Sustainability is a critical factor in African farmers' success, study says

A new report by the Montpellier Panel urges members of the African Union to refocus on the climate goals set during the African Union Summit in 2014.

Joe Brock/Reuters/File
Farmers plow the field in Saulawa village, on the outskirts of Nigeria's north-central state of Kaduna.

Recently, the Montpellier Panel, a team of African and European experts in agriculture, trade, ecology, and global development, released a report titled, "Set for Success: Climate-Proofing the Malabo Declaration." The report reviews the climate-related targets of the Malabo Declaration on Accelerated Agricultural Growth and Transformation for Shared Prosperity and Improved Livelihoods, a set of agricultural goals adopted at the African Union Summit in 2014. Panelists urge African governments to better address climate change challenges by increasing support for smallholder farmers and scaling up innovative programs.

According to the report, the impacts of climate change pose a high risk to African food security and economic growth. Agricultural activities employ between 60 and 90 percent of the African workforce and account for as much as 40 percent of total export earnings. The millions of smallholder farmers, who own less than one hectare of land, are especially vulnerable to increases in temperatures and extreme weather events. Authors warn that hunger and child malnutrition could increase by 20 percent by the year 2050, effectively reversing the gains of the Millennium Development Goals efforts and jeopardizing the success of the Sustainable Development Goals, COP21 commitments, and the Malabo Declaration.

The briefing paper urges African governments to fully recognize the risks of climate change to agricultural productivity and food security. The report recognizes that African countries’ National Agricultural Investment Plans have begun adopting climate-smart agriculture objectives, approaches that provide adaption and mitigation to climate shocks and emphasize location-specific and knowledge-intensive processes. However, panelists encourage countries to go further and identify and expand sustainable, scalable projects. The document highlights 15 successful practices and programs in the following categories: political leadership and capacity building, technology and innovation, risk mitigation, sustainable intensification, and financing. One project in Malawi utilizes the natural fertilization properties of Faidherbia albida, a type of nitrogen-fixing Acacia tree, to nearly double farmers’ yields of maize. Agroforestry systems that incorporate naturally fertilizing trees also offer carbon sequestering capabilities nearly 10 times higher than conventional conservation farming methods.

Authors Dr. Katrin Glatzel and Sir Gordon Conway write that "building resilience in rural and urban areas and managing climate risks will also address existing and underlying vulnerabilities and weaknesses in food systems and governance. By seizing the moment, the challenges of climate change can be turned into opportunities to reform and strengthen food systems and achieve food and nutrition security for all.”

The Montpellier Panel also emphasized the importance of strong political will to enact wide integration of climate change planning across government departments. Other recommendations include allowing easier access to climate adaptation finance mechanisms for African countries and building a comprehensive knowledge base on climate-related stresses and their impact.

This article first appeared at Food Tank.

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