Dr Majola Mabuza, (4th from left) among the panellist at the Soils Advantage event at COP24 (Source: CCAFS website)

Can farmers capitalise on carbon sequestration?

Dr Majola Mabuza, (4th from left) among the panellist at the Soils Advantage event at COP24 (Source: CCAFS website)

Dr Majola Mabuza, (4th from left) among the panelist at the Soils Advantage event at COP24 (Source: CCAFS website)

A lot of human activities including deforestation, converting grasslands into arable land, repeated soil tillage, and burning of fossil fuels have disrupted the carbon cycle, taking it out of balance. To this end, scientists and climate change activists have made a clarion call to farmers, as land managers, to play an active role in taking carbon back to the soil.

Soils act as a source and sink for carbon and other greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming. Conservation agriculture and agroforestry are some of the practices that simultaneously improve soil carbon, soil fertility and water conservation, hence their adoption at scale can help increase food production to meet the needs of the growing population.

In one of the COP24 side events co-hosted by SACAU, an important point was raised to the effect that for farmers to heed the call of ‘taking carbon back to the soil’, there needs to be a compelling value proposition apart from the rhetoric of benefiting from ‘increased yield and household food security’. Farmers need to capitalise on carbon sequestration.

When polluters buy carbon credits, the financial returns are enjoyed by a company, organisation or project that has prevented an equivalent amount of greenhouse gases from being emitted into the atmosphere.

If farmers can store substantial amounts of carbon in the soils, why can’t they benefit from the carbon market? While it was pointed out that measuring the actual amount of carbon sequestered in soils and plants could be difficult and very costly, this is a matter that needs to be debated further, with the hope that more innovative approaches will be introduced.

Farmers’ level of awareness, knowledge and understanding of carbon sequestration also need to be improved for them to benefit from such an initiative.


Climate change to worsen the plight of cotton farmers

Climate change or rather climate variability will continue to decimate cotton production. Different regions will be affected differently with lots of uncertainties leading to difficulties in advising farmers on how to respond to these drastic changes in weather patterns.

Africa, with lower average yields will be further negatively affected by erratic and unreliable rainfall seasons resulting in even lower yields. New pests and pest resistance to pesticides are also expected to increase due to global warming. The International Cotton Advisory Committee (ICAC) 77th Plenary Meeting in Abidjan brought researchers and other experts together in December 2018 to have serious conversions around these challenges.


The possible solutions to the climate change threat, as discussed in the plenary meeting revolve around use of short season varieties, increased use of Biotech (BT) cotton and increased investments in meteorological services provision by national governments. Short season varieties mature early and stand a better chance of surviving short rainfall seasons that have become common in the region in recent times.

Biotech (BT) cotton also presents a better alternative to conventional cotton varieties with improved pest resistance and far much higher yields. The pest resistance reduces use of costly pesticides which in turn reduces farmers’ exposure to hazardous pesticides.

However, in the SADC region there is still some resistance from some countries in adopting the use of BT crops. Improved meteorological services will provide real time weather services at local level and therefore improve farmers’ decision making on what activities to carry out and when.

In conclusion, cotton production remains one of the low hanging fruit in fighting rural poverty as it is a cash crop with a long history of being produced in many countries in Africa. Cotton is mainly produced for export markets and therefore a major foreign currency earner.

Cotton production provides employment in rural areas and indeed in the whole value chain and can assist governments to deal with the ever-increasing unemployment in most countries in Africa.


Role of institutions in facilitating the adoption of CSA


Emperical evidence suggests that institutions play a pivotal role in facilitating the adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) practices on a wide scale.

Institutions and institutional arrangements serve important functions in information gathering and dissemination, resource mobilisation and allocation, skills development and capacity building, and creating linkages between decision makers and several other entities, including the farmers’ constituency.

This was one of the main discussion points led by SACAU in a public dialogue convened by the National Council of the Namibia National Farmers Union (NNFU) in September 2018 in Swakopmund, Namibia. In attendence were representatives from various stakeholders, including the government; private sector; research institutions; finance institutions; local and international development agencies as well as NNFU council members.

Convened under the theme, “Climate Smart Agriculture: The future for communal farmers in Namibia”, this session sought to enlighten participants on their individual and collective roles within the CSA institutional set up. The institutional environment, which is broadly defined by prevailing legislation, policies, rules and regulations, programmes as well as organisations providing CSA related goods and services in a particular country or region, determines whether CSA practices will be implemented effectively or technology will be available and accessible to farmers.

More importantly, if adopted, the institutional environment will determine whether CSA practices and/or technologies will bring positive changes to the farmers’ livelihoods as ground implementers. Farmers’ organisations (FOs) are part of the CSA institutional set up, and have a strong potential to consolidate and disseminate innovations developed by farmers themselves and ensure that farmers’ priorities are represented in the broader agricultural development agenda.

In addition, FOs are expected to conduct their own research (individually or in collaboration with others) and use generated facts to advance their advocacy for better CSA related policies and investments.


Regional dairy associations meet to discuss issues affecting the performance of the sector


SACAU co-hosted the regional dairy platform meeting with We Effect from the 29 to 30 October 2018. The meeting has become part of key annual activities aimed at improving production and productivity of the members of dairy associations at farm level.

The proper management of dairy farm activities is the starting point in ensuring that our countries and indeed the region can be competitive and become globally significant in trade of dairy products. The meeting, which was held in Johannesburg, South Africa drew participation from eight countries in the region. Apart from presentations of country situations from the dairy associations and national farmers’ unions that were represented at the meeting, presenters that came to present on specific dairy sector related topics were organised.

The focus areas were: dairy sector outlook, climate change, intra-regional and global trade of dairy products, technological advances in the dairy sector and the schools feeding/milk programme. The presenters were drawn from organisations with expert knowledge of the sector and they provided insights on current trends based on research findings.

The associations raised concerns on challenges negatively affecting their production among them, access to finance, the low farmgate price of milk, milk producers being price takers, policy matters, and their own capacity constraints. The presentations and deliberations also highlighted a number of key issues of importance. The dairy sector remains a highly risky business and milk producers need to be vigilant and know how to harvest the highs and manage the lows.

The measurement of inputs and the outputs will assist the milk producer to do a proper assessment of the viability of the dairy business therefore recordkeeping becomes imperative. The smallholder dairy farmer is operating on the margin, efficient use of resources is unavoidable if the farmer is to sustain the business. The unit of production, in this case, the dairy cow is the most important asset the dairy farmer has, and the farmer must ensure that the animal is well looked after for it to be productive.

The agricultural sector and the dairy sub-sector specifically are now a science, knowledge, data and technology driven business, so the farmer needs to progressively adopt affordable modern methods of production to avoid being left behind. The dairy farmers should be involved in initiatives to promote the consumption of milk such as
the schools milk programme as it presents opportunities for smallholder dairy producers to enter mainstream formal markets.

Climate has been changing over time, it is only now that we are beginning to see the impact of unfavourable weather patterns on agricultural production systems. The dairy farmer should therefore use a multi-faceted approach such as use of drought tolerant feed plant species, for instance the spineless cactus and many other types available.

The level of youth participation in the dairy sector was a bit worrying and the regional dairy associations should be devising ways of promoting the involvement of a young generation of dairy farmers.


A climate change adaptation roadmap for agriculture

KKLA discussion paper titled “Feeding the world in a changing climate: an adaptation roadmap for agriculture” was recently published. The paper looks at the main issues that an adaptation roadmap for agriculture should consider, particularly in developing countries.

It explores several questions which are around the principal climate risks to agriculture and the implications of no adaptation; areas where action is required to advance in the implementation of climate resilient agriculture practices; emerging lessons from successful adaptation efforts in agriculture, and key pathways to scaling up agricultural adaptation.

Some of the highlights are the three areas in which action is required to lay the groundwork to advance climate-resilient agriculture practices, worldwide. These are scaling adaptive farming technologies and practices that work, deploying national climate policies and action to drive adaptation efforts, and mobilising finance for large scale agricultural adaptation activity.

In laying the groundwork, the paper draws out lessons to inform the design and implementation of solutions at scale within the urgent timeframe required. Some of the lessons are that a shared vision of the future of farming helps navigate uncertainty; collective actions help overcome barriers; adaptation actions need to tackle the root cause of risks and vulnerabilities; food system reform can empower women, youth, and other marginalised groups; approaches to leapfrog learning curves are key; meeting short – and long-term priorities alike; adaptation actions to suit context; realising benefits at scale, and tracking progress toward adaptation goals is a crucial aspect of any effective adaptation strategy.

It concludes by making several recommendations, amongst them the following: promoting climate-resilient and low-emission practices and technologies; expanding digital climate information services; mobilising innovative finance to leverage public and private sector investments for adaptation; strengthening farmer and consumer organisations and networks and delivering enabling policies and institutions.

According to the paper, these recommendations need to be at the centre of future agricultural research, policy, action and advocacy. Pursuing an agenda around these recommendations will help achieve major transitions across the agriculture sector and to replicate promising solutions on the scale required to address climate change risks and ensure food security. SACAU is one of the 15 authors of the discussion paper. The full paper can be accessed from assets/2018-10/18_WP_GCA_ Agriculture_1001_Oct5.pdf


Increasing farmers’ resilience to climate change

The management of climate-related risks continues to be high on the agenda of the issues that farmers are grappling with all over the world. This was highlighted during the General Assembly (GA) of the World Farmers’ Organisation (WFO) which was held in Moscow, Russia from 28 to 31 May 2018, at which SACAU was represented by the CEO. To underscore the importance of this issue, a large part of the GA was dedicated to the management of climate risk.

Several take-away lessons emerged during deliberations in several working group meetings, workshops and plenary discussions, and the following are worth highlighting: the starting point or foundation of addressing climate risk should be the application of good agricultural practices – do the basic things first before introducing high tech and more complicated solutions; use of high tech seeds without good agricultural practices only adds to costs; farmers should not shoulder the risk alone, thus there is need for risk sharing along the entire value chain, and the importance of multi-stakeholder partnerships and collaborations in order to effectively address the matter.

It also emerged during the GA that increasing attention is being given to weather-based insurance as one of the tools for managing climate change. Similarly, it is noted that insurance alone is not enough it needs to be accompanied by good agricultural practices.

Other important points were the generally low penetration of crop insurance amongst farmers across the world; the need for farmers to consider the opportunity cost of not insuring and, relatedly, the importance of viewing insurance as some form of investment rather than a cost; the need for a value-chain based approach to the financing of insurance; low levels of insurance literacy amongst the smallholder farmers in particular, as well as the use of insurance as a de-risking mechanism which can also crowd-in finance- insurance makes farmers more bankable and financing more feasible.

Finally, everyone in the ecosystem tends to benefit if farmers are insured against climate change. Finally, SACAU underscored the need to diversify risk across many geographic areas and regions, and commodities/value chains, as a way of addressing the generally high cost of living.


Agricultural transformation under climate change: Realising opportunities for action


A milestone achievement was reached at COP23, where Parties to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) reached an agreement on agriculture to address climate change and food security.

From a negotiation process that has lasted more than six years, this was the first decision in the history of the UNFCCC on agriculture that led to the establishment of the Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture (KJWA). The KJWA initiative envisions the UNFCCC’s technical and implementation bodies working together to develop and implement new strategies for adaptation and mitigation that will help reduce emissions from agriculture as well as build the sector’s resilience against the effects of climate change.

To ensure food security, adapt to climate change impacts, and achieve the 20°C greenhouse gas emissions target, a transformation in the agricultural sector is imperative. The KJWA can play a crucial role in supporting countries to achieve these targets. However, the initial question that arises from this initiative is: “What are the challenges for implementation, and how can they be overcome?”

In attempting to answer this question, the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), in collaboration with the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture (CIAT), the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), and the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), will be hosting a side event at the 48th Session of the UNFCCC Subsidiary Bodies in Bonn, Germany on 30 April 2018 to discuss the fundamentals for realising agricultural transformation under climate change.

Specifically, this side event will identify the key role players, priority actions, and best practices to overcome implementation challenges and accelerate agricultural transformation, taking cognisance of other commitments such as the attainment of Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by 2030.

The event is expected to attract interest from national negotiators and government representatives; civil society; non-governmental organisations; private sector; international organisations, and donors.


Wide-scale adoption of Climate Smart Agriculture


Climate change has emerged as a major threat to agriculture, food security and income generation, particularly for agriculture-dependant households globally leading to increased calls to develop resilient food production systems.

To this end, African countries have made commitments through the Malabo Declaration, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and Paris Climate Agreement to promote the uptake of Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA).


Low adoption rates are linked to a number of factors, including the divergent views on the CSA concept itself, limited understanding by farmers, limited understanding of the fundamentals for wide-scale adoption, and the limited empirical evidence on the benefits of CSA, particularly to farmers.

In view of the above, we are organising a CSA sensitisation workshop for members which will be held from 5 to 6 April 2018 in Johannesburg, South Africa. This event, which will host a number of resource persons from different regional and international organisations, represents an important step towards addressing some of the above-highlighted knowledge gaps.

Some of the topics to be covered are defining the CSA concept, climate-smart practices, and technologies, farmers’ prioritisation of CSA practices and technologies and fundamentals for scaling up CSA in southern Africa.

A farmer in Salima (Malawi) explaining some of the achievements

Stakeholders share experiences on Climate Smart Agriculture and Conservation Agriculture in Malawi

A number of stakeholders who are promoting Climate Smart (CSA) and Conservation Agriculture (CA) in the Southern African region met in Lilongwe, Malawi at a conference organised by the Norwegian Embassy in Malawi from 29th to 30th November 2016. The conference was aimed at sharing regional experiences in CA and CSA in the region. Participants were drawn from Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, Mozambique, South Africa and Norway. Representatives from NEPAD Planning and Coordination Agency and Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) were also in attendance. SACAU being a partner with NORAD in the implementation of CA initiatives in Mozambique and Zimbabwe attended the conference. Participants were also accorded an opportunity to visit some of the CA projects in Malawi. Among other things, the following topics were discussed; connecting research in CA to practice, private sector engagement in the CA, lessons from the market, national agriculture commodity markets and trade, business opportunities in CA innovations, achievements and challenges in CA adoption in the region, importance of organised agriculture and Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs) and their implications in international climate financing.

The linkage between CSA and the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) that provide global road map to eradicating extreme poverty and ensure a sustainable development for all was also discussed. It was clear that agriculture has crucial role in eradicating poverty in the region as it contributes to a number of the SDGs. For instance, agriculture plays a key role in attaining SDG 2 which deals with food security and at the same time it’s key in dealing with climate and land degradation issues that are referred to in SDG 13 and SDG 15 that focus on sustainable use of ecosystems. Participants were in agreement that If implemented, the principles of CSA and CA are just the right ingredients to attaining sustainable agriculture and achieving the majority of sustainable development goals, hence reducing poverty as envisaged in the SDGs.