No Climate Adaptation without Agricultural Transformation

By Sharon Atieno

With the just concluded  African Climate Summit calling for global leaders to honour their US$100 billion commitment to Developing countries for climate adaptation, agricultural transformation remains an integral part of this agenda.

World Bank statistics show that one in five Africans goes to bed hungry while some 140 million of them face acute food insecurity due to climate change and other factors.

Against this background, Enock Chikava, Interim director of agricultural development, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation speaking during an interview with Science Africa said adaptation is synonymous with food system transformation.

By 2050, warming of just 1.2 to 1.9℃, is likely to increase the number of malnourished in Africa by 25 to 95 percent–25 percent in central Africa, 50 percent in east Africa, 85 percent in southern Africa and 95 per cent in west Africa.

Chikava noted that African countries have to increase investment in research and development especially in crops that are more resilient to the continent’s environment such as cassava, millet, sorghum and teff among others.

He noted that the four main global commodity crops like maize, rice, wheat and soya beans were also orphaned crops but research turned them into high production crops which could be industrialized.

Chikava observed that cassava has the potential to replace wheat but because of low productivity the potential has not been realized. In Nigeria, their project in cassava has demonstrated that production can reach 30 tonnes per hectare yet currently the average production is only eight tonnes per hectare.

“Farmers must change into newer varieties that are more adaptive and adopt other practices which they have never practiced before,” he urged, calling on governments to make the required tools of improvement available to farmers.

Besides, Chikava said soil heath is a critical area to adaptation which has been neglected in the continent, observing that the reason for low production is because the soils have become poor. The structure and makeup of the soils have been compromised.

The Global Assessment of Soil Degradation estimates that 65% of African agricultural land, 31% of permanent pasture land, and 19% of forest and woodland is degraded in sub-Saharan Africa. The causes of soil degradation in the continent being reported as overgrazing (49%), agricultural mismanagement (28%), deforestation (14%) and overexploitation of vegetation for domestic and industrial use (13%).

“Understanding the condition of your soil is one area to build adaptation and resilience because once you know what your soil has and what it doesn’t have, you can now begin to rehabilitate it,” he said, noting that promotion of soil sampling and testing is critical for smallholder farmers to increase their productivity.

The UN Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) shows that the top 30cm of the world’s soil contains about twice as much carbon as the entire atmosphere. Soil is the second largest natural carbon sink following oceans, surpassing forests and other vegetation in its capacity to capture carbon dioxide from air.

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