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AfricaMoney | August 22, 2017

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Food security a distant dream; can Africa ever feed Africa?

Food security a distant dream; can Africa ever feed Africa?

The Africa Adaptation Gap Report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) forecast that, with warming of about 2 degrees Celsius, all crop yields across sub-Saharan Africa will decrease by 10% by the 2050s. (Image: AFHDR)

Experts have forecast that Africa will be able to fulfil only 13% of its food needs by 2050.

According to Science, a leading international research journal, by 2030 Southern Africa and South Asia will be the two regions in the world whose crop production is most affected by climate change.

For example, while wheat varieties grow well in temperatures between 15ºC and 20ºC, in sub-Saharan Africa the average annual temperature currently exceeds this mark during the growing season.

This situation will threaten about 65% of African workers who depend on agriculture for their livelihoods, with 240 million Africans being affected daily.

The Africa Adaptation Gap Report by the UN Environment Programme (UNEP) forecast that, with warming of about 2 degrees Celsius, all crop yields across sub-Saharan Africa will decrease by 10% by the 2050s.

Increasing crop production amidst climate change has been done before, where many communities across the continent are already building resilience by stimulating their existing ecosystems and available natural resource bases.

Unlocking Africa’s potential requires African countries to consider options that will enable farmers to cope with climate change by fortifying their water resources, which are critical to food security.

Part of the answer lies in better farming methods, including expanding the range of crops grown, improving soil conservation practices and utilizing improved seeds and technology.

One of the options being advocated is ecosystem-based adaptation, which mitigates climate change impact through natural systems such as drought-resistant varieties, more efficient methods of water storage and more diversity in crop rotation, says UNEP.

However, the challenges to success are as large as the potential consequences of failure.

The increase in population and growing land shortages have forced farmers to cultivate the same fields repeatedly, stripping the land of nutrients and resulting in smaller harvests and less income.

Thus, an estimated 50,000 hectares of Africa’s forests and 60,000 hectares of savannah are lost to such methods annually, resulting in severe environmental degradation and contributing to the decline in agricultural production per capita.

However, in Zambia, 61% of farmers who applied an ecosystem-based adaptation, such as natural resource conservation or sustainable organic agricultural practices, reported surplus yields. Some yields even increased by up to 60%, while sales of surplus crops grew from 25.9% to 69%.

Furthermore, in Burkina Faso, farmers are using indigenous methods to rehabilitate land. By digging small pits on barren plots and filling them with organic matter, some farmers are able to add nutrients to the soil while enhancing groundwater storage to improve crop productivity.

Thus, these farmers have reclaimed 200,000 to 300,000 hectares of degraded lands and have produced an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 additional tonnes of cereal.

Other options include protecting watersheds and reinforcing their capacity to hold water and carrying it to those who need it most using integrated pest management, which is a natural and cost-effective way of protecting crops.

More options include using agroforestry, intercropping and crop rotation, which bring nutrient diversity to fields and ensure continued and improved production yields in a natural way.

Further, maintaining forest cover and using natural fertilizers like manure is also recommended to increase crop yields.

Finally, using natural pollinators like bees could increase fruit yields by 5%, according to a recent study.

To conclude, analysts believe that if Africa is to fortify agriculture and curb hunger, it will need to work with the natural environment, making it more resilient and productive under climate change.

In short, Africa needs an approach that works with nature, not against it.

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