Agriculture vital to tackling effects of climate change

Rice cultivation
Copyright: J.B. Russell/Panos

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  • Sub-Saharan Africa relies on rainfall for 95 per cent of crop production
  • A study shows crops such as maize and beans will be hit hard by climate change
  • Transformational changes including a focus on livestock farming may be needed

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Agriculture should receive more attention as climate change could affect rainfall rates and patterns, resulting in more droughts and increased catastrophic flooding that could affect food production across the world, according to experts.

At a meeting of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCC) panel last month (1-11 June) in Bonn, Germany, the experts discussed the need to make agriculture more prominent in a global treaty on climate change expected to be signed in Paris, France in November-December this year.

“Something that is clear is that for most countries in Africa adaptation is a priority, but we need to understand the mitigation impacts of any implemented adaptation actions.”


Julian Ramirez-Villegas, The International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT)

Scientists have warned that Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable to the threat of El Nino as 95 per cent of its crop production area relies entirely on rainfall. Under climate change, this means that multiple stresses such as drought interact, causing large decreases in productivity.

The UNFCC Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) that marshals scientific evidence to support countries’ decisions to be included in the treaty, says that a central objective of agricultural research, extension, education and rural credit systems must be to help farmers and producers successfully adapt to changing climatic conditions.

SBSTA held workshops at the meeting to address the need to develop early warning systems on potential weather-related disruption in food production.

The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) and its research partners such as the International Livestock Research Institute, the International Center for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT) and the International Research Institute for Climate and Society made presentations at the SBSTA discussions.
Bruce Campbell, the director of CCAFS, told SciDev.Net in an interview that the researchers assessed productivity using crop models that simulate plant growth and climatically-suitable areas using a climate envelope model.
They found that some crops such as maize, beans and coffee are very hard-hit in terms of both productivity in currently suitable areas.
“It is difficult to be prescriptive on adaptation and mitigation strategies because options and needs vary largely in space and time,” said Julian Ramirez-Villegas, a, who researches in climate change impacts and adaptation at CIAT. “Something that is clear is that for most countries in Africa adaptation is a priority, but we need to understand the mitigation impacts of any implemented adaptation actions.
Ramirez-Villegas said the priorities for adaptation are to improve the efficiency in the cropping systems through site-specific agriculture, which is a win-win for mitigation and food security, tackling specific stresses that become prevalent under climate change, and promoting livelihood diversification such as agroforestry.

In some cases, the study found that transformational changes such as moving out of agriculture, or changing from crop to livestock production could be needed. These changes could occur through enabling policies and incentives.

Edith Ofwona-Adera, a senior program specialist in climate change and water at the Kenya office of the International Development Research Centre (IDRC), says research on agricultural productivity and climate change is essential to identify suitable crops and adaptation of climate strategies to help farmers.
This article has been produced by SciDev.Net's Sub-Saharan Africa desk.