Benin farmers unite against effects of climate change

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[COTONOU] Farmers in Benin are implementing their own research findings to boost the soil fertility and moisture retention of their plots.

The experiment is part of the project Strengthening the Capacity to Adapt to Climate Change in Rural Benin (PARBCC) — established in late 2007 — which aims to create a three-way conversation between farmers, meteorologists and the government, and help farmers make informed choices about when to sow and harvest crops.

According to PARBCC project leader Saïd Hounkponou, one of the long-term goals of the programme is to teach the farming community in Benin to mobilise itself to take action against the effects of climate change.

Some 300 farmers are enrolled in sixty ‘field schools’ across the country, working with researchers to help Beninese farmers cope with droughts, tropical storms and other hazards related to climate change. The project’s aim is to develop, test and implement farming strategies suited to local conditions. These include mulching, planting pits, adopting integrated crop management and using organic fertilisers.

The schools are the result of a network of early-warning committees established by PARBCC in late 2008 in 35 of Benin’s 77 rural municipalities.

Nathalie Beaulieu, senior programme officer with Canada’s International Development Research Centre’s Climate Change Adaptation in Africa programme — which oversees PARBCC — said that before PARBCC, there was no mechanism for disseminating information such as meteorological forecasts to farmers.

With no access to weather reports, farmers were vulnerable to environmental catastrophes, such as the floods that struck Benin in September 2007, destroying 50 villages and ruining crops.

The results from the field schools are used to inform farming policy at a national level, as well as being repackaged as farming ‘recommendations’ and relayed to two million farmers in a bi-monthly newsletter and multi-lingual radio broadcasts. Tacked onto these communiqués are weather forecasts and information on weather patterns observed over the previous two months.

In 2003, researchers predicted a six per cent drop in the production of crops such as cassava, rice, maize and peanuts if Beninese farmers were not helped to adapt to climate change. They also estimated that cotton yields would drop by one-third.