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Africa must face climate change head on

Agriculture should be placed front and centre at upcoming meeting of UN Climate Change Convention

Photo: ©FAO/Giulio Napolitano
Farmers in Ethiopia observe an FAO-EU project aimed at preventing flooding during rains and making better use of surface waters.

14 September 2011, Johannesburg/Rome - FAO and African leaders are working together to move quickly to adopt a "climate-smart" approach to agriculture to fight the impacts of climate change and increasing scarcity of natural resources.

"Africa needs increased productivity in its agriculture and higher incomes in its rural areas, and rural communities and the agro-ecosystems on which they depend have to adapt to climate change and become more resilient to its impacts," Alexander Mueller, FAO's Assistant-Director General for Natural Resources, said in remarks at the conference "Climate Smart Agriculture: Africa - A Call to Action," convened by the Government of South Africa (13-14 September, Johannesburg).

"FAO together with its partners has developed the concept of 'Climate-smart agriculture,' which offers a way to deal with these multiple challenges in a coherent and integrated way", he said.

The approach aims to sustainably increase agricultural productivity and build resilience to environmental pressures, helping farmers adapt to climate change, while at the same time reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This can be achieved through climate-smart practices that increase the organic soil matter and improve water-holding capacity. This also makes yields more resilient and reduces erosion, helping to mitigate climate change.

The way forward

"Climate-smart agriculture includes proven practical techniques and approaches that can help achieve food security, climate change adaptation, and climate change mitigation," Mueller said.

"But more support is needed. We need further piloting and scaling-up of early action programmes, we need to bring together finance and investment opportunities and make them available for developing countries. Agriculture and climate finance need to be addressed together," he added. "Handling one at a time is not going to be enough to meet these multiple challenges," he said.

Agriculture is key, adaptation is essential

Agriculture is the economic foundation of many sub-Saharan countries, employing about 60 percent of the region's workforce and accounting for some 30 percent of gross domestic product.

But climate change may reduce crop yields substantially in sub-Saharan Africa by the 2050s. And some 650 million people in Africa are dependent on rain-fed agriculture in fragile environments that are vulnerable to water scarcity and environmental degradation.

A paper for the Johannesburg event prepared by the South African Agriculture Ministry in collaboration with FAO and the World Bank argues that without measures to adapt food productions to the challenges posed by climate change — and the financing to support those measures — Africa's poverty alleviation and food security goals will not be reached.

Putting agriculture front and centre in climate talks

"The upcoming UNFCCC meeting in Durban, South Africa (28 Nov-9 Dec 2011), offers an opportunity for Africa to shape the global climate change agenda and this conference will help garner attention for the climate-smart agriculture approach," Mueller said.

"It is a signal of utmost importance that Africa has put climate-smart agriculture high on the political agenda by convening this conference," according to Mueller.