Boosting Agricultural Productivity and Food Security in Africa

Conference participants mingle in the Africa Hall at the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA). Photo: Ifprilib.

For more information about this conference, read this Reuters Altertnet article, which focuses on the impact of climate change on agricultural productivity in Africa. This article was originally posted on the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) website. 

High-level policymakers, leading academics, and representatives from farmer and trader organizations and the private sector are in Addis Ababa this week to identify investment priorities and policy options that can help increase agricultural productivity in Sub-Saharan Africa, thereby reducing rural poverty, hunger, and malnutrition in the region.

The November 1–3 conference “Increasing Agricultural Productivity and Enhancing Food Security in Africa: New Challenges and Opportunities,” is co-organized by the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI), the African Union Commission (AUC), the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa (UNECA), and the Forum for Agricultural Research in Africa (FARA). Speakers and participants will showcase opportunities to improve agricultural productivity and explore how they can be effectively implemented through the framework of the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme. Continue reading

Livestock Insurance – A Chance to Outsmart Drought?

This blog post by Neil Palmer first appeared on the CIAT Blog on October 24, 2011. It also appeared on Reuters Alertnet –Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2011′s official media partner–on October 27, 2011. 

New satellite-based scheme makes first payments to pastoralists

What hits you when you get out of the truck at Ginda Village, in Northern Kenya, is the smell.

Farmer Haro Sora’s land is littered with the carcasses of cattle and donkeys that have keeled over following an intense, prolonged drought. A skull here; half a ribcage there. In some places there are whole animals slumped on the roadside. Some have died in the last few days, and the wind does little to clear the air.

Ginda, in Marsabit District, has been affected by the now infamous Horn of Africa drought, which triggered a food crisis affecting around 13 million people in Kenya, Somalia, and Ethiopia. After more than a year, the rains finally returned to Ginda a fortnight ago.

The fact that the food crisis in the Horn was the result of a livestock crisis has been well documented. A major pastoralist zone, when vegetation for grazing began to dry-up and livestock started to die, the knock-on effects on farmer livelihoods became strikingly clear.

Now, whatever your gut reaction to the principle of a financial institution selling insurance to already cash-strapped smallholder farmers to protect them against the risk of drought, there are 650 livestock keepers in Marsabit this year who are delighted to be receiving their first payouts.

The Index-based Livestock Insurance (IBLI) scheme, run by CIAT’s sister-center the Nairobi-based International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI), and a number of partners including the UK Department for International Development (DFID), is an example of a market-based, climate-smart innovation that could gain much wider currency in Africa and beyond. It’s now at the end of its second year.

What triggers a payout is not how many livestock die, but whether satellite images confirm that forage availability in the region’s rangelands has dropped below a certain level. When this happens, farmers who took out insurance get paid. Using satellites to track forage cover gets around all kinds of problems, such as claims being made for animals that have died of disease or neglect, rather than drought.

At a meeting in nearby Dirib Gombo Village, last Friday, where some of the farmers received their payouts, others were still to be convinced. Inevitably some were frustrated that they had taken out insurance in the year the scheme was launched, and despite losing animals, had received no payout because the forage threshold was never breached. They decided not to renew their policies – and then the drought hit.

Back in Ginda Village, the cruel irony is that even if Haro Sora had taken out livestock insurance, he probably wouldn’t have received a payout for many of the dead animals we saw scattered around us.

Already weakened by months of near-starvation, the animals were unable to endure the colder weather that followed the long-awaited return of the rains. They died from hypothermia, with green shoots springing up around them.

Kenya: A Glimpse of Climate-Smart Agriculture

This blog post by Neil Palmer first appeared on the CIAT Blog on October 14, 2011.

 From “madman” to model farmer – perseverance pays off for Maurice

There are many ways to describe Maurice Kwadha: farmer, entrepreneur, and climate-smart are some of them.

But some in Kombewa, in western Kenya’s Nyando Basin, used to call him a madman. Once, when he was collecting discarded milk packets at the local market, he was physically attacked by someone who thought he had lost his mind. But Maurice had a plan. And his small farm, with its burgeoning tree nursery, is the proof.

Standing in the afternoon sun at his farm in Kochiel village, he’s full of smiles. The day before he hosted a special event for World Food Day – which saw over 100 people, including the area’s provincial commissioner – take a tour of his farm. Even though Maurice has less than half-a-hectare of land, what he’s done with it is nothing short of inspiring, and is perhaps one of the best examples of climate-smart, sustainable, agricultural intensification in the region, if not the country. It’s little wonder it’s starting to get attention.

His agroforestry system has been established at just the right time, as the Nyando Basin, and many parts of East Africa, struggle to deal with increasingly unpredictable rains, and more intense dry spells. It shows that with a bit of lateral thinking, a small plot of land is no barrier to boosting food production, increasing resilience to climate change, and developing a profitable business.

In an area barely larger than a tennis court, he has dense, leafy plots in all shades of green. Areas of maize and the bushy fodder grass napier sit next to rows of banana and high-value papaya trees; several alleys of multi-purpose border trees including calliandra and grevillea help to stabilize and replenish the soil, maintain soil water, protect the topsoil from wind erosion, provide shade and fodder, and eventually fuel-wood and building material. He uses leaf mulch from tithonia plants as green manure for his fruit trees; further up he has a small area for onion, sweet potato and tomato.

His next-door neighbour’s farm, sown almost entirely to maize, seems horribly exposed in comparison. While heavy wads of mud cling to my shoes as we walk along the border of Maurice’s farm, the soil over the fence is dusty and dry. Maurice likens soil-use to having a bank account: you can’t keep withdrawing indefinitely if you have nothing saved up. At the moment, it looks as though his neighbour is in the red.

Maurice also has a unit for a dairy goat and hopes to establish a zero-grazing unit for his dairy cow. He’s also hand dug a large pond, fed by water pumped from a nearby seasonal river, installed an EcoSan toilet, and has a 3000 litre tank to capture rainwater from the tin roof of his home. Furthermore, he’s a committed composter, with various systems in place, and even has an ultra-efficient “rocket stove” for cooking.

“The mother of everything”

What Maurice is most proud of is his growing tree nursery, which despite being less than a quarter of the size of his cropland, is by far his most profitable enterprise. Here there are a whopping 20,000 seedlings of mango, calliandra, grevillea and local tree species. Some are for his farm, but the majority are for sale.

Many of the seedlings are growing in the discarded plastic bags used for milk, the same ones that caused Maurice to attract the wrong kind of attention as he picked them up off the floor at his local market. He says that recalling the incident still brings tears to his eyes. In farming, sometimes you have to act like a person who is mad, he explains. But as long as you know what you’re doing, you’ll be okay.

As well as collecting old milk packets, Maurice also picked up discarded mango seeds to establish his mango nursery. He now sells seedlings to a variety of customers, including the Kenyan government. He’s also started grafting mango.

The money from the tree nursery enabled Maurice to buy and install his water harvesting tank. His water pump was also bought with money from the nursery. Water pipes too. And his television. Money from the tree nursery enables him to send one of his children to school and another to college.

If we want to talk more about what he has bought with money from the tree nursery, we‘ll be here until evening-time, he chuckles. With a sweep of his hand, he says simply, that the tree nursery “is the mother of everything here.”

Despite this, Maurice concedes that for one person alone, environmental conservation is not easy – networking and collaboration are essential – and he admits there is still a long way to go. But he believes that if the whole community can see what he is doing, and adopts similar practices, together there will be a significant change for the better. His involvement as chairman of the the a local youth group, is one step towards this.

“What I’ve learned in farming here is, however small it is, what matters is the way you utilise your farm.”

Now, whichever words the the local community uses to describe Maurice, mad is definitely not one of them.

*In July 2011, Maurice helped to coordinate the first of a series of workshops with the CGIAR’s Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) research program, with partners from the University of Oxford. The workshops aim to improve the capacity of rural communities to address their most pressing challenges. More on this coming soon. Kochiel is also one of several villages participating in Africa’s first soil carbon project operated by Swedish NGO SCC-ViAgroforestry (ViA) together with the World Bank and the Kenyan government.

Giving Agriculture a Voice in the Climate Change Negotiations

This blog post, by Fionna Douglas, first appeared on the World Bank blog: Development in a Changing Climate. She reports on the African Ministerial Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture, which took place earlier this month in Johannesburg, South Africa.

If anyone can do it she can.

Tina Joemat-Pettersson, Minister for Agriculture Forestry and Fisheries is an energetic member of the South African government and a dynamic, passionate advocate for agriculture. She is determined to put agriculture on the agenda of the UNFCCC’s COP 17 taking place in Durban in later this year. She brings so much energy and enthusiasm to the cause, you would think she could do it alone. Luckily she won’t have to.

Every day that passes, the Minister is persuading others to join her campaign to give agriculture a voice in the climate change negotiations.

In Johannesburg this week, at Minister Joemat-Pettersson’s initiative, her Ministry, together with the African Union, hosted an African Ministerial Conference on Climate-Smart Agriculture that was supported by FAO, and the World Bank. African Ministers of Agriculture and their delegates from 21 countries joined scientific experts, civil society representatives, researchers and colleagues from multilateral organizations. The meeting was focused on sharing leadership perspectives, exploring challenges and grasping new opportunities for climate-smart agriculture.

Continue reading

South Africa’s Farmers Struggle to Cope with Changing Climate

The following Reuters Alertnet article, by Fidelis Zvomuya, highlights the impact of climate change on farmers in South Africa.  

The dun maize fields at Vusi Mlozi’s farm in Sopisfonteng, in South Africa’s Senekal district, offer a possible warning about the future of agriculture in the country.

Spread over a vast 30 hectares, the farm is baked by a scorching sun and starved of water, the plants parched and nearly dead. A severe drought in central South African has rendered reservoirs temporarily unusable, devastated farm fields and made drinking water scarce.

A combination of excessive heat and high winds also has sent wildfires scorching through millions of acres of farmland. And this is just the latest example of the kinds of extreme weather that Senekal has been experiencing in the past few years.

“This year things have been hard for us,” Mlozi said. “We had long dry periods, scorching heat and very high temperatures, floods and the recently snowy conditions. Temperatures are rising rapidly during the growing season and this has shaved several percentage points off our potential yields.”

Continue reading

Major Gathering of African Ag Ministers Pushes for Ag Agenda at COP17

Photo: World Economic Forum

Update: This Times Live article provides updates about the event: Climate-Smart Agriculture: A Call to Action. So does this Malaysian National News Agency article.

South Africa’s Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries organized a gathering this week of Africa’s agriculture ministers to push for the inclusion of agriculture on the COP17 agenda.

“Agriculture should be accorded the due priority it deserves, especially in Africa,” said Tina Joemat-Pettersson in a Mail & Guardian interview. ”In the primary text of climate change we have never seen a single line on agriculture and we need to change this to a global initiative.”

The event, Climate-Smart Agriculture: A Call to Action (September 13-14 in Johannesburg, South Africa), was organized in part by the World Bank, the African Union and the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad).

ScoopIt! Track Climate Change and Food Security News

Having trouble staying abreast of news on climate change and food security? Let The CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) curate the news for you. Using ScoopIt, CCAFS selects the most relevant stories of the day, which you can either browse online or read in your mailbox.

To browse online:

  1. Click here:
  2. Browse the stories.

To receive the news roundup via email:

  1. Click here:
  2. In the top, right-hand side, look for the “Climate News Roundup” box (it has a black background).
  3. Enter your email in the field below the black box and click “Subscribe”.
  4. Read the headlines in your mailbox.


Lessons Learned from COP16

The Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2011 blog provides insight into the crucial role that agricultural plays in climate change adaptation and mitigation. Revisit the ARDD 2010 Blog for an overview of last year’s ARDD and the status of agriculture in the international climate treaty context. The following is an article by Nathan Russell, the head of corporate communications at CIAT, that sums up progress towards the inclusion of agriculture in a final treaty.

The mutual dependence of climate security and food security was the clear message from Agriculture and Rural Development Day 2010, held on December 4 in parallel with the Sixteenth Conference of the Parties (COP16) to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) taking place at Cancún, Mexico.

Continue reading

Enhanced research key to effective mitigation and adaptation

Isabel Lopez Noriega of Biodiversity International poses a question.

As one of the only sectors that can “put carbon back in the ground”, agriculture is part of the solution to climate change. But Roundtable Five concluded that maximizing farmers’ potential to sequester greenhouse gas emissions and thrive in a hotter and wetter world requires additional research into quick and cost-effective mitigation and adaptation activities.

Lead speaker Louis Verchot, an environmental services scientist at the Center for International Forestry Research (CIFOR), underlined the immediate need for new research. “As the policy processes get rolling, we as a research community need to look how we can better inform the process … both inside and outside the UNFCCC,” he said.

Verchot called on researchers to look at “synergies and tradeoffs between mitigation and adaptation and development with respect to food security, water security, energy security, biodiversity, and poverty eradication” and focus on “lower-cost mitigation options for agricultural emissions and for the enhancements of sinks.” He also stressed the need for research on benefits schemes, value chains, real-time MRV schemes, early warning systems, best management practices, and institutions. He added that researchers should devise ways to better-integrate voices from indigenous and local groups into national decision-making.

Continue reading

Climate shifts will produce food ‘winners and losers’ – scientists

This Reuters article by Laurie Goering, which appeared November 17, announces the establishment of the Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS) initiative.

Higher temperatures and more variable rainfall associated with climate change will produce agricultural “winners and losers”, threatening a 20 percent rise in worldwide malnutrition and increasing the need to move food supplies around the globe, leading agricultural scientists said on Wednesday.

Northern countries will likely enjoy boosts in production through 2020 as a result of global warming, while southern regions including East and West Africa and India’s breadbasket will suffer declines, particularly in rain-fed crops, said Andy Jarvis, an agriculture policy expert at the International Centre for Tropical Agriculture, based in Cali, Colombia.

After an average increase through 2020, the global “potential to produce food” could decline by 5 to 10 percent by 2050, Jarvis said.

“The food security challenge facing us as humans is large,” Gerald Nelson, a senior research fellow with the International Food Policy Research Institute in Washington, told a press briefing announcing a $200 million research programme that will seek answers to the growing food security threat.

In particular, between 2050 and 2080, if greenhouse gas emissions are not reduced, “it becomes an almost impossible challenge to deal with the climate change and food security threats facing us”, Nelson said.

These trends will add to the burden of distributing food supplies around the world, with an increasing share of production occurring in regions far from where it is needed, Jarvis said.

The collaboration, which brings together agricultural experts from the Consultative Group on International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) and climate scientists at the Earth System Science Partnership (ESSP), aims to help the world’s poorest farmers maintain agricultural production in the face of climate pressures, reduce poverty by 10 percent by 2050 in “hot spot” regions in Africa and India, and cut the number of malnourished people in those areas by a quarter.

Continue reading