FANRPAN Annual High Level Regional Food Security Policy Dialogue 2010

'Agriculture in Africa is changing rapidly'

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1 September 2010
Liza Burger
Source: 
Inter Press Service (IPS) Africa Terraviva

WINDHOEK – “Agriculture in Africa is changing rapidly,” says Mario Herrero, a researcher working in Nairobi, Kenya for the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI).

Herrero was addressing participants in a session on livestock in a changing climate in Windhoek, Namibia, at the annual regional dialogue on food security.

Herrero and his colleagues use scenario analysis to try and determine what the next few decades will hold for livestock farmers in Africa.

“The effect of an average rise in temperature of 5°C will have devastating effects for African farmers. Our estimates show that this will translate into a loss in agricultural output of about 20 percent.”

Africa will get less rain

The various models predicting rainfall and agricultural output still vary too much to make an accurate prediction on a continent-wide level, but for one region – Southern Africa – all models predict the same outcome: Climate change
will result in 20 percent less precipita- tion in Southern Africa during the winter months.

“All 18 different general circulation models we used converge on the same conclusion,” says Herrero. “Climate prediction models have improved signifi- cantly in the past few years and we are able to determine with greater accuracy what the future may be like.”

Countries must start to prepare for this looming challenge.

“Some countries, like South Africa, are better equipped to adapt efficiently to a changing climate as the infrastructure is good and the agricultural sector well developed. Other countries may have greater difficulty to adapt to the higher
temperatures and less rain and the effect it will have on crop production, the availability of fodder and livestock production.”

Herrero added that climate change will have significant implications for land use, food security, production of animal feed, the distribution and occurrence of diseases, availability of water and biodiversity.

Herrero is not all doom and gloom about the future: “The other speakers from South Africa, Zambia, Botswana and Namibia, told us today how they are confronting various issues in their coun- tries. Although there is no silver bullet to overcome the effects of global warming, all of them are taking the right steps, even in the face of climate change.”

Herrero added that farmers have the ability to survive, even in the most trying times. He said that it was especially in dry areas where he has seen the most ingenuity and adaptability in agriculture.

He stressed that both government involvement as well as investment from the private sector is crucial to both small-holder farmers and commercial farmers to prosper.

“Government involvement is very important. The private industry cannot be held accountable to build roads, for instance, so even if markets are developed for small-holder farmers, the accessibility to those markets should be practically supported.”

Africa’s vulnerability and options

In mapping climate vulnerability and poverty in Africa, Herrero said that there are a few options open to farmers facing climate change.

These include the sustainable intensification of agricultural operations, increasing extensive farming, diversification or, in the worst case, exiting from agriculture.

“All of these options require a mixture of management, technology, supporting policies and investment,” says Herrero.

Referring specifically to livestock production, he said that rangeland manage- ment, the development and protection of water sources, the use of supplemental feeds, disease control and monitoring and possibly changing the breeds or species used, will be factors to consider in the process of managing the effects of climate change.

He added that government policies, support and regulations should also adapt to accommodate farmers who will be affected by a changing climate.

From cows to camels

Herrero said that change might have to be drastic in some areas due to a change in average temperatures and rainfall.

“Farmers may have to consider changing their agricultural activities from livestock farming to other types of farming like fish farming, planting crops, horticulture, or include other livestock like chickens.”

He mentioned one such example in Kenya where with some assistance from the government, Samburu herdsmen reduced the number of cattle in their herds replacing them with camels.

This change from cows to camels has a significant effect on this community. Before the camels came, they frequently lost cattle due to harsh environmental and climatic factors. Now they can rely on the milk of their camel herds for food security and an income. The Samburu children are significantly healthier and the infant mortality rate has been reduced.