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Protecting and Developing African Agriculture in the Face of Climate Change

The United Nations 2016 climate change conference (COP 22), meeting this week—through Nov. 18—in Marrakech, Morocco, presents an historic opportunity to refocus the global community’s attention on the need to help developing nations adapt to climate change. In no area could this be more pressing than Africa, where protecting food security and ending hunger is an urgent necessity.

During the COP21 last year in Paris, the world’s developed nations reaffirmed their commitment to provide at least $100 billion per year, beginning in 2020, to help developing nations combat climate change.

In the past, most funds have been used on mitigation projects—those intended to curtail greenhouse gas emissions. But there is a growing consensus that work focused on adapting to climate change is of equal importance and more funding needs to be devoted to it.

This is a step in the right direction. With 28 African countries expected to more than double in population by 2050, and 10 African countries—Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, Tanzania and Zambia—expected to grow “by at least a factor of five” by 2100, according to the U. N. Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Africa will be hard pressed to feed itself as temperature increases drive farm production down.

While increases in temperature and carbon dioxide “can increase some crop yields in some places,” experts at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have noted, Africa isn’t among them.

In fact, the opposite is true: The scientific consensus is that a temperature increase of 2°Celsius would result in an average reduction of 15% to 20% in agricultural yields on the continent.

The Center for Global Development’s 2011 report, “Quantifying Vulnerability to Climate Change Implications for Adaptation Assistance,” forecasts median agricultural productivity losses due to climate change ranging from 18% in North Africa to 19.8% in Central Africa through 2050.

The weak output in Africa, reinforced by a spike in temperatures and exacerbated by extreme climate events, could create a vicious loop of food insecurity, impoverishment, mass migration and, finally, armed conflict. Climate-related migration and conflict already are a reality on the continent, and more often than not they are related to agriculture and food.

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Agriculture Gets Attention at COP22 With AAA Initiative

For the first time in the 22 years of  Conference of Parties (COP) session of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), agriculture is being  given attention during climate discussions at the ongoing  COP22 conference in Marrakech, Morocco.

This will be made possible by the Adaptation of African Agriculture (AAA) to Climate Change initiative adopted in September this year by a coalition of 27 African countries who gave their backing and commitment to placing this initiative at the heart of COP22 negotiations.

Pitched as a major challenge for the COP22, agriculture is for the first time in the history of the COP brought to the forefront of climate discussions.

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Agriculture and Food Security at Heart of Climate Change Action

The world must rapidly move to scale up actions and ambitions on climate change FAO Director-General José Graziano da Silva told delegates at the United Nations Climate Change conference (COP22) in Morocco today.

Speaking at the high-level action day on agriculture and food security, Graziano da Silva noted that climate change impacts on agriculture – including crops, livestock, forestry, fisheries, land and water – are already undermining global efforts to assure food security and nutrition.

And the rural poor are the most affected.

With over 90 percent of countries referring to the important role of agriculture in their national plans to adapt to and mitigate climate change, Graziano da Silva stressed that

“it is time to invest in sustainable and climate-resilient agriculture as a fundamental part of the climate solution.”

Last year’s conference in Paris led to the world’s first legally binding global climate deal. The current summit in Marrakech, Morocco is geared to implementation of the pledges all signatory countries made. Echoing the prevalent spirit at the COP, the Paris Agreement is irreversible and inaction would be a disaster for the world.

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African Nations Have the Will to Adapt Agriculture to Climate Change

Ask an African farmer how climate change is affecting the community, and the response will be unequivocal. “It cut off my means of survival,” 66 year old Zimbabwean farmer Amon Makonese told us just last month, referring to the El Niño induced drought which struck last year. “It was one of the worst droughts we have ever seen,” he added. “I planted three hectares of maize, but it all wilted”.

This story of failed harvest, hunger and hopelessness as temperatures rise is common across the continent. In fact, it is estimated that 65 percent of Africa’s population is affected by climate change. The need for agriculture, which feeds the chronically food insecure region and forms the backbone of its economy, to adapt to these extreme weather events is becoming urgent.

Yet disappointingly, here at COP22 in Marrakech, dubbed both “The African COP” and “The COP of Action,” talks to include agriculture in the climate change negotiations have once again collapsed. Disputes on how to integrate adaptation and mitigation efforts have led to any further discussions being postponed until June 2017 at the next meeting of the Subsidiary Body for Scientific and Technological Advice (SBSTA) in Bonn.

Lack of progress at a global level makes regional action all the more critical. That is why the Moroccan government is championing the adaptation of African agriculture (AAA), through the launch of the ambitious AAA initiative.

At an event held in Marrakech, scientists and policymakers from all over Africa came together to determine an action plan for implementing this initiative, based on a rich body of evidence generated by the global research network CGIAR and its many partners. Taken together with the clear desire for action by African countries that prioritised agriculture in their national climate plans, there is significant potential to transform food and farming under climate change.

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Zimbabwe: Climate Change Changes Face of Urban Agriculture

Rain is something that Zimbabweans very much look forward to. For years, many have looked up to their rain-fed agricultural projects to bring them food relief in the face of gnawing hunger that has resulted from the country’s economic collapse. The unpredictable pattern that now characterises the rainy seasons, however, has lately been rendering people’s effort useless.

Urban agriculture is part of Zimbabwe’s urban landscape and in Harare; frantic efforts by the city council to put an end to it came to naught — to the extent of the authorities seemingly throwing in the towel. It would seem they finally realised how unreasonable their push was to destroy an activity that brought food relief for many food-insecure urban households, most of who have been left to scrap for a living after their breadwinners lost jobs following either company closures or retrenchments.

Today, however, the council authorities do not pose as much a threat to urban agriculture as does the no-longer-reliable rainfall.

While traditionally, by mid-November the maize crop would be at knee-height, with people at that point simply worrying about the insistent weeds and getting money to purchase fertiliser, today’s mid-November paints a very different picture. Going around most high-density suburbs in Harare on Tuesday afternoon, this writer witnessed people, mostly the elderly, clearing the land and readying it for planting in the sweltering heat. Other fields, however, had already been cleared and people now only await the proper onset of the rainy season so they can plant.

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Organic Agriculture Can Help Address Climate Change, Feed the World

The role organic agriculture can play in fighting climate change effects and in boosting food security was the main theme of a debate held in the COP22 Green Zone by the federation of Moroccan organic agriculture professionals (known by its French acronym FIMABIO.)

Speaking on this occasion, Andre Leu, President of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements (IFOAM), underscored that organic agriculture can reverse climate change.

He highlighted the global momentum towards adopting organic agriculture to counter climate change, notably through the “4 for 1000” initiative, which aims to increase the amount of organic matter in soil by 4 per thousand (0.4%) each year, which would be enough to compensate for all global greenhouse gases emitted due to human behavior.

Organic agriculture practices are conducive to the global efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions before the point of no return, he said.

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Moroccan Vault Protects Seeds from Climate Change and War

Should a doomsday agricultural crisis hit the world’s driest environments, scientists and farmers will turn to an up-and-coming research center and seed bank in Morocco to restock their harvests.

Tucked away in the university hub of Irfane in Rabat, the International Center for Agricultural Research in the Dry Areas, or ICARDA, hosts the largest collection of seeds in North Africa.

“If for any reason, a particular community lost all their resources, we are capable of providing them with the seeds for restoration and rehabilitation,” says Ahmed Amri, head of ICARDA’s Genetic Resources Unit.

The crucial role of seed banks in protecting biodiversity is receiving increasing attention because of climate change, which threatens to wipe out crops as dry areas of the world get even hotter and drier. The impact on African agriculture is among the topics being discussed at U.N. climate talks taking place through next week in Morocco.

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France’s 4 Per 1000 Initiative Makes Important Advances

France’s innovative 4 per 1000 Initiative: Soils for Food Security and Climate has made significant progress over the past year in preparation for the COP22 climate change conference taking place now in Marrakesh, Morocco.

As a reminder, the 4 per 1000 Initiative was launched by France in 2015 to bring together all willing partners (national governments, local and regional government, companies, trade organizations, NGOs, research facilities, and others) to commit together in a voluntary action plan to implement farming practices that maintain or enhance soil carbon stock on as many agricultural soils as possible and to preserve carbon-rich soils. Scientific studies have found that an annual increase of 0.4% of carbon stored in soils would make it possible to stop the present increase in atmospheric CO2, which is a major contributor to the greenhouse effect and climate change.

The aim of the Initiative is to demonstrate that agriculture, and agricultural soils in particular, can play a crucial role where food security and climate change are concerned. Some ways that agriculture can achieve this is by using innovative techniques such as no-till farming practices, which increase the amount of microorganisms present in soils and increase soil fertility and carbon sequestration. Other examples include the promotion of agroforestry, introducing more intermediate crops, restoring soil quality in places with poor conditions, and better landscape management. Increasing carbon sequestration in soils enhances soil fertility and combats land degradation aiming to improve food security.

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Implementing Climate Smart Agriculture up for Discussion at COP22

The Southern African Confederation of Agricultural Unions (SACAU) will join partners to discuss African agriculture at the 22nd Conference of the Parties (COP22) meeting in Morocco, currently underway. COP22 will look at adaptation, mitigation, transparency, and technology transfer to combat increasing greenhouse gas emissions.

SACAU CEO Ishmael Sunga is one of the several high-profile African speakers who will be speaking on Africa Day Side Events at COP 22 on 16 November 2016. The day will open with a high-level panel discussion on Implementing the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) in Africa: Moving from Commitment to Action with speakers from the African Union Commission (AUC), UNECA, African Development Bank (AfDB), President of African Ministerial Conference on Environment (AMCEN), and the Pan-African Parliament.

Sunga will be speaking during a panel discussion on the Implementation of regional climate smart agriculture approaches: the case of East and Southern Africa at a side event.

The session will look at the barriers preventing smallholder farmers from improving their livelihood in the face of negative climate change impact, how systems in which they operate can be strengthened to facilitate transformative change, and how to address youth involvement and gender parity.

Other panelists include Hon Oppah C.Z. Muchinguri (Minister, Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate, Republic of Zimbabwe) and Golden Mahove (Deputy Team Leader and Agricultural Development Facility Lead, Vuna).

“Farmers in southern Africa are at the front-line of this catastrophe, and are arguably the worst affected,” said Sunga before his departure for COP22.

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COP22 Host Morocco Launches Action Plan to Fight Devastating Climate Change

Author: Celeste Hicks

Last December we had temperatures of 25C. Normally it is 1 or 2C at that time of year,” says Mohammed Ibrahimi, a farmer with one hectare of apple trees in Boumia, a village near Midelt in Morocco.

“These trees need at least 1,200 hours of near-freezing temperatures in the winter to help them to regenerate. This year they flowered very late; the harvest was a month late and I harvested just 20 tonnes when I’d expected 40 tonnes.”

“When we were kids the mountains had snow on them until at least June, sometimes even all year. We had ample underground water sources. We used to have to dig about 4m down to find water – now it can be [many times deeper]. How can we irrigate our crops with that?” says Ibrahimi.

Like most African countries, Morocco – where 40% of the population still works the land – is already feeling the impacts of climate change on its agricultural production. Last year, during the exceptional season Ibrahimi describes – caused in large part by the regular El Niño weather pattern – Morocco went without rain for more than two months. Overall it received 42.7% less rain during its main planting season than in an average year. The impact on the harvest was catastrophic, particularly on the “zone bour” (dry zone) areas where crops such as wheat, barley and maize are planted. Ministry of Agriculture estimates predicted total output falling 70% on the 2015 season.

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