Africans Put Agriculture in Climate Focus

African farmers, researchers and high-level politicians join to push climate-smart agriculture to the forefront at COP17 in Durban

“We must deliver the resources poor farmers need to sustain their lives,” said Honourable Professor Jumanne A. Maghembe, Tanzania’s Minister of Agriculture to a crowded room at the Africa Pavilion. He spoke to the opportunities and challenges of climate-smart agriculture for African farmers, one of the hottest, and sometimes contentious, issues at this year’s UN Climate Conference in Durban.

Prof. Maghembe was joined by Professor Tekalign Mamo, a State Minister at the Ministry of Agriculture in Ethiopia, as well as the leaders of African farmers unions’ from Southern, Eastern and Western Africa; the common message was clear – negotiators at COP17 must put agriculture up front and centre. The UNFCCC has largely ignored agriculture, especially the adaptation benefits. Climate smart agriculture can help African farmers adapt to climate change and safeguard their food security and livelihoods, while enhancing their ecosystems and supporting mitigation.

In Africa, the biggest threat to poor farmers is the increase in unexpected extreme events that come with climate change. Prof. Maghembe described the vicious cycle of droughts and floods that are currently affecting areas of East Africa, killing livestock and destroying farms. “Where are the priorities for agriculture faced with these conditions?” he asked.

There are solutions

Prof. Tekalign Mamo, Ethiopia. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

Prof. Tekalign Mamo, Ethiopia. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS)

The speakers, including Prof. Mamo of Ethiopia, and the farmer union heads, noted that of many of the solutions for adapting agriculture to climate change are already known, for example planting trees that increase soil fertility and boost crop yields. Other examples include rainwater harvesting and greenhouses. Dr. James Kinyangi, who coordinates the East Africa program for the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security, noted successful innovations exist to reduce climate risks to farmers including crop and livestock insurance, seasonal climate forecasts, and seed varieties that are resilient to pests and diseases.

Give us incentives

 While solutions exist, farmers are not able to adopt these practices widely. Mr. Douglas Taylor-Freeme, president of the Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU), shared his union’s position. “We as farm leaders want to make world leaders and decision makers aware of agriculture’s potential as a solution to deal with climate change,” he said. “Farmers from Southern Africa officially recognise climate-smart agriculture in achieving important objectives of adaptation, food security and mitigation.” Read the full statement here.

Mr. Mamadou Goita, executive secretary of the West African Network of Farmers’ and Agricultural Producers’ Organisations (ROPPA) noted that in some countries over 99% of agriculture production comes from small farmers. Despite this, small African farmers are not getting the finance they need to scale up. Agriculture must be at the centre of development programs, he said, and we must scale up good practices already implemented by farmers. Farmers can be more greatly involved in research activities, he said.

Douglas Taylor-Freeme, SACAU. Photo: C. Schubert (CCAFS) COP17 Africa Pavilion Side-event, Durban, South Africa
Douglas Taylor-Freeme, president of SACAU (left) and Philip Kiriro, president of EAFF (right) called on policy makers to help farmers adapt to climate change. Photos: C. Schubert (CCAFS).

Mr. Philip Kiriro, president of the East Africa Farmers Federation also highlighted the need to scale up urgently, so that farmers can experience the benefits of increased food security and resilience that climate-smart agriculture can bring. He called for COP17 negotiators to place farmers at the centre stage.

More financing for African farmers

The African Development Bank (AfDB) will be making a substantial investment in agricultural research to support climate smart agriculture. Ken Johm, who represented AfDB said that the Consortium of International Agricultural Research Centers (CGIAR) will receive a funding to focus research efforts on climate-proofing cassava, maize, rice and wheat. Mr. Johm also recognized that a work program on agriculture should be adopted by the UNFCCC.

Key actions for food security

Session chair Michael Hailu, Director of the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation ACP-EU (CTA), also noted that food security is ultimately at the center of climate smart agriculture.

The session was wrapped up by Lindiwe Sibanda, who leads the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) and has been a strong advocate for farmers in the climate negotiations. She called a standalone program on agriculture under COP17, with a focus on financing and science.

The roundtable event was coordinated by the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS), CTA and FANRPAN, who also helped organize Agriculture and Rural Development Day on 3 December.

As the Durban negotiations conclude, we will be posting updates about the outcomes for agriculture, so please return for updates or follow us on twitter or facebook.


Story by Vanessa Meadu, CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS). This story was originally posted on the CCAFS blog.

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