Experts root for innovative ways to protect potato, cassava farmers against effects of climate change

African governments should promote innovative risk management tools and approaches to safeguard root and tuber farmers against challenges caused by climate change to ensure sustainable productivity in the sector, experts have said.
Workers prepare to transport cassava for processing. Experts are calling for innovative interventions to safeguard root and tuber crops against effects of climate change.  / File.
Workers prepare to transport cassava for processing. Experts are calling for innovative interventions to safeguard root and tuber crops against effects of climate change. / File.

African governments should promote innovative risk management tools and approaches to safeguard root and tuber farmers against challenges caused by climate change to ensure sustainable productivity in the sector, experts have said.

They added that there is need to ease farmer access to information about weather and climate, saying this will support efforts aimed helping them (farmers) to manage climatic risks that threaten food security and sustainable development.

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Agriculture ministry PS Kayisinga speaks to the media after opening the training workshop in Kigali. / Michel Nkurunziza.

Attaher Maiga, the Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO) Rwanda representative, said changing rainfall patterns, drought, flooding and growing outbreaks of pests and diseases that result from climate variability affect crop production both directly and indirectly.

Maiga was speaking during the just-ended workshop on, “Climatic risk management instruments for roots and tubers sector in Africa” held in Kigali. The meeting attracted experts from seven Sub-Saharan Africa countries - Cameroon, Benin, Ghana, Côte d’Ivoire, Malawi, Uganda and Rwanda - to deliberate on climate resilient ways that could ensure increased cassava, yam and potato production. It was organised by FAO, Rwanda’s agriculture ministry and the European Union from November 28-30.

“Crop production growth in Africa is projected to decline by 3.2 per cent as a result of climate change. Some root crops such as potatoes, cassava and yams are projected to be highly affected resulting into poor yields,” he said.

He added that natural disasters related to climate change have caused around $1.3 trillion in damages and affected 2.7 billion people worldwide over the past decade. This has deprived communities of their livelihood from agriculture and leaving them poor and food insecure, the official noted.

Building resilience

Maiga said development and use of simple and timely climate information would improve adaptive capacity of farmers to moderate potential damages, cope with the consequences while identifying areas and periods of potential risks.

Speaking at the event, Jean Claude Kayisinga, the agriculture ministry permanent secretary, said farmers lack knowledge about the likely impact of climate variability, which affects implementation of interventions aimed at reducing the risks.

Kayisinga said more efforts were needed in building resilience of agriculture, which contributes one third to Rwanda’s GDP, and also employs over 72 per cent of the population.

The sector’s growth rate is 5.5 per cent per annum and is expected to grow at 8.5 per cent by 2018.

“Last year, we launched the Rwanda Climate Services for Agriculture project to build a more climate-resilient agriculture sector. The project will benefit nearly one million farmers over the next three years, and is expected to help reshape national food security planning for the long-term,” he said.

“It will help transform Rwanda’s rural farming communities and national economy through improved climate risk management. That’s why it is critical that farmers can access reliable climate information, including weather forecasts,” Kayisinga added.

Climate resistant varieties

The permanent secretary said the results of climate change impact assessments have shown that cassava has the potential to perform better compared to other staple crops under “increased climate variability and climate change in sub-Saharan Africa”.

“The promotion of stress-tolerant cassava specific to agro-ecological zones could help to better manage climate risks and provide opportunities for transformational adaptation”, he noted.

Salomon Mbarushimana, the managing director of the Seed Potato Fund, which supports local Irish potato seed multipliers and farmers, said farmers need information on climatic conditions so that they are able to take measures against adverse weather conditions.

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