For most African countries, agriculture is a key sector: it employs over 60% of the working population of the continent and contributes 16,2% to Africa's GDP. Agriculture is also essential in the fight against poverty and to ensure the food security and survival of rural communities. But how can rural areas and their populations adapt to climate change as well as guarantee the sustainability of farming activities?
African initiatives and projects
On 6th December, 2018, on the sidelines of COP24 in Poland, a session was held in the African Development Bank Pavilion moderated by Laouali Garba, a climate change specialist at the African Development Bank's Agriculture Department, on the theme "Operationalisation of African initiatives to strengthen the resilience of rural populations to climate change".
There are currently several projects under way in Africa to strengthen the resilience of communities and different activity sectors, agriculture foremost among them, to climate change: the Adaptation of African Agriculture initiative (AAA) launched in advance of COP22 by Morocco and joined by 33 African states; the Great Green Wall, one of the longest established, dating from 2005; the Congo Basin Climate Commission (CBCC); the Sahel Region Climate Commission (CC-RS); and the Climate Commission for Small Island States, the last three of which were formed during COP22 in Morocco.
The resilience of rural people was already on the agenda of the African Union summit in Malabo, held in 2014. In full alignment with the NEPAD programme, a commitment was made to ensure that 25 million African households would be practising "smart" agriculture, adapted to climate change, by 2025. "I wish to reiterate here the strong commitment of our heads of state and government after the Malabo Africa Agriculture Development Programme", said Josefa Sacko, African Union Commissioner for the Rural Economy and Agriculture and one of the session's speakers.
Africa faces a multitude of major challenges: the demographic boom, poverty, health and educational systems, among many others. "Will we be ready?" asked Sacko. "Sustainable development needs an enabling environment."
Pool initiatives and gain synergies
All the initiatives taken, promises made and projects launched will only achieve tangible, significant results if there is proper coordination between the respective committees, those involved and countries concerned.
Panel member Almoustapha Garba, Niger's Minister of the Environment, Urban Sanitation and Sustainable Development, argued in favour of synergies: "We need to pool our actions and efforts to achieve greater effectiveness."
"Agroforestry, land use, land tenure and energy issues are some of the problems our countries have in common. These shared experiences argue for a regional approach and for common solutions", said Mr Garba, who added, "We have already developed a climate investment plan, based on the NDCs and using an inclusive approach. It will be submitted to African heads of state in February at a summit in Niger." This referred to the progress made by the Sahel Region Climate Commission, chaired by his country and involving 17 States on the Sahelian belt stretching from the Atlantic Ocean to the Horn of Africa.
Riad Balaghi, Head of the department of environment and natural resources at the Meknès National Agricultural Research Institute, Morocco, pointed out that there was no clear mention of agriculture in the Paris Agreement, but "simply the ecosystem and food security". Hence the relevance, he said, of the Adaptation of African Agriculture initiative, the 'Triple A', launched by Morocco in 2016, and which he described as the "agricultural arm of the African Union adaptation initiative".
Bankable, sustainable projects
"We want to coordinate more to reach donors. We have the support of the German government and the World Bank to start identifying projects to be financed: for example, soil management, climate risks, water, as bankable projects," said Balaghi, stressing the need for capacity building to present donors with viable, structured projects.
"The problem is that Africa must develop and modernise its agriculture at the same time as restoring the land while mitigating the effects of climate change and preserving biodiversity," added Abdoulaye Dia, Executive Secretary of the Great Green Wall initiative, keen from the outset to welcome the involvement of the African Development Bank in this project. Dia added that while the Great Green Wall initiative had been deployed in 11 countries, it remained open to all the 23 countries affected by desertification. Commissioner Josefa Sacko confirmed that work is going on to expand the programme to southern Africa.
Between 40,000 and 150,000 hectares of land are lost every year in the Sahel, recalled Dia, adding that 3 million hectares had also been restored between 2011 and 2017, generating 35 billion CFA francs in additional income. Dia insisted on the importance of the holistic approach adopted for the Great Green Wall, with its focus on 'terroir' and its alignment with the national initiatives of the countries concerned.
Anthony Nyong, Director of the Climate Change and Green Growth Department at the African Development Bank, returned to the issue of access to energy in Africa's progress towards resilience to climate change: "The Desert to Power initiative is intended to offer alternative energy sources," he said, adding that a first project in Mauritania had just received a go-ahead from the Bank's Board of Directors. "It will complement and sustain the Great Green Wall. If, for want of energy, the people of the region cut down the trees planted in connection with the Great Green Wall initiative for firewood, for example, how could this initiative possibly remain sustainable and effective?"
"We must work in synergy and speak with one voice," insisted Josefa Sacko in conclusion, providing an appropriate and succinct summary for the day.