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Climate change will hit small farmers

International Fund for Agricultural Development reports tips on adaptation strategies

| JOHN ALLEN | Rising temperatures and a decline in rainfall across eight Southern and East African countries are set to slash the production of important food crops in the region by 2050, says a new study. And even when climate change produces improved rainfall, it will be too unpredictable to enable proper planning to take advantage of it.

These are among the conclusions reached by scientists from the University of Cape Town who assessed how crops, particularly staple foods grown by subsistence farmers, will survive climate change.

The scientists’ report – covering Angola, Lesotho, Malawi, Mozambique, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe – has been released by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), the specialised United Nations agency which works to improve food security.

Governments which have signed up to the UN Framework Convention of Climate Change aim to keep the rise in the global average temperature to well below 2 degrees centigrade – ideally 1.5 degrees – above pre-industrial levels.

The new report, issued by IFAD days before the next round in Glasgow of the 26th meeting of the Conference of the Parties to the convention (COP26), is pessimistic about the prospects in the countries it covers.

“Temperature increases in the hottest months in all eight countries are predicted to be a full 2°C or more, and could reach as much as 2.6°C in some places,” it says.

“At the same time, rainfall is forecast to decrease by well over 20 mm in the driest months, and by more than 100 mm per year in the worst hit nations.”

If this happens, it will have “a devastating impact on yields of staple and cash crops grown by small-scale farmers” in parts of the eight nations, IFAD adds.

“This could have a catastrophic impact on poverty and food availability unless there is an urgent injection of funding to help vulnerable farmers adapt how and what they farm.”

In what IFAD portrays as “a worst-case scenario”, the annual maize crop in a household in the Namibe province in Angola could decrease by 77 percent by 2050.

The scientists focused especially on staple foods such as beans, cassava, cowpea, groundnuts, maize, millet, peas, pigeon peas, sesame, sorghum, sweet potato and wheat.

“Compounding the hotter, drier conditions that are forecast, familiar seasonal patterns will be disrupted,” the report says. “Temperature rises will also include more frequent and severe heat waves and unusually hot days.

“Rainfall will be scarcer but also more erratic, with flash floods threatening crops and soil stability. The combined effects of the hotter, drier conditions will exacerbate water and heat stress on crops, and reduce the growing seasons.”

The changes could lead to “the disaster of total crop failure” and “will inevitably force fundamental changes to local crop choices and agricultural practices by the year 2050.”

Although the study indicates that rainfall may increase during rainy seasons in some areas, especially in East Africa, it will vary from year to year, making it difficult for farmers to adapt to take advantage of the change.

Ahead of the COP26 meeting in Glasgow, which begins on October 31, 2021, IFAD said a commitment by wealthier countries to mobilize U.S. $100 billion a year to help less developed countries by 2020 remained unfulfilled.

Money raised to fight climate change includes funds that are intended to mitigate global warming and that aim to help countries adapt in the face of climate change. IFAD said developing countries need about $70 billion to $100 billion a year to be able to adapt. But only $22 billion was being directed to that end at present.

“Annual adaptation costs in developing countries alone are expected to reach $140 to $300 billion per year by 2030. Currently climate finance flows are focused primarily on mitigating global warming. For every $18 dollars spent on mitigation, just $1 is spent on adaptation.”

Dr. Jyotsna Puri, IFAD’s associate vice-president in its Strategy and Knowledge Department, said in a news release accompanying the report: “While efforts in mitigation are essential, they will take two or three decades to bear fruit. We must urgently invest in adaptation now so that small-scale farmers, like the ones in this study, can continue to grow the crops they rely on for their incomes and to feed their nations.”

Pleading the cause of smallholder farmers, IFAD said those in developing countries “are the most vulnerable and the least able to cope. They produce a third of the world’s food and up to 80 percent in some areas of Africa and Asia, but receive less than two percent of the funds invested globally in climate finance.”

The report, entitled “What can smallholder farmers grow in a warmer world?” said ways of adapting to climate change could include:

  • Planting alternative crops and crop diversification, for example reducing reliance on maize in favour of beans, other legumes, or grains;
  • Planting different varieties, including locally adapted varieties;
  • Using different planting techniques, with improved seeds and plant material:
  • Strengthening storage and processing capacities and infrastructure, and climate proofing value chains; and
  • Improving access to and management of irrigation.



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