8 May 2018

African Countries Need to Push Climate Smart Agriculture

Photo: FAO
(File photo).
analysis

The World Bank recently launched one of its largest climate smart agriculture initiatives in India. Through this $420 million initiative, the bank expects to reach over 25 million smallholder farmers working on 3.5 million hectares of land. The project will support climate-smart agricultural practices including crop diversification and planting of drought-tolerant varieties. Ultimately, this will lead to the sustainable improvement of agricultural productivity, water security, soil health and improve farmer resilience in the face of a changing climate.

Climate smart agricultural practices (CSA), as defined by the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, are approaches that help to transform and reorient agricultural and food systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate. These approaches aim to tackle three objectives: sustainably increase agricultural productivity, adapt and build resilience to climate change and reduce or remove greenhouse gas emissions. CSA initiatives employ and encourage several strategies including planting of improved and drought tolerant crop varieties, delivering timely seasonal and current weather information to farmers and sharing agricultural innovations.

The changing climate continues to impact many countries around the world as evidenced by recurrent droughts, prolonged dry seasons, floods, increased crop pest infestations, and emergence of new problems such as the fall armyworm in Africa. Affected most are the smallholder farmers, many of whom depend on agriculture as a source for their livelihood. Take the example of Kenya, where many farmers including those I work with in agricultural projects along the Kenyan coast are experiencing floods which are expected to worsen.

This shows that more CSA initiatives need to be rolled out and supported in many of the climate change impacted countries including countries in the African continent.

This is happening in places. There are several CSA initiatives that have been rolled out in many African countries including Kenya, Niger, Tanzania and Uganda. These initiatives have been implemented by  agencies and international research centers  such as the UN FAO, the World Bank, USAID and the CGIAR.

And there are many success stories emerging from CSA initiatives that have been in operation for the last several years across Africa. From Kenya's climate smart villages that have helped farmers to transform their previously unproductive land into productive high-yielding farms to Tanzania, where improved irrigation systems have resulted in increased rice productivity for more than 228,000 farmers have increased farm productivity and Ethiopia, where farm productivity has increased, soil health improved  and average annual farm household incomes increased by over 260 percent because farmers were provided with accurate analysis of their soil health, allowing them to apply the needed fertilizers.

These success stories clearly show that climate smart agricultural practices are a viable option that can sustainably transform the agriculture sector under a changing climate. The question then becomes: how can these practices be sustained over time to ensure that farmers continue to adopt and implement them in the coming decades? Most important is the question on how countries can prioritize that what works so that it can be scaled up quickly?

First and foremost, African countries governments must take the lead both in designing and funding these strategies. Governments need to identify the suitable and appropriate CSA practices adapted for their countries and further come up with plans on how this climate smart agricultural practices will be rolled out across their respective countries.

A deeper look at the current CSA initiatives being rolled out in many African countries including Kenya, Malawi, Tanzania and Zambia  shows that many of these initiatives are heavily funded by external donors such as The World Bank, African Development Bank, USAID and CGIAR centers. One of the biggest drawback is that it is almost impossible for African countries to set out their own research agendas without donor interference. Kenya, for example, acknowledged this drawback in its recently released 2017-2026 Kenya Climate Smart Agriculture Strategy. African governments therefore need to allocate and set budgets that specifically fund their CSA initiatives.

Secondly, it is important for CSA initiatives to be inclusive. Most importantly, farmers voices must be heard, and their needs incorporated in CSA initiatives. Farmers and other beneficiaries of these initiatives need to be consulted and involved in defining and choosing the appropriate CSA practices. To date, many of these solutions are from experts and passed along to farmers without adequate consultation. For these practices to be sustainable and be widely adopted, it is important to inclusive.

Most importantly, because many CSA practices and interventions are new to African smallholder farmers African governments must support and maintain demonstration centers or on the ground model farms where farmers can go learn and see many of these climate smart agricultural practices in action. Doing so will allow farmers have access to the information they need to implement these CSA practices on their farms.

Of course, even if African governments take the lead, they may still need to involve various stakeholders and partners. Many CSA projects require large investments and the involvement of multiple agencies. Thus, partnerships including public-private partnerships and collaborations between governments, private funders, agricultural institutions and universities must be encouraged.

Climate smart agricultural practices and initiatives have a great promise for boosting Africa's agricultural productivity and helping to build farmers resilience. African countries must therefore take the lead in investing and funding these worthy practices that will enable their citizens to improve agricultural productivity while becoming resilient to the changing climate.

Dr Esther Ngumbi is a distinguished postdoctoral researcher,a World Policy Institute Senior Fellow, Aspen Institute New Voices Food Security Fellow, and a Clinton Global University Initiative Agriculture Commitments Mentor and Ambassador

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