African agriculture is particularly affected by climate change. The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) supports the adaptation of agriculture to climate change. Explanations of Gilbert Houngbo, its president.

Photo : Neil Palmer (CIAT) / Flickr CC
Photo : Neil Palmer (CIAT) / Flickr CC

How does agriculture contribute to climate change?

Greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions from the agriculture sector account for 24% of global emissions. They are mainly caused by deforestation for agricultural purposes, livestock raising via the enteric fermentation of cattle and the storage of effluents, and the use of synthetic fertilizers. Africa causes approximately 15% of global GHG emissions from the agriculture sector.

However, it is only with agriculture’s contribution that the increase in global temperature can be held below the critical threshold of 2°C. Agriculture is one of the only human activities, along with forestry and aquaculture, able to fix carbon.



How does climate change pose a threat to the agriculture sector?

Agriculture is extremely sensitive to climate change. The irregularity of seasons, excessive heat, and changing rainfall patterns reduce yields, increase the likelihood of poor harvests, and lead to a proliferation of crop and livestock pests and diseases. Climate change also leads to an increase in extreme climate events.

Tropical regions, in particular in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia, will be the most affected. Climate change will have negative impacts on agricultural production. Rural communities in developing countries will be the hardest hit. Yet in certain regions, 80% of food needs are covered by the production of smallholdings (there are about 500 million around the world).

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) estimates that an additional 34 to 600 million people may experience food insecurity by 2080, according to the climate change scenario and socioeconomic path retained.


Why is Africa particularly concerned by this issue?

Africa is already bearing the brunt of the impacts of climate change. Furthermore, eight of the ten countries most vulnerable to climate change are African according to the GAIN Vulnerability index of the University of Notre Dame (Indiana, USA).

95% of agriculture is rainfed in Africa: it is totally dependent on rainfall for its water supply. It is often practiced on flood plains, in deserts and on hillsides, where weather disturbances cause severe soil damage.

Agriculture is the livelihood for over half of Africans. It is a key sector of the economy in every African country. The forecasted reduction of farmland areas and yields is a challenge for the continent, while its population is expected to double by 2050.


What action is IFAD taking for the adaptation of agriculture to climate change?

Adaptation is a crucial issue for African smallholders. In 2012, IFAD launched the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), which has become the largest global program in this field.

Between 2012 and 2017, 5.5 million smallholders in 41 African countries have benefitted of helps for a total of USD 305m. We have helped them diversify their activities. We have also introduced innovations, such as sending weather forecasts by text message in real time.



The idea of ASAP is to strengthen the environmental sustainability and resilience aspects in our own programs. This is a great strength, as introducing certain new techniques only makes sense if they are profitable for smallholders. Consequently, it needs to be done with activities that boost production and the disposal of stocks through better access to markets.

Adaptation means making the issue of climate risk management central to programs and replicating what works on a larger scale. Greater efforts are needed.

The aim of the second phase of ASAP is for all our national programs to take into account the increased risks and for them to contain an assessment of climate change vulnerability to enhance project design.


In practical terms, how does IFAD support African farmers?

Water management is one of the most common fields of operation of the IFAD. The increase in rainfall variability means that farmers can no longer rely on their traditional knowledge of rain. ASAP has allowed the farmers themselves to understand these variations better and identify the available solutions. In South Africa, for example, drip irrigation has been completed with fences, which provide shade in order to reduce evaporation.

We are also working to improve land management. In Mozambique, in the corridors of Maputo and Limpopo, cassava yields have doubled thanks to seeds which are adapted to drought and thanks to specific planting and weed control techniques.

We are also seeking to increase the resilience of rural infrastructure, such as roads or irrigation systems, to climate hazards. In Rwanda, for example, we are working on the construction of more suitable drying and storage facilities.


Is it profitable for small African producers to invest in climate change adaptation?

Smallholders are extremely interested in any approach or technology that allows them to protect themselves from climate hazards. But they must be affordable. According to the ASAP criteria, the techniques introduced must be profitable for smallholders. They must also be adapted to the capacity and technical knowledge of farmers and be socially acceptable.

Furthermore, climate-smart agriculture can contribute to improving food security. A number of climate-smart practices have higher yields and allow a more varied production, which is consequently nutritionally richer.

However, the introduction of these new practices will require financing and smallholders will need to be helped in facing the costs and risks related to changes in farming practices.


What role do public and private actors play in addressing this challenge?

The private sector can bring a lot to small producers in terms of access to technologies, markets and financing. Moreover, private companies are very interested in partnerships on climate change adaptation. To ensure that these partnerships are mutually beneficial, IFAD has developed the 4P approach (public-private-producer partnerships), which means that small producers are fully-fledged actors. In Kenya, a partnership has been established to set up a water management fund for the Tana River Basin. It includes KenGen, the company responsible for water and sanitation in Nairobi, the government authority in charge of water resources management, and the NGO Green Belt Movement. Smallholders are directly involved in the project, they will benefit from less polluted water and be less affected by run-off.



The opinions expressed on this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of their institutions or of AFD.

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