SECTOR FOCUS AGRICULTURE
protests, as evidenced by the ongoing objections and criticism readily available on the internet and in print academic literature.
At a panel discussion at the same summit, Ethiopian Prime Minister Hailemariam Desalegn also called on African leaders to promote climate-smart agricultural initiatives to combat the effects of climate change that affect agricultural productivity.
ONE, an international campaigning and advocacy organisation involved in, among other causes, the fight to increase investment in agriculture and nutrition, reports that 70% of Africans make a living from agriculture and that growth in this sector is 11 times more effective at reducing poverty in sub-Saharan Africa than growth in other sectors.
The World Bank also reports that 75% of the world’s poor are rural, most involved in agriculture. Consequently, agricultural performance is fundamental in poverty reduction, food security and economic growth contributors such as employment.
The dependence of this important sector on specific climate conditions, e.g. soil moisture, nutrient levels, water availability, etc., renders this a climate vulnerable sector. The changes in temperature as well as the frequency and severity of droughts and floods poses challenges for not only farmers but also the continent’s and world’s populations and governments and economies reliant on the output of this sector.
Climate-smart agriculture is seen as the solution to transforming agriculture by adopting farming practices and techniques that address the threats of climate change and make agriculture more resilient to climate change.
Part of this approach is the encouragement of healthy soil by using natural sources of plant nutrition and reducing the use of inorganic fertiliser and other chemicals.
For example, a lack of soil nitrogen (N) and phosphorous (P) and of micronutrients such as zinc hampers crop production in the savanna regions of Africa. In 2011, FAO reported that “the combination of mineral fertiliser application and dual-purpose grain legume, such as soybean, intercropped or relay-cropped with maize, increased maize yields in Kenya by 140 to 300% and resulted in a positive N-balance in the cropping system”.
The simple practice of utilising the African acacia, Faidherbia albida, as a natural component of farming systems in the Sahel is also praised by the FAO. The tree does not compete with food crops for light or water
The World Bank reports that 75% of the world’s poor are rural, most involved in agriculture. Consequently, agricultural performance is fundamental in poverty reduction, food security and economic growth contributors such as employment and sheds its nitrogen-rich leaves during the rainy season to provide a natural fertiliser for the crops. Zambian farmers also grow food crops with Faidherbia as this has shown increased maize yields without the use of fertilisers.
GM to the rescue? In the fight to increase agricultural productivity and adapt it to climate change, the use of biotechnology in crop production is another solution put forward. A Chatham House research paper entitled On Trial: Agricultural Biotechnology in Africa, published in July this year, states that “there are important opportunities to enhance yields and increase resilience through the adoption of improved crop varieties. In some cases, biotechnology, and in particular genetic modification (GM), offers advantages over conventional plantbreeding approaches.”
Despite a significant scientific and agribusiness backing, however, GM food has faced vehement opposition from African farmers and governments. Zambia’s former
Left: Combating climate change to improve food security must be the aim.
President, Levy Mwanawasa, known for his inclination towards direct rhetoric over diplomatic patter, called GM foods “poison”, blocking GM food aid to his people. He only allowed GM foods into the country following popular outcry and a study of GM foods safety by his own scientists sent to visit various European and American cities.
Related to the GM issue is also the doubleedged sword of the perceived impact the adoption of GM crops on Africa economically as well as for the safety of its consumer population. More than 50% of the continent’s agriculture is exported to the European Union (EU), where GM foods must be labelled as such due the consumer opposition to it.
On the one hand, farmers fear they will lose the European market with the introduction of GM foods over safety perceptions by European consumers. On the other hand, GM crops have the potential to vastly increase African crop yields.
South Africa was the only African country that accepted GM crop offers by US biotech corporations during a 1998 FAO meeting. All other African countries outrightly rejected them, saying “we strongly object that the image of the poor and hungry from countries is being used by giant multinational corporations to push a technology that is neither safe, environmentally friendly, nor economically beneficial to us”.
The appeal of climate-smart agriculture is boosted in part by such objections to GM foods, a difficulty that undermines a balanced debate and creates a blind spot about enquiry into what climate-smart agriculture entails.
Climate-smart agriculture, while garnering strong support from the African governments themselves and the US has also drawn some disapproval from authoritative and influential quarters. Paul Driessen, author of Eco-Imperialism: Green Power – Black Death, and senior policy advisor for the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow (CFACT) wrote an article entitled Climate-Smart Policies for Africa are Stupid. Similarly, the Third World Network (TWN), in a briefing about GACSA, questioned the authenticity of the system, calling it climate-dumb.
Despite this however, climate-smart agriculture is attracting support, including from the smallholder African farmers appreciative of an initiative promoting indigenous ways and knowledge. n
African Business | October 2014