As World Food Day approaches on October 16th, we must remember that a profound crisis is looming over Africa. Experts agree that climate change is manifesting itself in the form of prolonged drought in many parts of Africa.
This is having a devastating impact on millions of resource-poor, small-scale farmers.
And yet, for the first time in human history, we have solutions in hand that can help these farmers cope with the effects of drought.
We can prepare them for climate change by rapidly increasing the development and use of drought-tolerant crops in Africa. We just need the political will to get it done.
The choices we make now will determine how quickly these new crop varieties can be put into the hands of Africa’s farmers.
The prolonged drought affecting East Africa is making headlines. The FAO estimates that Kenya’s vital maize crop, which accounts for 80 percent of the country¹s annual cereal production, will drop by more than a quarter below its usual level.
The World Food Program estimates that more than 20 million people in East Africa are in dire need of food aid.
Research by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) and the
Consultative Group of International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) provides strong evidence that the emerging effects of climate change will only make this situation worse.
If the climate predictions are correct, Africa’s toughest days are still ahead of her. We must prepare.
Scientists and even political leaders recognize that drought tolerance is one of the most desirable traits to target in breeding better crops for Africa.
Thus, to help Africa¹s farmers meet the challenge of climate change, the African Agricultural Technology Foundation is leading a public-private partnership called “Water Efficient Maize for Africa”, which aims to develop drought-tolerant maize using conventional breeding, marker-assisted breeding, and biotechnology.
These drought-tolerant varieties will help stabilize maize yields and assure small-scale farmers of harvests.
While maize is crucial to food security in East and Southern Africa, our efforts must extend beyond this crop.
To cope with climate change, we will need an arsenal of new drought-tolerant food crops, including rice, sorghum, millet and other staples.
Sadly, African farmers have yet to benefit from such modern technologies, which have improved the productivity and lives of farmers in other regions. The problem is political, not scientific.
Africa’s technology gap exists largely because most countries do not have functional regulatory systems that are needed to assess, approve and deliver new agricultural products to farmers.
And without better policies that make higher-yielding seeds and inputs available, the reality is that Africa’s most vulnerable farmers will continue to fall further and further behind farmers in other parts of the world.
Wise decisions now will change the prospects for Africa¹s food situation in the long term.
It is possible for Africa to enjoy ample supplies of food for its people, despite global food crises, increased episodes of drought, and the extremes of weather.
Action now, increased collaboration, broader partnerships, and continued support from development partners is essential to secure this new scenario for Africa.
The keystone to Africa’s future food security and independence is political will, and especially policies that enhance the productivity and profitability of its small-scale farmers
The author is the Executive Director, African Agricultural Technology Foundation (AATF)