African farmers must prepare for climate change

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African farmers must prepare for climate change

By Henry Owino

Climate change makes it difficult to have enough food but farmers are already making changes.

Small farmers in Africa are finding it difficult to make changes quickly because of rising temperatures and unusual rainfall.

The 2014 African Agriculture Status Report (AASR) says that climate change will be faster and harder, and it asks farmers to be ready for worse conditions.

The report also asks local scientists to work closely with farmers to find solutions.

The report was at this year’s fourth annual Africa Green Revolution Forum, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. African heads of state, ministers, farmers, agribusinesses, financial institutions, NGOs, civil society representatives, scientists and others were there. They came to discuss improved food productivity and ending hunger; making changes in agriculture because of climate change; and sustainable growth in agriculture.

Magdalene Nyawire is a small farmer at Kitale in western Kenya. She says that she has had poor harvests for the past few years. She says this is because of unusual rainfall, long dry periods, disease, and pests.

Nyawire grows maize and beans on her five-acre land. Before, she produced at least 200 bags of maize and 50 bags of beans from the land. Now, she finds it difficult to harvest 40 bags of maize and 10 bags of beans.

She says that the maize and beans she harvests are not enough for the money she spends. Farmers lose hope. They tell me that the big problem is climate change. It comes as long dry periods and then heavy rain that causes floods and washes crops away.

Nyawire is not alone. Farmers in Uganda, Tanzania and other sub-Saharan African countries are finding things worse and are finding increasing temperatures. But, Nyawire says, farmers are using new ideas to help them with climate change. They are planting drought-resistant seeds. They have new crop and livestock insurance programmes that pay when the weather is bad. They are using different ideas with the soil that help their fields keep water.

Nyawire says that making changes also means better land rights, particularly for women; saving biodiversity; better information systems about weather and markets, and using machinery on the farm.

She thinks that African governments must find money for agricultural research and education, putting together formal and informal knowledge and building country roads and water systems.

Jane Karuku is president of the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA). She says that in East and Central Africa, the areas good for growing common beans could fall by 25 to 80 per cent. Beans are good for protein and are grown on seven million hectares. Land good for bananas could fall by 25 per cent in the Sahel and 8 per cent in West Africa.

Jane says that small farmers produce most of the food in sub-Saharan Africa. As climate change gets worse, we must make changes to be sure we have enough food and can grow economically to help poor Africans.

Scientists think it will be very dry in southern Africa. In other parts of sub-Saharan Africa they think it will be wetter, with farmers seeing more big storms and a lot of flooding. The AASR thinks that problems with enough food because of climate change could see 40% more malnourished sub-Saharan Africans in the next 35 years. Changes in climate may mean that a fall in minerals, such as iron and zinc, in plants.

David Darfo Ameyaw is the managing editor of the report and AGRA’s director for strategy. He says that helping small farmers to make changes today will prepare them for more serious problems in the future. When farmers can use climate-smart techniques, it makes a big difference. With climate change it is still possible for have growth for small farmers. But we need more money invested.

Finding and growing seeds that are good in a particular region or environment can help farmers rely less on manufactured fertilizer. There are also crops which do well when there is no water or a lot of salt in the soil. And there are crops that do well when there are more plant diseases and pests. In the past 10 years, almost 500 new crop varieties have been given to small farmers.

Only four per cent of African agricultural land has water systems. The rest needs rain, which is now falling at unusual times. Collecting rain in ponds or barrels is a simple idea which is not used very much. The AASR says that collecting only 15 per cent of the region’s rain would be enough.

Motorized equipment gives only 10 per cent of farm energy, compared to 50 per cent in other regions. Use of machinery could help produce more food and reduce waste and add value to food products. But for progress in this area, scientists say that we should use energy-efficient ideas, including alternative energy such as solar-power to pump water. And we need better training, a better repair service, and strong farmers’ organizations.

Climate change is one problem. But the AASR talks about other problems affecting enough food and agriculture production. These are the fast growth in population, urbanization, unsustainable land use and inequality from women. These affect household income, the cost of food, poverty levels, health, conflict over natural resources and growing social inequality.

NOW READ THE ORIGINAL: (This article has been simplified so the words, text structure and quotes may have been changed).