West African farmers ‘already adapting to climate change’

Farmers are finding their own ways to adapt to climate change Copyright: Flickr/IRRI Images

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[COTONOU, BENIN] African farmers have developed new cultivation techniques and adopted short-season crop varieties using their own experience and observation to adapt to climate change a workshop in Benin has heard.

"Social adaptation to climate change has also been found in animals," said Abdoulaye Gouro, president of the scientific committee of the research network RIPIECSA (Interdisciplinary and Participatory Research on Interactions between Climate, Ecosystems and Society in West Africa).

He was speaking at a workshop last week (18–21 October) organised by France’s Institute for Development Research (IRD) to obtain feedback on current RIPIESCA projects.

"Farmers are not inactive in the face of climate change. They are sowing second crops, and growing cassava, yams and so on in the lowlands. They have been able to increase their acreage in some areas because of the shifting seasons," Euloge Agbossou, head of the hydrology laboratory at the University of Abomey-Calavi, Benin,told the workshop.

"People are not waiting for engineers, scientists and researchers in order to adapt to climate change. They are aware of the phenomenon, they feel it around them and they have adapted to it," he said.

"Now it is up to us to improve on their methods, and see whether their approaches to adaptation are consistent with what science indicates."

Among the findings presented at the workshop was a study from RIPIESCA’s flagship ‘Ouémé 2025’ project on the effects of climate change on the hydrology of the Weme (Ouémé in French) river, which forms part of the border between Benin and Nigeria. It found that water resources are adequate but will still need management in the dry season.

Jean-Baptiste Vodonou, deputy coordinator of Ouémé 2025 and a professor in the department of geography at the University of Parakou, Benin, said he plans to set up an observatory on the use of water resources in the basin area and collect more data "to understand the socio-economic aspects of water use" in the river basin.

The next stage will be to share the results with people in the areas where the research was conducted, ensure the network is sustainable and seek more funding to extend the research.

The study also helped to strengthen the scientific capacity of many young researchers and members of the African Monsoon network (AMMANET).

RIPIESCA aims to "support scientific policy responses to climate change", said Gouro. "We can advance research in Africa if several players are working together on a single problem."

The network has been supported by the French government and run by IRD since it was set up in 2007. It has funded some 25 projects in a dozen African countries in collaboration with AMMANET.

The countries involved in RIPIESCA are Benin, Burkina Faso, Cameroon, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Guinea, Mali, Mauritania, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal and Togo.