Climate-smart agriculture is the solution to climate resilience

Climate change still remains a critical challenge to livestock and cereal farmers in southern Africa. Stress-tolerant germplasms, ICT-enabled climate information services, diversified livestock-based livelihoods and weather-based insurance were identified as solutions which cereal and livestock farmers can adopt to make the transition to climate-resilient agriculture.

These solutions were discussed at a regional meeting held on 13th – 16th September, 2016 at the Birchwood Hotel & OR Tambo Conference Centre in Johannesburg, South Africa.

This meeting was organised by the ACP-EU Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), in partnership with the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Union (SACAU) and other stakeholders to launch a project that seeks to promote climate-resilient cereal and livestock farming in southern Africa.

The purpose of this regional meeting was to build partnerships and synergies with stakeholders in the implementation of the flagship project and for technical validation of the proposed scaling up-strategy.

SACAU Chairman Dr Theo de Jager spoke about the negative impact of climate change on farmers’ productivity in southern Africa.

“Farmers are more vulnerable to climate change and they suffer first, so it is extremely important for farmers to take the lead in the debate of climate smart agriculture,” said Dr de Jager.

“There is a need for fundamental rapid change and a revolution in terms of how we do agriculture in Africa,” he said. “If we don’t do it ourselves, nature will do it for us.”

This was a highly interactive meeting attended by various organisations which are active in the area of climate change management and climate – smart agriculture.

The meeting explored the four areas which CTA’s flagship project for southern Africa has identified as strategic areas of focus, i.e. ICT-enabled climate information services, stress-tolerant germplasms, diversified livestock-based livelihoods and weather-based insurance.

 

Delegates attending the CTA/SACAU inception meeting and working session.

Delegates attending the CTA/SACAU inception meeting and working session.

 

ICT-enabled climate information services

ICT plays a critical role in driving key actions to create awareness surrounding the area of climate change management in addition to assisting with mitigation, monitoring and adaptation to climate change in Southern Africa. ICT-enabled climate information services are designed to provide real time information to farmers which empowers them and improves their decision making capacity.

The participants highlighted key  gaps in ICT and what measures can be taken by farmers in order to utilise ICT platforms. These gaps include limited infrastructure to capture data; misalignment of information coming from different existing sources; interpretation of available information and practical application thereof by farmers; limited documentation of past experiences and success stories to inform future actions; monopolisation of data by ‘powerful’ persons; and lack of support services provided to farmers in this field.

ICT systems or platforms are costly to establish and maintain. The key priorities raised by the participants were that farmers need to be educated on the use of ICT platforms and that stakeholders need to invest in ICT infrastructure in order to address the effects of climate change.

Stress-tolerant germplasms

Stress-tolerant germplasms refer to genetically improved varieties that have been developed to withstand heat, moisture and disease. These varieties enable farmers to produce food crops in hostile environmental conditions.

The need for upscaling the production and availability of stress-tolerant seed varieties was noted and this was discussed alongside the opportunity which exists in the liberalisation of seed movement from country to country, another gap which was cited.

Developing partnerships with the private sector can be a great opportunity for the dissemination of new seed varieties. Creating awareness amongst farmers’ can give them the knowledge and capacity to adapt to climate change, i.e. involving farmers in the process of developing new seed varieties creates familiarity and promotes improved understanding and possibly, uptake.

Diversified livestock-based livelihoods

The objective of diversification is to reduce farmers’ reliance on a single commodity and to help them to spread their production risk, i.e. diversifying to a second commodity which can either be livestock or another crop. The International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) has implemented programmes with both a diversification and an intensification focus in the southern Africa region. ILRI’s work in reducing the greenhouse gas emissions in the agricultural sector is already informing research, policy and education in the region.

The ongoing drought has caused a lot of challenges in the 2015/16 season such as food insecurity, low incomes, inadequate and poor quality grazing for livestock. Considerable livestock losses have been reported across the region, with an estimate of 630 000 cattle deaths recorded in the 2015/16 El Niño induced drought.

Engaging the private sector can be a great opportunity to create partnerships that will promote education and distribution of research on livestock. Diversification of livestock can provide access to information on crop and livestock production and market participation.

Innovative weather-based insurance

Weather based insurance is designed to protect farmers against shocks emanating from adverse weather patterns and conditions in any one season.

Low levels of awareness on the knowledge and understanding of weather-based insurance products were identified.

In expanding the availability of weather-based insurance, service providers need to use innovative approaches to sell the insurance as part of a product offering for farmers.

 

Engaging the private sector in scaling up climate smart agricultural solutions 

Engaging the private sector was another topic that was discussed by participants at the workshop. The private sector plays a critical role in agricultural value chains and it has the ability to provide a strong link to the market place. Engaging the private sector in agriculture can be a major source of income in the form of grant funds coming possibly from corporate social responsibility funds. Partnerships with the private sector have potential benefits as well as risks, so they should only be entered when these are clear on all sides. The emerging opportunities to engage the private sector were identified as weather insurance (as part of a bundle of services for farmers), ICT-based information services like weather linked to mobile service providers, in livestock research as well as for dissemination of new seed varieties.