ARC/00/INF/7


 

TWENTY-FIRST
FAO REGIONAL CONFERENCE
FOR AFRICA

Yaounde, Cameroon 21-25 February 2000

DROUGHT IMPACT MITIGATION AND PREVENTION : LONG-TERM PERSPECTIVE

Table of Contents


Introduction

Review of Past Interventions to Mitigate Drought

Drought Policy of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)

The Need for an Integrated Drought Management Strategy

Programme to Mitigate and Prevent the Impact of Drought

Conclusion

 


Introduction

The farming systems common to the dryland environments of Africa are diverse, complex and changing and they usually have restricted agricultural potential. Their production environments are characterised by low water availability, nutrient-poor soils, and severe pest and disease problems coupled with poor availability of inputs that make food production an unpredictable enterprise. Despite these elements of risk, most of the people work in agriculture. They are committed to making the best of the resources at their disposal.

Over time, people living in these dryland areas have evolved complex production systems to minimise the risks posed by extreme climatic conditions such as drought. In spite of low returns to land, labour and capital, farmers in dryland areas have long maintained a suite of indigenous strategies and options to manage risk and to deal with poor overall productivity. Various forces, however, are contributing to the degradation of the natural resources in these areas. These include climatic variability, increasing population density, poor agricultural practices and the inappropriate use of land and water resources. Such forces heavily influence the susceptibility of peoples' livelihoods to future droughts.

Agricultural drought itself is a disaster-triggering agent that exacerbates drought-related social and economic problems, which reduce society's overall livelihood security. These problems are the most severe where the economy is least diversified and virtually everyone depends either directly or indirectly on agriculture. And, it is generally acknowledged that low-resource agriculture is no longer capable of meeting the livelihood demands of rising populations in these fragile dryland environments.

Because of these conditions, governments intervene frequently in the form of emergency food relief, often supported by large amounts of donated food aid. Drought preparedness by governments has generally taken the form of creating food reserves (mainly maize) at national level to compensate for the shortfalls in production and for possible emergency relief. While these costly relief efforts have been perceived as a necessity, such short-term interventions have generally precluded support for longer-term development processes, particularly in those areas with dry climatic conditions.

Since low and erratic precipitation is the key characteristic of drylands, recurring agricultural droughts are a typical feature of dryland areas that must be reflected in governments' development strategies. Although, various governments and development partners have undertaken substantial work on drought management (prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response and rehabilitation); more comprehensive and practical field level interventions adopting self-reliant approaches in managing for climatic variability are needed to support longer-term drought mitigation and prevention at a larger scale. It is to towards this end, this paper seeks to inform member countries about FAO' attempts to propose, for the Southern Africa sub-region, an integrated drought management strategy,

Review of Past Interventions to Mitigate Drought

The 1986 FAO study, "African Agriculture: the next 25 years" stressed that Africa has considerable agricultural potential but that several constraints are preventing its realisation. This study led to the approval of The International Scheme for the Conservation and Rehabilitation of African Lands (ISCRAL), at the 16th FAO Regional Conference for Africa in June 1990. In essence, ISCRAL was designed to assist African countries to prevent and combat land degradation. Several FAO member countries of the southern and eastern Africa region at this Conference highlighted the seriousness and extent of the various kinds of resource degradation in their countries, and requested FAO to take appropriate action.

Later, the 1992 United Nations Conference on Environment and Development (UNCED) defined desertification as "land degradation in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid areas resulting from various factors, including climatic variations and human activities". The UNCED estimated the areas degraded to be approximately 65 percent of the total land area of Africa. UNCED called for the adoption of an "international convention to combat desertification in those countries experiencing serious drought and/or desertification, particularly in Africa ..... through effective action at all levels, supported by international co-operation and partnership arrangements, in the framework of an integrated approach which is consistent with Agenda 21 (Article 2, Part 1).

The UN Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD) was signed in 1997. All parties to the CCD have an obligation to "adopt an integrated approach addressing the physical, biological, and socio-economic aspects of the process of desertification and drought". In addition, FAO activities in the follow-up to the World Food Summit (1997), whose Plan of Action includes multiple references to common objectives with UNCED, are in direct support of the objectives of this current initiative under Commitments Three and Five.

In November 1997, the (then) Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Food Security Technical and Administrative Unit (FSTAU) organised a High-Level Drought Policy Seminar in Botswana, in response to the threat of a serious regional drought following a strong El Niņo phenomenon. The report of this seminar clearly recognised that drought in southern Africa is a normal and recurring event, and called for long-term action.

In the context of the International Decade for Natural Disaster Reduction (IDNDR, 1990-2000), a Regional Meeting for Africa was held in May 1999 at the headquarters of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in Nairobi, under the theme "Towards Disaster Reduction in the 21st Century". Delegates at this meeting recognised in the Nairobi Declaration that "the African continent is subject to a wide range of natural hazards and suffers from natural and other disasters which have serious adverse effects on societies and national economies, as well as on critical human and material resources. In this context, communities at risk across Africa find themselves even more vulnerable because of several aggravating factors, including poverty, environmental degradation, inadequate exchange of data and information among African countries and inadequate co-ordination at the continental level."

For several decades, FAO has spearheaded agricultural improvement and rural development in arid, semi-arid and dry sub-humid zones ravaged by drought and desertification. These activities involved emergency and rehabilitation actions in the event of drought or other agricultural disasters, such as locust invasions; support in the formulation of policies and plans for development in the food, agriculture, forestry and fishery sectors; development of human resources particularly for rural women - and of national institutions and legislation; and the promotion of research and dissemination of appropriate technologies in the various sectors. These efforts have mostly taken the form of technical assistance projects in answer to specific requests by Member Nations.

They are also sometimes undertaken within programmes that group together projects with common priorities, such as the programme to relaunch African agriculture (involving 200 projects in 30 countries); the "fertilizer", "seed", "prevention of postharvest losses" and "food security" programmes; the action plan of the World Conference on Agrarian Reform and Rural Development (WCARRD); the Tropical Forestry Action Plan; and many others. Numerous desertification control and drought control activities were implemented under these plans and projects, especially for soil conservation, pasture improvement, livestock improvement, small-scale irrigation, cereal storage, agroforestry, development of fuelwood resources, and also for nutrition improvement.

FAO serves as one of the main partner Organisations for the Convention to Combat Desertification (CCD). Because most of the technical objectives of the CCD are directly related (if not identical) to FAO objectives for the conservation and development of dryland resources, a number of activities implemented by FAO are related to desertification and contribute to the implementation of the Convention. In 1998, over 100 FAO field projects were directly related to the assessment and control of desertification, covering a wide range of activities such as erosion control, improvement of water supply, forest and pasture management, local rural development through extension and participatory approach programmes, assistance in the implementation of national information systems and statistics and formulation of investment projects. Although the emphasis is on the African continent (half of the projects), work is in progress world-wide.

FAO's support to the CCD is technically co-ordinated by an ad hoc Interdepartmental Working Group (CCD IDWG) established in order to deal with this matter, and composed of representatives from several FAO technical divisions. A Memorandum of Co-operation (MOC) was signed in December 1998 between FAO and the Permanent Secretariat of the Convention, aimed at achieving the objectives of the Convention to Combat Desertification. This MOC comprises an extensive programme, covering: (i) support to national and regional action plans, and networks; (ii) compilation and dissemination of best practices; (iii) preparation and dissemination of awareness documents; (iv) establishment and implementation of information systems and data bases that cover technical variables related to desertification; and (v) technical support to the CCD bodies and international events.

Drought Policy of the Southern African Development Community (SADC)

In the past, SADC governments intervened frequently in the form of emergency food relief, often supported by large amounts of donated food aid. Drought preparedness by governments has generally taken the form of creating food reserves at national level to compensate for the shortfalls in production and for possible emergency relief. While these costly relief efforts have been perceived as a necessity, such short-term interventions have generally precluded support for longer-term development processes, particularly in those areas with dry climatic conditions.

SADC has played a leading role in the development of drought policies and strategies in the sub-region. The recent Regional Drought Management Strategy for SADC (1999) is the result of a process of development and definition that has taken place over most of the nineties. The emphasis of drought strategies in the sub-region had been on short-term mitigation measures rather than on long term prevention programmes. However, more recently a new policy shift has emerged in which preparedness, rehabilitation, prevention and planning are key elements.

A new definition of drought, is currently proposed by SADC for distinguishing between the normal and disaster type of drought occurrence. This process forms the basis for the strategies being developed in the countries of the sub-region. Along with the acceptance that drought is a normal and recurrent natural phenomenon, new policies shift the responsibility to deal with effects of drought to the farmer or the user of the land. The policy principle is that the production system has to adapt to the occurrence of periodic drought.

As such, new policies are designed to ensure that drought relief assistance and programmes to support farmers are consistent with non-distortive market-based development policies. Compatibility between short and long term development is an important element in the new policies, in which alternative ways of supporting farmers are recommended, with the reduction of vulnerability to drought in the long term. Long term development programmes can be initiated to form part of drought relief measures, e.g. infrastructure projects, such as the building of roads, dams and other utilities, implemented during drought as food or cash for work.

However, explicit legal frameworks for managing drought are lacking or fragmented in most SADC countries. Decision making levels are often not well defined. Most countries have high level institutions providing a framework for co-ordination and implementation, but recent policies promote the creation of new and independent drought institutions and funds that are yet to be established. There seems some contradiction between the efforts of further institutionalisation of drought and the new accepted principle of increased farmers' responsibility to cope with drought.

While shortcomings of previous drought programmes are well known, the new SADC strategy paper maintains that reducing long term vulnerability to drought will require a fundamental shift in government approaches, especially towards a multidisciplinary approach in:

Progress in technology development has also been limited. Practices on the use of water resources, food and nutrition, seed multiplication, energy production, etc. need to be improved to enhance efficiency and reduce vulnerability. Although considerable progress has been achieved in poverty alleviation and policy development, there is still a lack of government capacity to achieve these goals. For instance, policies that need refinement to create an enabling environment include those that support sustainable management of natural resources, including land and water (SADC, 1999).

The Need for an Integrated Drought Management Strategy

Drought represents a serious risk to current land use and season-to-season variation in the amount and timing of rainfall and other climatic conditions is a major challenge to crop management and the applicability of new technologies. Therefore, managing for drought is about managing for the risks associated with dryland agriculture to reduce the impact of drought on household livelihoods. The increased exposure of the agricultural sector in southern Africa to drought conditions reflects the fact that current agricultural and livestock practices are out of equilibrium with the prevailing climatic conditions; farmers' strategies are chronically a step behind in responding to generally deteriorating internal and changing external conditions.

The reasons are numerous, but many of them stem from the diversity in these rainfed farming systems, the unfavourable agro-climatic conditions prevailing in many of those systems, the low resource base and education of many farmers in these areas, the under-developed marketing systems and the major role of risk and risk-averse behaviour.

Because of this diversity, many interventions need to be designed to suit site-specific conditions for their effectiveness. Associated with this diversity is the need for more orientation toward problem solving at the farm and village levels. Developing technologies for rainfed agriculture, managing natural resources, organizing people to work on catchment management, prioritising investments and other development issues, and understanding better the interrelationships among natural resources, land use and rural communities, all require a much greater focus on, and input from, local people.

These are long-term challenges that require a coherent and holistic approach to development through a programme tailored to local agro-climatic conditions, and to the social and economic factors which determine the type of agricultural development that is most relevant. There is an immediate need to understand better the interactions among different land uses and land users, to address issues of conflicting stakeholder objectives, and to capitalise on and improve linkages of information flow within and across political hierarchies through participatory mechanisms. Also, there is need to extend and improve upon the successful pilot experiences with drought mitigation and prevention in the region, and to support collaborating institutions in applying approaches, methods and technologies on a wider basis.

Cognisant of these challenges, FAO is proposing an integrated approach to drought management based on an interactive partnership between government and land users. This approach aims to raise agricultural productivity on a sustainable basis in drought-prone areas of southern Africa. It can be achieved by building on current livelihood strategies and practices of farm households which reduce their vulnerability to the effects of recurring droughts. An equally important goal is to build the capacity of communities to manage their own development in partnership with all stakeholders.

Focus areas of the approach are proposed as the following:

Making this development approach succeed requires local management and a commitment to solving local problems through local solutions, developed by local people. Sound land use policies, strategies and action must be supportive of such approaches and must be responsive to the diverse needs at local level. Success will be determined by the extent to which communities are involved in identifying problems, setting priorities, devising solutions, executing work plans, and monitoring performance.

The aim of the strategy is to increase the productivity of both cropland and rangeland, while alleviating poverty and arresting or reversing processes of land degradation in dryland areas. This focus on increasing productivity, decreasing poverty and maintaining natural resources is a direct reflection of the principles embodied in Chapter 14 of Agenda 21. The strategy seeks to improve the effectiveness of dryland development by removing institutional constraints, providing a conducive social and economic environment, improving communal participation and delivery systems, and providing data and knowledge necessary for effective development planning. In doing so, the Organisation together with interested stakeholders expects to contribute to mitigating, and where possible, preventing the serious negative impact of future droughts on crop and livestock production in the sub-region. In fact, the strategy includes all the four building blocks of the Special Programme for Food Security (SPFS) e.g. water resource development, management and use; intensification; diversification and constraint analysis and resolution.

Programme to mitigate and prevent the drought impact

Programme Goals and Objectives

Various development partners have undertaken substantial work on drought management in the fields of prevention, preparedness, mitigation, response and rehabilitation. However, more comprehensive and practical field level interventions adopting self-reliant approaches in managing for climatic variability are needed to support longer-term drought mitigation and prevention at a larger scale, based on the principle that drought is a normal event.
FAO is working towards a definition of an integrated drought management strategy in southern Africa, whose elements embrace action at regional, national and field level; within the context of learning to live with drought and, in particular, the impact of drought in the dryland environments1.

The programme's long term goal is to raise agricultural productivity on a sustainable basis in drought-prone areas of southern Africa, by building on current livelihood strategies and practices of farm households which reduce their vulnerability to the effects of recurring droughts. An equally important objective will be to build the capacity of catchment communities to manage their own development in partnership with all stakeholders. Although subject to modification during programme formulation, specific being considered are:

The programme intends to serve as a forum for wider dialogue, collaboration, and negotiation and networking among local NGOs, community based organisations, farmer representatives, technical specialists from government agencies, and local government representatives.

Interdisciplinary experience suggests that there are opportunities to build on proven success, by integrating sets of tested and appropriate agricultural and policy interventions that are consistent with farmers' objectives and their resources to broaden the range of livelihood options. While the programme is not meant to deal directly with the many non-agricultural issues in these environments, it would lead other social welfare agencies (health, education, etc.) to emulate the approaches it intends to take.

Methodology to be used by the programme

Sustainability of production in these dryland areas can only be addressed within the many perspectives and expectations of farmers. This means there cannot be a single development model of universal application; rather, a `systems' approach, broad-based but adaptable to local conditions that draws on indigenous knowledge, creativity and the resources of rural people.

The programme attempts to catalyse change at farm, village and catchment levels by fostering interest in launching an integrated approach to drought management, through an interactive partnership. The programme is centred on the concept of stakeholders and their objectives, and the role of governments in creating the conditions within which rural people can use their land resources productively and sustainably.

The programme emphasises an integrated and participatory approach to better land husbandry and development of sustainable agriculture, in support of the major unexpressed objectives of farm families; most notably of secure livelihoods based on stable, productive and profitable land uses.

Interdisciplinary experience suggests that there are opportunities to build on proven success, by integrating sets of tested and appropriate agricultural and policy interventions that are consistent with farmers' objectives and their resources to broaden the range of livelihood options. While the programme is not meant to deal directly with the many non-agricultural issues in these environments, it would lead other social welfare agencies (health, education, etc.) to emulate the approaches it intends to take.

It is important that the central role of the farmer be recognised. The farmer is the ultimate decision-maker and his or her actions or interest to participate in any proposed programme intervention are based on practical economic concerns. Using a multidisciplinary framework, the programme will seek collaboration and support to build the community and household capacity for better land management by upgrading their agricultural and farm management skills. It is expected to apply new participatory assessment, planning and training methodologies where farmers themselves will be empowered with the kind of education, research, knowledge and information needed to reverse declines in farm productivity.

A better understanding of the determinants of whole farm performance and an increased awareness of the technical options available for the removal of production constraints would significantly contribute to reducing food insecurity, raising standards of living and enhancing the sustainability of agricultural land use in these dryland areas. In this order, the division of labour between different stakeholders has to be clearly specified. The stakeholders include:

Conclusion

Due to insufficient or poorly distributed rainfall drought occurs frequently in the Southern Africa sub-region. This imposes major constraints to land use potentials for agriculture, livestock and the natural eco-systems of the areas. Managing drought as to reduce its impact on the livelihoods of smallholders and environment (degradation) is a challenging task that must be undertaken urgently and on a long term basis.

The proposed programme is to be based on an interactive partnership between government and land users, using for example catchment areas as spatial units for programme planning and as a basis for programme intervention, such as the Limpopo Basin covering Zimbabwe, Botswana, Mozambique and South-Africa. There are several reasons to justify the selection of the Limpopo basin as a very suitable watershed for the implementation of the learning to live with drought programme. Its size fits a pilot area within the context of the eastern and southern African sub-region. With respect to the central issue of drought, the basin shows a perfect range of climatic conditions, varying from sub-humid in the southern and eastern parts, through semi-arid in the majority of the watershed to almost arid conditions in some central parts. The watershed also shows a wide range of socio-economic and political conditions, expressed by differences in farming systems and social organisation. Also, the natural resources vary widely, as visible in landscapes, soils, and vegetation.

As the need for long-term, farmer-oriented and multidisciplinary action becomes apparent, the programme will include the fields of soil fertility management, water resources management and use, crop production, agroforestry, animal production and health, nutrition security as well as policy and institutional issues. Only a gradual shift from emergency related responses to incorporating drought into the long-term production and distribution systems will help to address the problem of drought with relevant results. In this context, the reduction of vulnerability to drought plays a major role and measures such as the promotion of drought mitigating technologies and practices and the creation of an enabling policy environment in the aforementioned areas have to be included in programme development.

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1 Drylands embrace both arid and semi-arid lands, as well as more desert-like (hyper-arid) areas. Typically, arid areas receive less than 200mm of winter rainfall annually or less than 400mm of summer rainfall, while semi-arid areas receive 200-500mm of winter rainfall or 400-600mm of summer rainfall. Drylands are defined as areas where mean annual precipitation is less than half the potential evapotranspiration. This in turn is reflected in the number of growing days that constitute the length of the growing period (LGP) for crops. Using this criterion, FAO defines drylands as lands with a LGP of less than 120 days. Within this range, arid lands have less than 75 growing days while semi-arid lands have 75 days or more.