Photo: Farming in arid zones in Morocco's Province of Settat. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz | IDN-INPS. - Photo: 2016

Agriculture Should Be at the Heart of the Climate Agenda

By Fabíola Ortiz

MARRAKECH (IDN) – The African continent is responsible for emitting only four percent of greenhouse gas emissions, yet six of the ten countries most threatened by the climate change effects of such emissions are in Africa.

With the continent currently receiving just five percent of funds to combat or cope with climate change, and a very small proportion of these being allocated in the agricultural sector, experts at the latest United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP22) in Marrakech have warned that agricultural yields in Africa could fall 20 percent by 2050 if agriculture does not adapt to climate change.

There is a strong need to increase the continent’s resilience to the impacts of climate change, Mohammed Badraoui, head of Morocco’s National Institute for Agronomic Research (INRA), told IDN.

Noting that agriculture in Morocco represents between 14 and 20 percent of the country’s gross domestic product (GDP), “and it is even more than that in most African countries,” Badraoui said that “Morocco has been under the impact of climate change for more than 40 years now … Staple food cereals cover more than 70 percent of the agricultural lands in Morocco and cereals are very sensitive to climate change.”

Most countries in Africa rely on rain-fed agriculture because of the scarcity of ground water. In North Africa, for example, more than 90 percent of total surface area is arid and semi-arid.

In line with COP22, Morocco has spearheaded a continental Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) initiative aimed at reducing the vulnerability of Africa and its agriculture to climate change. The initiative, launched in April 2016, already has the active support of 28 African countries, finance institutions and United Nations agencies.

“AAA has cross-cutting issues related to capacity development, technical, political, infrastructure, but also technological transfer,” said Badraoui, who is also founding member and president of the Scientific Committee of the AAA Initiative. “We have to provide smallholder farmers in Africa with cheap and affordable technology. And the best way to do this is by South-South cooperation.”

He told IDN that Morocco has enhanced its expertise and would like to share its experience with the rest of the continent. “We have been working on these aspects for more than ten years now. We are capitalising experiences we have from the Moroccan agricultural transformation strategy and we see that we can create transformation with good strategy and education of farmers.”

The AAA initiative endeavours to build the resilience of farmers in Africa by promoting sustainable soil and better water management, as well as risk management linked with tailored capacity development, policies and funding mechanisms. The adaptation benefits yielded by the increased use of climate funds and agricultural projects are expected to have positive global implications.

“We want to set strong links between food security for Africa and climate funding. We are looking for donors to help countries to implement their projects and monitor them,” said Badraoui.

So far, the initiative has 42 projects under the AAA label and is supported by institutions like the World Bank, African Development Bank, Islamic Development Bank and the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD).

According to African experts at COP 22, the initiative seeks to place adaptation in African agriculture at the heart of climate talks and the global development agenda in order to appeal for a substantial share of climate funds.

According to Badraoui, agriculture has gained importance in the climate change talks. “Agriculture negotiations started five years ago,” he noted, and agriculture “is at least mentioned in the decisions of climate Conferences of the Parties (COPs) and especially in COP 21 in Paris [in December last year] has become much more visible. It has helped in building solidarity with respect to developing countries.”

Edith Ofwona, senior specialist at the climate change programme of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), told IDN that global warming has had an adverse impact on agriculture, mainly due to the increasing temperature and the variability of the rainfall patterns.

“You have droughts in southern parts of Africa and excess of rain in other parts. We’ve seen cases where there is a decrease of yields in certain crops. In Kenya, there has been a reduction in production of maize, and some people have had total crop failure”, she said.

Ofwona believes that where the right climate information and a clear indication of rainfall quantity are available, successful interventions can be implemented on a local scale to address vulnerabilities. “We carried out experimentations of interventions in Sudan, Ethiopia, Kenya and in the southern Africa and we saw farmers could improve their yields,” she told IDN.

“We had cases that some improved up to 100% of productivity in Kenya and families had an increase of income up to 30 percent” but, she warned, “food security is still at stake in Africa.”

While agreeing that agriculture did gain some relevance at COP22 in Marrakech, Ofwona said that it is still an important issue open for negotiations for the next COP23 to be held in Bonn in late 2017.

“There has been a lot of effort to appreciate the effects of climate change in agriculture. It is unfortunate that no decision was reached in agriculture, but there was a recognition that it is an important sector that needs attention and there is need for continued discussion to reach consensus,” she told IDN.

“My appeal would be to realise the impact it is having on communities and the need to get to a point that decisions are able to guide to actions. When we have an universal agreement, it would help move the agenda forward.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 21 November 2016]

Photo: Farming in arid zones in Morocco’s Province of Settat. Credit: Fabiola Ortiz | IDN-INPS.

IDN is flagship of the International Press Syndicate.

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