Climate change adversities give farmers sleepless nights
Farmers cultivate maize on a farm in Kakamega, western Kenya. Agriculture is Africa’s mainstay and continues to play an important role in the continent’s growth and development. PHOTO | FILE | NMG
Arthur Nsubuga is a worried man. A farmer in Uganda, Mr. Nsubuga has over the past two decades watched as his community’s agricultural productivity declines, mostly due to shifting rainfall patterns.
“It has been difficult to determine when to plant, and you find that farmers in many areas end up planting way before the rain, eventually losing their seed. The weather predictions have also not been very accurate,” Nsubuga said.
The situation is the same for farmers in Kenya, confirmed Ruth Maraba, an agriculturalist in the country’s Uasin Gishu County, during a Farmers’ Forum on Thursday last week organized by the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) to discuss ways for building resilient food systems in Africa.
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As educated farmers, both Nsubuga and Maraba know that the adversity befalling their countries’ agricultural and food systems stem from climate change.
Agriculture is Africa’s mainstay and continues to play an important role in the continent’s growth and development. However, climate change is bringing about new challenges that are making the production environment difficult, especially for smallholder farmers, who mainly practice rain-fed agriculture.
According to global research firm McKinsey, the changing rainfall patterns and persistent droughts have brought the yields of most of Africa’s crops to a threshold “below which yields decline.”
“African farmers are generally more vulnerable to higher temperatures, fluctuations in rainfall, and variable yields than farmers in developed countries, who can usually more easily secure crop insurance, adjust what they plant, irrigate their fields, or apply crop protection chemicals and fertilizers,” McKinsey said in a recent report.
Curiously, agricultural systems contribute almost one third of climate change and almost 80 percent of biodiversity loss, according to AGRA President, Dr. Agnes Kalibata.
Faced with the urgency to reverse the damages of climate change on Africa’s agricultural systems, Nsubuga recommends the collective participation of all stakeholders in recovering the continent’s lost tree cover.
Just last year, agriculture and other activities in Uganda contributed to a tree cover loss of 73,600ha, equivalent to 36.0Mt of carbon dioxide emissions, reports the Global Forest Watch. Such increasing atmospheric carbon dioxide is responsible for about two-thirds of the total energy imbalance that is causing the Earth’s temperature to rise.
“It is important for smallholder farmers to optimize their land and include more than just food crops by including some tree cover. We have millions of farmers in the continent, and if each of these farmers adds some tree cover on their land, it can aggregate to reverse the situation,” Nsubuga said.
Maraba agrees with Nsubuga, noting that the Kenya National Farmers Federation, which she serves as a treasurer, targets to plant 50 billion trees by 2030.
“Farmers with more than 10 acres of land can plant up to 10,000 trees. Smallholder farmers are also encouraged to plant several trees in their homesteads, and we are already seeing some positive change in some areas, which are now receiving rain after a long period of time,” she said.
Yet while farmers play an important role in controlling the damaging effects of climate change, they cannot do it alone. Other stakeholders, including governments, development partners, private sector investors, the academic community and civil society must also engage in activities that provoke action towards damage reversal and resilience building, according to Dr. Geoffrey Kirenga, CEO of the Southern Agricultural Growth Corridor of Tanzania (SAGCOT).
Meanwhile, East Africa’s governments already taking steps towards the development of resilient food systems through the establishment of policies and frameworks
“We must prepare for droughts, pests and pandemics. We have shifted most of our programs to have a resilience component because we realize that we must help our farmers to cope,” said Prof. Hamadi Boga, the Principal Secretary of the State Department for Agricultural Research in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture.
Tanzania and Uganda have similar initiatives leading the mitigation of climate change, and enabling their country’s farmers adopt more productive systems and technologies.