Why ‘climate-smart’ agric matters

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Farmers plant rice in Rugeramigozi 2 Marshland in Muhanga District. (Emmanuel Ntirenganya)

Agriculture sector accounts for more than half of total employment in sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, and over 70 per cent in East African Community (EAC), according to the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO).

In addition, agriculture accounts for about 32 per cent of the Community’s combined Gross Domestic Product (GDP) of $146 billion as per EAC statistics for 2016.

But experts have warned that climate change effects are threatening the sector, which they consider a backbone of the continent and region’s economy.

Barrack Okoba, a ‘climate-smart’ agriculture expert at FAO, Kenya said climate change is here with us and it is a reality.

“Be it in Rwanda, be it in Djibouti, be it in Kenya, Uganda, smallholder farmers are facing the threats and, therefore, our report is just a declaration that countries need to invest and invest in a smart way so that we can protect the smallholder farmers,” Okaba said.

Okoba was speaking during a two-day sub-regional workshop on investments in climate-smart agriculture in Kigali last week.

The function brought together agriculture experts from 11 eastern African countries.

Climate smart agriculture

Climate-smart agriculture, according to experts, is an approach that helps to guide actions needed to transform and reorient agricultural systems to effectively support development and ensure food security in a changing climate.

Okoba noted that going the climate-smart way will ensure that future generations have place to recognise in this continent, especially the youth.

“Because the bulk of our population is the youth and there are so many opportunities for the youth to tap into the value chain in agriculture in terms of business, in terms of providing services to smallholder farmers, transport aspects,” he said, adding that ICT is also an area that FAO is putting emphasis for knowledge transfer in which the youth can play a role to promote agricultural practices.

“We are going the climate-smart agriculture way because in climate-smart agriculture, the investment will ensure that the farmers are resilient to climate change shocks because we will develop the farmers’ resilience and they are able to adapt to the changing climate,” Okoba said.

Moses Marwa, the principal agriculture economist at East African Community Secretariat in Arusha, Tanzania, said given the huge threats of climate change effects on regional agriculture, there is a need to adopt climate smart agriculture.

This, Marwa added, will increase our chances and our resilience to some of these shocks resulting from climate change and actually will support us to attain food security and improve livelihoods.

He noted that in terms of ongoing initiatives, the Secretariat has a draft on regional climate smart agriculture research and training curriculum for higher education systems.

“We hope to introduce some of these principles in our higher learning systems and research institutions. We want to make sure that this agenda is taken seriously and pursued,” Marwa said.

MINAGRI plans in motion

Innocent Bisangwa, environmental and climate change specialist at the Ministry of Agriculture and Animal Resources in Rwanda (MINAGRI), told The New Times that the ministry has developed a plan to increase agriculture output in an environmentally-friendly manner.

“In rice, there is nutrient management in a fertiliser application system called deep placement where tablet-like fertiliser is applied in a rice plantation and the crop sucks the tablet gradually such that it gets more nutrients while the system scatters fertiliser in the field,” he said, noting that the system ensures efficiency in fertiliser use.

Eshete Dejen, an expert in agriculture at Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD), said organisations have been implementing IGAD Drought Disaster Resilience and Sustainability Initiative (IDDRSI) programme aimed at enhancing drought resilience agro-pastoral communities in the region.

He said nearly $1 billion has been mobilised for the implementation of the programme.

IDDRIS was adopted by the Heads of State and Government of IGAD and EAC member states and international development partners at a Summit in Nairobi in September 2011.

Reducing emissions from agriculture

The State of Food and Agriculture (SOFA) 2016 report titled “Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security” launched by FAO on October 17,  stated that climate change impacts are expected to be substantial as the population living in poverty could increase by between 35 and 122 million by 2030 relative to a future without climate change.

However, the report warned that agriculture, including forestry, fisheries and livestock production, generate around a fifth of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions, adding that agriculture must both contribute more to combating climate change while bracing to overcome its impacts.

By FAO estimates, emissions from agriculture, forest and other land use (AFOLU) stood at 10.6 gigatonnes (Gt) of carbon dioxide equivalent in the year 2014. The sector emits three types of anthropogenic greenhouse gases: carbon dioxide (CO2), the hydrocarbon methane (CH4) and nitrous oxide (N2O).

The main sources of those emissions are deforestation, enteric fermentation in livestock, manure left on fields, applied chemical fertilisers and rice cultivation practices. Deforestation and land degradation have also reduced the sector’s capacity to absorb (or sequester) carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

Johnson N. Nkem, a senior climate adaptation expert at United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said African countries have a target to reduce emissions from agriculture by 40 percent, in regards to Paris Agreement.

But, he noted, Africa contributes less than 5 per cent of the global emissions.

Nkem said rice produces methane, which is one of the potent greenhouse gases.

Okoba said climate-smart agriculture seeks to reduce greenhouse emissions from agricultural activities from crop, livestock, fisheries, forestry and along the value chain even in the production to the market.

The Paris Agreement of December 2015 has set the long-term goal of holding the increase in global average temperature to “well below 2 °C” above pre-industrial levels and to pursue efforts to limit the temperature increase to 1.5 °C, with the view that this move would significantly reduce the risks and impacts of climate change.

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