Hit by the worst drought in 60 years, the Horn of Africa suffered from famine and hunger as close to 1 billion people went hungry in 2010 according to the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO). The future is daunting too: food needs are projected to increase by 70 percent by 2050 when the global population reaches 9 billion, while climate change is projected to reduce global average yields.
Climate change will affect agriculture through higher temperatures, greater crop water demand, more variable rainfall and extreme climate events such as heat waves, floods and droughts. Many impact studies point to severe crop yield reductions in the next decades without strong adaptation measures—particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and South Asia. These are areas where rural households are highly dependent on agriculture and farming systems are highly sensitive to volatile climate. One assessment, estimates that by the 2080s world agricultural productivity will decline by 3-16 percent. The loss in Africa could be 17-28 percent (Cline 2007).
Climate change will affect agriculture through higher temperatures, greater crop water demand, more variable rainfall and extreme climate events such as heat waves, floods and droughts.
While agriculture is the sector most vulnerable to climate change, it is also a major cause, directly accounting for about 14 percent of greenhouse gas emissions (IPCC 2007). And yet, agriculture can be a part of the solution: helping people to feed themselves and adapt to changing conditions while mitigating climate change.
Agriculture as part of the solution
Farmers are under the greatest threat from climate change, but they could also play a major role in addressing it. It is possible for agriculture to actually sequester—or absorb—carbon into the soil rather than emitting it. This can be done without the trade off with productivity and yields. It is possible to have higher yields, more carbon in the soil and greater resilience to droughts and heat. This is called the `triple win’: interventions that would increase yields (poverty reduction and food security), make yields more resilient in the face of extremes (adaptation), and make the farm a solution to the climate change problem rather than part of the problem (mitigation).
Farmers are under the greatest threat from climate change, but they could also play a major role in addressing it.
These triple wins are likely to require a package of interventions and be country- and locality specific in their application. This method of practicing agriculture is called `Climate Smart Agriculture’.
Climate-smart agriculture includes proven practical techniques. For example, by increasing the organic content of the soil through conservation tillage, its water holding capacity increases, making yields more resilient and reducing erosion. Promoting soil carbon capture also helps mitigate climate change. Another example is integrated soil fertility management that can lower fertilizer costs, increase soil carbon and improve yields. Climate-smart agriculture gives attention to landscape approaches, for example, integrated planning of land, agriculture, forests, fisheries and water to ensure synergies are captured.
These can be further strengthened by adding better weather forecasting, more resilient food crops and risk insurance to cover losses when the vagaries of weather strike. If yields increase through such practices and become more stable, it results in improved farm incomes. A more stable income helps enhance the adaptive capacity of farmers.
Climate-smart agriculture in practice
A good number of countries are now showing that it can be done. China has been a leader in this, with programs such as the Loess Plateau now internationally famous. Brazil has also invested in good quality research and extension and is demonstrating these triple results. And small-holder farmers in Kenya are already receiving cash payments on a pilot basis for new farming techniques that will hold more carbon in the soil, even while increasing soil fertility. Read more examples here .
Early action is needed to identify and scale up best practice, to build capacity and experience and to help clarify future choices.
- Early action is needed to identify and scale up best practice, to build capacity and experience and to help clarify future choices.
- Considerable finance will be needed to rapidly implement proven programs and support poverty alleviation and food security goals in a changing climate.