision of inputs such as seed and animal fodder as well as the harvesting, storing, processing and marketing of food are all likely to be impacted by changes in the climate.

A study conducted in Nyandarua, in the central area of Kenya has analysed the potential impacts of climate change on four key industries.

Agriculture is the main income-earning activity in Nyandarua, employing 69 per cent of the people. Crop production and livestock keeping account for 73 per cent of household incomes, yet 39 per cent of the population estimated to be affected by food insecurity and 35 per cent of children below five years are stunted. It is therefore crucial we understand how the livelihoods of these communities can be made climate-smart and resilient.

We found that current climate-smart efforts are too focused on the production stage. For example, severe drought prior to dairy production will result in reduced breeding of cattle, poor quantity and quality of pasture and fodder, and increased costs in buying feed. At the storage stage, higher temperatures will increase the change of milk spoilage. Floods on the other hand, can make roads impassable, hindering the transport of dairy products to market at the final stage in the value chain.

Investing in climate-resilient infrastructures such as roads, irrigation systems, storage facilities, cold chain logistics, markets, climate information services, agricultural finance and insurance will therefore be just as critical as more well-known interventions like the adoption of stress-tolerant crops.

If Africa is to build a food secure future in the face of climate change, understanding and acting on these insights will go a long way towards reaching this goal.

Featured photo credit: Georgina Smith/CIAT

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