Stories tagged: climate change

Information Services Grow Resilient Agriculture

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In this guest blog, John Corbett, Gabe Stalcup and Leila Al-Hamoodah of big data company aWhere, Inc. discuss the need for “information agile” agriculture that can help smallholder farmers adapt to a changing climate.

Increased weather variability and weather disasters are a manifestation of our warming atmosphere.  This variability includes shifting rainfall and temperature patterns, as well as a significant increase in extreme weather events.  Of course, these events and weather variability are rarely positive for agriculture.  Crops are vulnerable to extreme events, like droughts and floods, and extreme temperatures, both too hot and too cold.

With weather variability increasing the risk of poor harvests, farmers seek more information to guide their decisions.  This new information is balanced against the farmer’s local knowledge as they plan their farming practices, and includes anticipation of “normal” weather.

To build resilience and adapt to these changing weather conditions and possible weather disasters, farmers must leverage environmental information and translate it into actionable signals.  This type of adaptive farming is already the norm in the much of the United States and Europe. Wet spring? Farmers can swap long-season seeds for shorter-maturity seeds to account for the later planting.  Conditions suitable for a foliar disease in the forecast?  Farmers can spray the appropriate protection. This type of agile, information-driven farming continues to leverage more and more data to the point where variable-rate seeding, crop protection, fertilization and irrigation are all adopted, commercially viable, agricultural technologies.

The Need & the Opportunity

Agronomic weather information is one key element to dampening the impact of weather variability.  Big Data methods and analytics combine to create agricultural intelligence, which is useful to farmers adapting to a changing climate.  And getting the message to farmers across the planet is helped enormously by modern technology, such as the ubiquitous cell phone.  The expanding presence of cellular systems provides the communication infrastructure to close the loop on the “final mile”, as millions of farmers have recently become reachable this way.  It is estimated that there are more than 570 million farmers on the planet – most of whom are only now being connected, and, thus, are accessible to information services.

However, throughout most of the world’s smallholder farming areas, there is a distinct lack of truly “information agile” farming. Traditional practices often rule, and with weather variably increasing, the likelihood of crop failure due to extreme weather events also increases.  The newfound access to farmers via ICT is both an incredible opportunity as well as a tremendous challenge.  The current lack of information services provides an opportunity for ICT to assist in improving agricultural productivity, and innovation is rapidly coming to the agricultural value chain in smallholder farming areas. At the same time, millions of these farmers have never previously had access to a localized, short-term weather forecast, thus necessitating education and training surrounding the value and use of such forecasts.  Early assessments of the impact of information services to small holder farmers often note 30-50 percent increases in productivity – the upside is solid. Notably, the overarching impact of connecting smallholder farmers to information services extends well beyond agriculture, and includes the opportunity for improved human health, child nutrition, social movements, and, of course, general education.

Delivering localized, relevant agricultural information to smallholder farmers is perhaps the only way to mitigate the impacts of weather variability, but more importantly, the connection to the farmer enables a whole host of possibilities across the spectrum of needs. Leo Tobias, Director, Technology and Product at the Grameen Foundation, noted: “If an individual is plugged into the information system, they are in a position to adopt good agricultural practices.”   Good agricultural practices will help agriculture and address climate adaptation and resilience, or “climate smart agriculture”.  These practices, from information on when to plant, as rainfall onset has become more variable in many areas, to what crop or variety to plant, to crop protection and fertilizer timing advice, address the challenges of changing weather, agricultural resilience, and smallholder farmer adaptation.

Agriculture sits at the core of the development process: “If the history of development has taught us anything, it’s that a strong agricultural sector is a cornerstone of inclusive and sustainable growth, broad-based development progress, and long-term stability,” a report by the Chicago Council on Global Affairs noted recentlySupporting agriculture delivers real returns, and innovation in information services is needed to achieve food security in the coming decades.  Across the agricultural value chain, information services serve to connect and optimize the food chain and make it more resilient.

The Information Solution

aWhere provides a range of timely agronomic and weather information to smallholder farmers, through NGO and on-the ground partners.  With more than 600,000 farmers globally, and over two-thirds of those in sub-Saharan Africa, we continue to learn how localized, up-to-date information impacts farming.  What we also have learned is that this connection to the farmer is a conduit that inspires innovation.

Localized and personal, trusted communication channels are viable and attractive to entrepreneurs.  Startups and emerging companies specializing in agriculturally relevant information vie for attention across the agricultural value chain.  The provision of information, and inputs, is a complex challenge with so many small businesses and the multitude of smallholder farmers. This complex challenge is risky and “paying down the risk” is where the blending of public and donor efforts with private, commercial endeavours can be quite enabling.  Timely information across the agricultural value chain is needed and necessary, but the introduction of new services is difficult in resource constrained areas.  As proof of viability becomes more pronounced, capacity building to encourage innovation is needed.  Communication channels along with public and donor support can be leveraged to create sustainable businesses supporting resilient agriculture.

For example, to encourage innovation in data-driven agriculture, aWhere hosts hackathons and data jams through its Hack4Farming series.  With events in sub-Saharan Africa and south Asia, these capacity-building efforts enable agricultural businesses, often with little information services, to meet-up with software developers for the express purpose of connecting big data methods to local business needs and challenges.  These events build a growing community in this ag-tech space, where startups can emerge and become sustainable, while commercial businesses work to make a more resilient agricultural value chain.  Meanwhile, on-the-ground startups like Esoko, iShamba, and FarmerLink lead the way in providing innovative and timely information to smallholder farmers, using aWhere’s agronomic real-time information.  With these final-mile connections, food security is greatly improved as existing information services can and will help with on-going adaptation and disaster mitigation.

Localized and timely agronomic information is a key piece of the puzzle to developing a sustainable and resilient agricultural system.  While more variable weather is here to stay, existing and yet to be developed agricultural information services can serve to dampen the impact of both long and short-term weather-based agricultural stress.  Given our changing climate, farmers need information to help them thrive with what the environment provides, as do input providers, markets, and actors all across the value chain.  While agricultural production shortfalls due to weather disasters and variability leave us vulnerable to food insecurity, building local capacity to connect data-driven science to smallholder farmers will reap dividends and build resilience.  Wherever trusted communication channels are in place, our risk is reduced.

This article appears in the May edition of WFO’s F@rmletter. Featured photo credit: V. Meadu (CCAFS)

Lawrence Biyika Songa: The Cost of Climate Change for Ugandan Farmers

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Q&A with Lawrence Biyika Songa, COP representative for Uganda

At the COP22 conference on climate change, held in Marrakech in November, the spotlight fell squarely on Africa and the impact of global warming on agriculture. Farming First caught up with Lawrence Biyika Songa, Uganda’s representative at the talks, to delve deeper into the issues facing farmers in the country.

FF: How is climate change affecting farmers in Uganda?

LBS: The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) summarises climate change as any change in climate over time, whether due to natural variability or as a result of human activity. This is equally true in Uganda. Unsustainable utilisation of natural resources and poor technological use has increased incidences of greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, 90 per cent of energy consumption in Uganda is met by firewood, amounting to 18 million tonnes of emissions a year.

The impact of such activity has been increased weather variability, with greater frequency and intensity of weather extremes, including high temperatures leading to prolonged drought and erratic rainfall patterns. These incidences are threatening Uganda’s environmental, social and economic development, including agriculture.

Changing weather patterns in Uganda are making it difficult for farmers in the country to plan using the traditional two planting seasons, which used to be much easier to predict. Previously the weather pattern indicated two good planting seasons, March to May and September to November. Now, however, rainfall sometimes continues during the dry seasons, and prolonged dry spells during rainy seasons make it difficult for farmers to plan ahead.

Other challenges related to climate change include tropical storms, wildfire, siltation, soil erosion, pests and diseases which are causing devastating loss to farmer’s yields.

So there are five main ways that climate change is impacting farming in Uganda: (i) the area suitable for agriculture is becoming unpredictable (ii) the length of the growing season is more difficult to forecast (iii) yield potentials are varying and decreasing (iv) the frequency and severity of extreme events (in particular droughts and floods) are extreme (v) the incidence of plant diseases are high. And, in the case of livestock climate change may affect production through: (i) impacts on the quantity and quality of feed (ii) increasing heat stress (iii) changes to and spread of livestock diseases and (iv) changes in water availability.

FF: Is climate change affecting Uganda’s economy?

LBS: Yes. The National Development Plan 2010-2015 on climatic projections indicates that Uganda’s temperatures are likely to increase in the range of 0.70 C to 1.50 C by 2020. As a consequence, it has placed Uganda in a more vulnerable position. The 2nd UN World Water Development Report 2006 shows that 70 per cent of the disasters in the country are linked to climate change. On average these disasters destroy about 800,000 hectares of crops, with an economic loss in excess of Ushs 120 billion (US$ 63.2million) per year.

Climate change and associated extreme weather incidents have also impacted public health. The 1994 El Niño floods resulted in sharp rises in lakes, wide spread flooding, and extensive soil erosion and landslides in Eastern parts of the country. It’s believed that more than 1,000 lives were lost and 11,000 hospitalised due to cholera and related illness, and about 150,000 people were displaced from their homes.

Meanwhile, the 2010-2011 droughts caused an estimated US$470 million losses in food crops, cash crops and livestock as a whole. This equates to about 16 per cent of the total value of these items in GDP for 2011. The current and future increased risks from flooding and droughts are in areas of existing poverty and therefore these events have serious consequences for local economies and food security.

FF: Are there any tools and technologies that are helping Ugandan farmers to adapt to climate change?

LBS: Yes, they are using more efficient water-management technologies such as advanced drip irrigation and solar irrigation. Agricultural research is also developing other new and effective approaches to adapt to climate change. For example, scientists are studying and using beneficial microbes from soil to strengthen plant resilience to increased drought, diseases and pests brought on by climate change.

Farmers are also actively participating in the collection of climate-related data. The information from millions of smallholders farmers monitoring daily weather changes, rainfall levels and patterns and soil health are shedding light on general climate trends and guiding farming practices.

Lastly, farmers are being advised not to plant on farm land with clogged water and for farmers living in mountainous areas, they are advised to practice terracing and lay farrows to reduce run offs from heavy rains

FF: What are the barriers preventing farmers from accessing these tools and technologies?

LBS: The ability of farmers’ to adapt varies enormously depending on the region and its wealth. Uganda’s farmers often lack basic resources and choices such as money as the adoption of these methods is difficult without access to credit and readily available funds. Millions of farmers in Uganda also lack access to information about the scope of climate level changes they are experiencing. Without such information, they are unable to plan and adjust their farming practices to be sustainable for the long term with new tools and technologies. Social networks among rural farmers always help spread the use of new technology, given the prevelant communal sense among Ugandan farmers. Finally, differences in expected returns from a new technology also affect individual’s adaptation decisions.

FF: Have you met many farmers that are struggling with successfully adapting to climate change?

LBS: In many Ugandan villages, smallholder farmers are struggling to use simple technologies to monitor extreme weather and its impacts on their families and community. They are finding it difficult to detect early indications of changing rainfall patterns that would likely effect the growing season. Secondly, farmers are struggling with how to identify and manage the planting of drought-tolerant crop varieties, exotic breeds and using low cost, simple drip irrigation due to illiteracy and cost management practices.

FF: How is the Ugandan government supporting farmers to adapt to climate change?

LBS: The government of Uganda has come up with priorities for adaptation options. In the National Climate Change Costed Implementation Strategy, the government of Uganda has identified eight strategic interventions for adaptation in the agricultural sector, with a proposed budget over the next 15 years of about US$297 million (MWE, 2012). Among these interventions are the promotion of adaptive crop varieties and livestock breeds, sustainable land management and agricultural diversification.

The government’s meteorological agency, UNMA, has provided and disseminated weather information and forecasts. Farmers are therefore advised to rely on expert advice as to when they should plant for the most favourable climate conditions. The government has also embarked on farmer sensitization and awareness campaigns. For example, experts have promoted the planting of grass on the steps of mountains among farmers living on the slopes of Mountain Elgon in Eastern Uganda and those from Mountain Rwenzori to stop run-offs from heavy rains.

Finally, farmers are being advised to grow quick maturing crops such as vegetables when there is a prediction of prolonged dry spells, and they are further advised to grow cereal crops which are tolerant to drought. NGOs are also helping the government through promotion of new agricultural technologies such as agricultural extension services, which provide farmers with information about agricultural practises, including sowing, adoption of improved seeds and chicken breeds.

FF: Do you think COP22 was indeed a ‘’COP of Action’’?

LBS: Yes, thanks to the Marrakech Proclamation of Climate Action and the Partnership for Global Climate Action as the conference’s main outcomes. The political commitment to implementing the Paris Agreement has been revived in the most ardent fashion with the Marrakech Proclamation.

Writing the rule book, or operational manual, of the Paris Agreement calls for a significant boost of transparency of action, including measuring and accounting emissions reductions, the provision of climate finance, and technology development and transfer. It also includes work to design the adaptation communications, which is the primary vehicle under the Paris Agreement to share individual adaptation efforts and support needs.

FF: What action do you think the global community should be taking?

LBS: Governments should initiate powerful coalitions of public and private partners in technology initiatives for weather. About two thirds of Africans now have mobile phones, including many in rural areas, and these could play an integral part in the collection of weather and soil data. Data collected by farmers on their phones could then be aggregated and analysed by designated research institutions and shared with farmers.

Local governments could also adjust disaster response plans to accommodate changes in weather patterns. For example, the city of Philadelphia recently implemented an emergency response plan to limit the health impact of increasingly frequent heat waves on its population. Philadelphia officials estimate that their heat response plan has already reduced heat-related deaths.

For individuals, governments, and businesses, adapting to climate change requires understanding and accepting the risks of regional climate change, assessing the immediate and long-term costs and benefits of adaptation strategies, and implementing adaptations that bring the most benefits relative to the cost and risk.

Featured image courtesy of Kate Holt/Africa Practice

Shirley Tarawali: Five Fast Facts About Meat & the Environment

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In this guest post, Shirley Tarawali, Assistant Director General of theInternational Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) takes a closer look at livestock’s impact on the environment, and what is being done to manage its environmental “hoofprint”. 

Some have called it a “cowspiracy”. Some go as far to say that meat eaters are committing “climate murder”. But is livestock production always as bad for the planet as some would argue, or are there any arguments that would support eating meat, milk and eggs with a good conscience?

Livestock’s impact on the environment can be managed. The sector is addressing its carbon and environmental footprints at the same time as it helps reduce hunger, malnutrition and poverty around the world. Let us explore five facts that you may not know about livestock production.

1. Meat and milk are produced in vastly different ways around the world.

Many assume that livestock production is the same the world over but raising sheep and cattle in American feedlots is wildly different from raising those animals in sub-Saharan Africa. The many different production systems have been classified in a number of ways according to climate, grazing systems, feed and herd sizes. Each has various challenges and benefits, and within each, there are best practices that can and should inform the others. There are some farming systems in the developing world that have a very low environmental impact and even contribute to efficient and beneficial nutrient cycling. So making generalisations about livestock based on systems used only in developed countries leads to misconceptions about the sector’s environmental impact. The crux is how to extend best practices to make livestock farming more efficient while allowing more people to benefit and respond to the rising global demand.

2. Livestock and animal-source foods can be both good for the environment and ‘climate-smart’.

Livestock are often either forgotten or unduly vilified when it comes to climate change and the environment. While the sector as a whole contributes significantly to greenhouse gas emissions, most developing countries currently rely on estimates generated for systems in North America, Europe or Australia. But there are significant differences in livestock production in those countries that affect greenhouse gas emissions, including how livestock are fed. Given such regional variations in production systems, we need to be prepared to recognise that livestock’s carbon footprint also varies from region to region. Nevertheless, there are plenty of opportunities for mitigation and adaptation. A third of the world’s land is only viable for animal agriculture and where it is carefully managed, medium levels of grazing is actually better than none at all. A recent study also found that diets incorporating some animal-source foods were actually more land efficient than vegan diets. It is important then that we always look at any given environment impact within its particular context, and there are a number of initiatives organised to do just that.

3. Eating a moderate amount of meat, milk and eggs can be good for our health.

While many people in industrialised countries can be said to eat too much, meat is actually a key source of protein, iron and vitamin B12 among other nutrients, especially in the developing world. Similarly, milk and dairy products play an important role in early years nutrition and development. Many of those who get insufficient animal-source foods face malnutrition and associated illnesses. But this can be prevented if sufficient animal-source foods are included in the diet. The UN Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) recommends 20g of animal protein per person per day to combat malnutrition. In developed countries, eating 70g of meat a day is considered part of a healthy diet, and simply by limiting meat consumption to the World Health Organisation guidelines (which does not recommend cutting out meat), it’s still possible to get the benefits but with a reduced environmental impact.

4. Livestock production is mostly locally produced, not part of a vast global value chain. 

The assumption that livestock products are part of one homogenous supply chain is unfounded. The majority of the 1.3 billion people whose livelihoods depend on livestock around the world work within quite localised value chains, especially those in developing countries. Solutions for greater efficiency and productivity, then, must be integrated from the bottom up and tailor-made for national and regional contexts. The diversity of the sector calls for targeted investment and knowledge-sharing to address the various challenges that affect smallholders in different ways.

5. Livestock and crop growing depend on one another.

There is a misconception that crop and livestock production are distinctive systems. But mixed crop and livestock farming is common around the world and offers great opportunities to combine resources, diversify incomes and expand the benefits of agriculture. Crop residues can be fed to livestock while livestock draught power enables plowing and transport and livestock manure can be used as fertiliser, contributing to the reuse of energy and nutrients.One study found manure provides 12 per cent of the nitrogen used for crop production globally, rising to 23 per cent in mixed crop livestock systems. Mixed systems contribute not only to the global supply of animal-source foods but also to producing half of the world’s cereal, including more than 40 per cent of maize and almost three-quarters of millet, for example.

Animal rearing is inextricably linked to the environment as well as human health, income equality and food security. To malign livestock is to refute their role in the sustainable future of our planet. To broaden and deepen the many benefits of the world’s livestock sector while reducing any of its environmental harms, we must begin to appreciate the vastly diverse forms the sector takes in different parts of the world, and to acknowledge just how much livestock continue to provide those living in severe poverty.

Featured image courtesy of ILRI/Stevie Mann

Deborah Hellums: Can Fertilizers Help Us Mitigate Climate Change?

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In this guest blog, Dr. Deborah Hellums, Chief Program Officer at the International Fertilizer Development Center outlines the ways that sustainable fertilizer use can mitigate greenhouse gas emissions and play a role in SDG 13, combatting climate change. 

Every person alive depends on agriculture for food, but agriculture accounts for 12 percent of annual greenhouse gas emissions. About half of these emissions come from arguably a most necessary component of agriculture: the use of nitrogen fertilizers. Mineral fertilizers, combined with organic fertilizers (along with other inputs and best management practices), currently keep about half of the global population alive. Without them, soils become devoid of nutrients, leading to low and declining yields and soil degradation, including loss of soil carbon. Continue reading

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Webinar: Climate services for smallholder farmers and pastoralists in Africa

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23rd November 2016

Online

Farming and pastoralist communities have survived by mastering the ability to adapt to widely varying weather and climatic conditions. Increasingly variable climate and the rapid pace of other drivers of change are, however, overwhelming local knowledge and traditional practices for coping with climate related risks. It is increasingly becoming evident that climate services—climate and weather information and advisories—can help farmers and pastoralists better manage risks and adapt to the changing climate. Continue reading

Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) Gains Momentum at COP22

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Despite being dubbed “The COP of Action”, that will transform the Paris Agreement from pledges to progress, talks to include agriculture in the climate negotiations have once again stalled at COP22 in Marrakech. Further discussion on the topic has now been postponed to May 2017, at the next meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA).

However, momentum has been building around a regional initiative, known as the AAA initiative, that focuses on finding solutions to adapt African agriculture to climate change. At an event co-hosted by the Moroccan government and the CGIAR Research Program on Agriculture, Climate Change and Food Security (CCAFS), experts gathered to determine priorities for collective action that will help African agriculture to build resilience to climate change, as well as feed the continent.

Representatives from the government of Morocco joined researchers, entrepreneurs and farmers from across Africa to discuss the most promising adaptation solutions for the continent.

Mohamed Ait Kadi, president of the General Council of Agricultural Development, Morocco, told the audience: “We have billed this COP as a COP for Africa, providing a unique opportunity to showcase action for Africa, in Africa. The Paris Agreement explicitly refers to safeguarding food security. In my view, the willingness to address agriculture and food security finally appears to be having some impact. We call this initiative ‘Triple A’ mainly to include the fact that investment in the Adaptation of African Agriculture is a triple A rated investment.”

According to a report released last week by the International Fund for Agricultural Development, for each dollar invested through the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), farmers could earn a return of between US$1.40 and $2.60 over a 20 year period by applying climate change adaptation practices.

During a session dedicated to sustainable soil management, experts showcased the solutions and challenges facing the continent. Professor Tekalign Mamo, Program Director at the Ethiopian Agricultural Transformation Agency, highlighted his country’s EthioSIS digital soil mapping project that has allowed for custom-blended fertilizers to be produced, and distributed at the local level. When used in conjunction with other improved agronomic practices, the project has already seen yield rises of up to 65%. Charlotte Hebebrand, Director General of the International Fertilizer Association (IFA) said: “Africa has the potential to get the best of both worlds by ‘leapfrogging’ into more integrated soil fertility management.”

She added: “By optimising its fertilizer use, no less and no more, the continent can significantly increase average crop yields while keeping greenhouse gas emissions to a minimum.”

In addition to mobilising investment, the event outlined the following priorities for collective action:

  • Building the capacity of African nations to adapt – through both regional partnerships and North-South, South-South exchanges
  • Supporting technology transfer and innovation – by building policy frameworks that enable technology adoption, and the institutional capacity to determine locally-appropriate solutions
  • Measuring and monitoring progress – by including indicators for measuring adaptation in agriculture in accountability frameworks associated with the Paris Agreement

For more information on agriculture’s role in the climate negotiations, visit the Farming First UNFCCC Toolkit.

Featured images courtesy of Neil Palmer (CIAT)