Sunday, October 11, 2015

African Farming and Climate Change

Tribal cultures have lived sustainably, with plenty of leisure time, more or less happily and in stable social groups for millennia. Since money came into the picture, all former tribal cultures know is work and more work, conflict and more conflict and a lower and lower standard of living defined by the endless search for more in a deteriorating environment.

Already battling against the impacts of climate change, temperatures in Africa will rise faster than any other continent. In fact, they are expected to exceed 2 C and may reach as high as 6 C greater than 20th century levels. These rapidly rising temperatures foreshadow increased drought, famine and disease. The most vulnerable populations – of which millions are smallholder farmers – need solutions, and they need them now.

These rising temperatures brought on by climate change affect not only yields, but also food quality, safety and the reliability of its delivery to consumers. By 2050, child malnutrition could increase by as much as 20 per cent and food shortages could lead to losses of up to 7 per cent of GDP followed by corresponding food price hikes.

Maize, rice and wheat prices in 2050 could rise by 4 per cent, 7 per cent and 15 percent respectively, nullifying progress made in the last two decades to combat hunger and poverty in Africa.

Agriculture generates carbon emissions primarily from livestock, but also poor land use and improper soil management. Agriculture and land use accounts for nearly one-third of Africa’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions; in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it is as high as 80 per cent. Ensuring global temperatures do not rise above 2 C will be very difficult without leveraging the potential of the agriculture sector, and helping smallholders to reduce and offset GHG emissions.

Soil carbon sequestration is the process of removing carbon from the atmosphere and storing it in the soil indefinitely. The sequestration process takes time (between five and 50 years) to reach its optimum rate, and then continues until the soil has reached its full storage capacity. The process minimizes emissions by adding organic matter to soil faster than the rate at which it decays. This can be achieved in many ways: no-till farming (primarily minimum disturbance of the soil), planting cover crops, manure and sludge application, improved grazing techniques, water conservation and agroforestry. Agroforestry systems can in fact capture carbon in the range of two to four tonnes per hectare per year – which is much higher than conservation farming alone. The potential to sequester carbon worldwide through better land management has been estimated at around three Gt of carbon per year. Collectively this has the potential to offset between 5 and 15 per cent of global greenhouse gas emissions and increase annual grain production in developing countries by 24 to 32 million tonnes, leading to improved food security for many farmers and their families.

In Niger, government policies that strengthened local farmer rights for planting trees, coupled with training from aid agencies to improve land management through soil and water conservation and agroforestry resulted in the revitalization of more than 5 million hectares. Today, smallholders in Niger benefit from enriched soils, increased crop yields and lower emissions.

The Kenya Agricultural Carbon Project (KACP) involves 60,000 farmers on 45,000 hectares to increase the organic matter in their soils by sustainable land management. In January 2014, the project issued its first carbon credits to participating smallholders who captured 25,000 tonnes of carbon, equivalent to more than the annual emissions of 5,000 vehicles.

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