Monday, October 12, 2015

African Farming and Climate Change (2)

As world leaders gather in Paris this December to hammer out a climate deal at the Conference of the Parties (COP21), those representing Africa need to take a bold stance. Pastoral and indigenous communities across Africa are highly vulnerable to changes in climate. In December, Africa needs to stand together.

Across the continent of Africa, we are already seeing threats to our food supply due to less reliable rainfall patterns, rising temperatures and a greater number of extreme weather events. Millions of Africans are already living with extreme poverty and our future as a continent depends on their survival.

Mary Matupi, a farmer from the Rumphi district of northern Malawi. Matupi grows maize on a small piece of land, with a normal harvest yielding almost 80 bags weighing 50 kg each. However, in the last growing season she managed to produce only 15 bags due to a delay in the rains. Matupi told us that “if we don’t act to stop climate change, harder times are still to come and we will suffer.” African farmers are demonstrating both their resilience and commitment to climate action and they deserve our support.

Many places in Africa could experience even greater warming than the global average – a 4C warmer world could potentially be 6C warmer in some African countries. According to the United Nations’ climate agency, the UN Environmental Programme (UNEP), changes in water availability and temperature will have a huge effect on African agriculture (where 97 per cent of production is rainfed and 60 per cent of the continental labour force works in this sector). With sea levels rising, many African low-lying countries are at risk of losing their farmland. The financial losses could be especially great in the coastal areas of Mozambique, Senegal and Morocco.

According to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), if global warming exceeds 3C globally, maize, millet and sorghum cropping areas will be unviable across much of Africa. We can also expect more frequent and more severe extreme weather events, with huge social and economic costs. Extreme weather conditions will also affect our diets, and likely result in more under-nutrition and disease – a fact which governments cannot ignore. Therefore financing for technology (i.e. new drought-resistant crops, new farming techniques, early warning systems, seed storage protection programs, etc.), which could help African farmers cope, needs to be top of the agenda in Paris.

Africans must avoid the same path of profit-led, destructive high-carbon development – formerly pursued by rich countries – which brought us to the current crisis. Small-scale farming provides most of the food produced in Africa, as well as employment for 70 per cent of working people. We cannot allow small scale farmers to be forgotten in Paris to ensure the continent is able to feed itself.

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