COP22: Adaptation in African agriculture urgently needed

Written by Chris Neglia

IFAD's Margarita Astralaga speaks at the From Science to Action session on the Adaptation in
African Agriculture Initiative.
©IFAD/C. Neglia

In Marrakech this week, the Moroccan government is hosting the first UN Climate Change Conference since delegates from nearly 200 countries signed the historic Paris Agreement one year ago. The occasion has prompted Morocco to urge other African nations to be proactive in fighting climate change and vocal in international dialogue.

“Africa is progressing and asserting itself in the international arena… Morocco will defend the position of our Continent, which is greatly affected by climate change and sustainable development issues,” said King Mohammed VI in a statement.

To respond to climate change, the IFAD-funded Adaptation in African Agriculture (AAA) initiative promotes and fosters the implementation of specific projects to improve soil management, agricultural water control and climate risk management. Proponents believe the initiative can be a platform for a stronger collective voice for adaptation in African agriculture, and a means to contribute to countries’ Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs), or climate action plans.

Although Africa is only responsible for 4 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions, it is particularly vulnerable to climate change. In fact, 6 out of the 10 most affected countries are African, and the Continent will face a 20 per cent decrease in agricultural yields by 2050, even if global warming is limited to 2°C. Already, its negative effects are reducing Africa’s gross domestic product by 1.4 per cent annually.

Meanwhile, adaptation projects worldwide mobilise only 20 per cent of public climate funds. Even though it accounts for 16 per cent of the global population, Africa attracts only 5 per cent of available resources.

“Smallholders cannot shoulder the costs of making agriculture more sustainable alone. In Africa, there is a need for better policies that promote technical assistance, smarter subsidies that incentivise adoption of climate-smart practices and broader access to land, financial products, infrastructure and markets,” said Margarita Astralaga, Director of IFAD’s Environment and Climate Division.

The AAA initiative, therefore, is a programme for resilient agriculture in Africa that promotes better working conditions for small rural producers. It focuses on funding soil fertility, arboriculture and agroforestry, greater carbon sequestration in soils, rolling out agricultural insurance, and broadening coverage of meteorological information and early warning systems. To implement its agenda, it is seeking US $30 billion in public climate funds.

Furthermore, many of the solutions to climate and food challenges can be found at the intersection of Africa, agriculture and adaptation. 65 per cent of the world’s unused arable land is in Africa, making it a potential breadbasket for a growing population. Generally, small farming systems are still traditional and therefore able to modernize very quickly (using digital tools, new farming techniques, and renewable energy). And finally, agriculture is a huge source of jobs, especially for young people capable of adopting more science-based and business-oriented modifications to agricultural practices.

As a sense of urgency to address climate change and food insecurity starts to permeate the corridors of high political offices, the AAA initiative is a welcome contribution to development solutions for Africa.