Tuesday, October 29, 2013

The Blooming of the Sahel

Climate change is expected to hit Africa hardest.  It is increasingly likely that scientific warnings that the world could warm by 2°C in the next 20 or 30 years will come true.  In such a case, pastoralism will be imperiled.  The effects on the African continent will be dramatically more devastating under a warming scenario of 4°C.

Over the centuries, some 16 million pastoralists have perfected the art of survival in the Sahel, raising sheep and livestock in some of the most harsh and unforgiving environments anywhere on the planet.  Meat yields from the Sahel rival those from some of the best ranches in Australia and the United States.  Currently, half of the meat and two-thirds of the milk produced and consumed in the countries of West Africa originates in the Sahel.

Farming is  the dominant industry in the region, which accounts for one-third and more of all economic output in the Sahel. This in turn empowers the women of the Sahel, as women account for the majority of Africa’s farmers. Supporting pastoralism with more climate smart-policies; reducing vulnerability to drought, flooding and other disasters; and raising more healthy livestock through timely vaccines, are all necessary to help communities adapt to the ecological harshness of the Sahel.

However pastoralism is facing multiple threats. Rapid population growth, conflict, volatile food prices, animal diseases, and shrinking grazing areas and water resources are steadily jeopardizing the survival of the pastoralists of the Sahel.  

Sahel’s vast water resources are largely untapped.  In a region where farming is the predominant economic activity, sadly, only 20 percent of the Sahel’s irrigation potential has been developed.  Worse still, one quarter of the area equipped with irrigation lies in a state of disrepair.

Bringing more water to parched lands in the Sahel will not only improve food production but place more food on family dinner tables...Climate-smart agriculture can increase yields... help protect biodiversity, improve soil fertility, and conserve the environment.

Makhtar Diop,
World Bank Group’s Vice President for Africa

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