Thursday, June 18, 2009

Africa: Low technology level and lack of information hindering climate change adaptation

By Ochieng’ Ogodo

As climate change intensifies through increased temperatures and precipitation, most smallholder [SH] farmers in Africa , majority living in rural areas, are not adapting to global warming.
Low levels of technology and scarcity of information on climate change are some of the major obstacles for the vast majority of African farmers in adapting to global warming.
Claudia Ringler, a senior research fellow at the International Food Policy Research Institute [FPRI], says global change, including increased population, urbanization, international trade and climate change will have significant effect on food and water security in the coming decades on Africa .
Speaking at How can African agriculture adapt to climate change? Results and Conclusions for Ethiopia and beyond meeting December 11-14, 2009 in Nazareth Ethiopia , Ringler said rural areas in developing countries, especially Africa , will be least able to adapt to these changes, in particular climate change, as incomes and employment in rural areas are largely dependent on agriculture.
“Ethiopians will find it particularly difficult to adapt because of high dependence on rainfed agriculture, very low incomes, widespread poverty and food insecurity, low levels of human and physical capital and poor infrastructure,” she cited.
No adaptation to changing circumstances.
Whereas most households have perceived increase in temperature and decline in rainfall according to a study tabled at the meeting, many have done nothing to adapt to changing circumstances.
The study conducted by IFPRI under Food and Water Security Under Global Change: Developing Adaptive Capacity with a Focus on Rural Africa, in the Nile Basin of Ethiopia and Limpopo Basin in South Africa is the first detailed one on factors affecting adaptation to climate change among house hold farmers.
Approximately 1000 Ethiopian cereal crop farmers in the survey identified shortage of land as the biggest single constraint to adapting to climate change. Next was lack of information and credit lines.
Done in collaboration with the Center for Environmental Economics and Policy in Africa, the Ethiopian Development Research Institute, the Ethiopian Economics Association and the University of Hamburg, Germany the study shows that about half the farmers surveyed did not adapt at all to changes in temperature and rainfall,
Ringler, who was the project leader, said African countries are particularly vulnerable because of limited ability to adapt to dependence on rainfed agriculture, the low level of human and physical capital, poor infrastructure, and already high temperatures.
Ethiopia’s vulnerability, the study states, is intertwined with poverty, although some regions of the country are more vulnerable than the others like Afar, Somali, Oromia and Tigray.
Mahmud Yesuf from Addis Ababa University , the study’s co-author, argued that weak institutional and informal networks, little access to technology and a shortage of information is hampering farmers' ability to adapt to global warming.
“The majority of farmers do not have information on what to do but even where they do, there are no resources required for technologies like building stone and sand bunds,'' said Yesuf.
He warned that some technologies being given as one fix-it-all will not work. “There has been failure to take cognizance of the fact that a technology appropriate for one region may absolutely be unsuitable for another.”
There is also the insecure land tenure, and coupled with undeveloped labour market in agriculture, the future looks bleak without immediate interventions.
Yesuf said 42 percent of household farmers in the region of study did not adapt to climate change despite apparent knowledge of its existence.
Information on climate change is vital
The study on cereal crop farmers suggests that information about climate change and better access to institutions strongly improves farming households’ ability to adapt to global warming.
It found that households with good access to formal agricultural extension assistance, credit and farmer-to-farmer networks were among those most likely to initiate climate change adaptation measures on their farms.
About half the farmers surveyed said they did not adapt at all to changes in temperature and rainfall, blaming the lack of information, followed by shortages of labour, land and money.
Households led by older and more experienced farmers, and households led by literate farmers, were more likely to adopt climate change adaption strategies. Large households were also more likely to respond to climate change, suggesting that the availability of labour is a key issue.
Apart from changing their planting and harvesting periods, the IFPRI report said, farmers also changed crop varieties, were conserving soil and water, intensified water harvesting and planting trees. Five percent of the farmers surveyed said they responded by migration or shifting from crops to livestock herding.
African farmers find it relatively easy to alter planting schedules or using different tillage methods but need to do much more, such as using seed varieties designed to survive climate change, warned Kidane Georgis of the Ethiopian Institute of Agriculture.
Georgis also said that national and regional climate change research institutions were guilty of poor linkages, which affected the speed and quality of information-sharing. Weak agriculture department extension systems hampered the farmers' uptake of new technologies.
Small holder farmers narrated how weather variability has brought great suffering and altered their lifestyles. “We have over the years seen great increase in temperatures and severe change in rainfall patterns,” Tukies Barusha, a small holder farmer from Adami Tuli district said
Rainy season used to run from January through to Septembers but these days it has become unpredictable. Maize has been a staple food crop here but planting time has shifted much with low yield from long dry spells.
Sometimes severe floods destroy crops in the field, devastates infrastructure and kills animals and human beings according to Barusha.
“When I was a boy we were not using fertilizers but today we have to use chemical fertilizers if we have to realise some little yield. Even the amount of maize we get from a hectare of land is down considerably,” Barusha, 47, a father to 15 said.
“We also keep cattle but the changes have been severe with prolonged dry spells and there is not enough grass and water for the animals. My father, at any given time, kept around 100 heads of cattle but today I am forced have only fifteen,” said Fitala Lemu, a middle aged man from Dagada district in Oromia region.
Diseases like Malaria and typhoid are on the increase in the region according to the two farmers. In an area where people have families averaging ten, the pressure on ecological resources like water and forests is enormous and sometimes resulting into tension among communities.
Rethinking water storage strategies
Sub-Saharan Africa [SSA] countries must rethink and adopt water storage strategies for mitigation and adaptation, said Fitsum Hagos, a social scientist with the International Water Management Institute [IWMI].
SSA, he said, is one of the places that will be hit harder by severe water shortage as the region is already under severe water stress.
Most countries here enjoy good rains which could be harvested but it turns into waste run-offs. Citing Kenya , Hagos said it is among SSA countries with poor water storage infrastructure and urgently needs improved management as a mitigation and adaptation measure.
“We need to rethink water storage for climate change adaptation in Kenya and the rest of Sub-Saharan Africa,” Hagos said against a population of 32 million people Kenya had water storage of only 4 cubic meters per person.
“That is very low and the country needs to do something substantial about its water storage infrastructure for both human use and agricultural production, especially in the face of climate change,” he said.
He blamed the low water storage infrastructure in Africa on the lack of political will, dwindling donor funding and trans-boundary issues that make certain usage of water bodies like river Nile shared by several countries difficult.
Ethiopia, he pointed out, had irrigation potential of 3.7 million hectares that could be developed but currently only 200,000 hectares are under irrigation. “The total run-off during the peak season especially June through to Septembers is huge with the rest of the year a long dry spell,” he said. “If we store water we could use it for irrigation and domestic consumption.
The issue of water is critical in SSA since majority, especially in rural settings housing majority of the national populations, depend on fragile rainfed agriculture economies but climate change is not factored in development plans despite extreme weather variability.
“Water stress will affect agriculture, people’s health, among many others. We need to understand priority storage areas from infield to large scale schemes,” he said.
Promotion of water storage system depending on local circumstances and potentials-from farm and communal levels to large scale projects like dams at the basin level for hydroelectric powers stations for local consummation and export-is urgent.
Hagos said for rivers like Nile that passes through several countries it is imperative upstream activities takes care of the needs of those downstream. “We must take into perspective what happens at all stages whenever we are developing projects like a dam. We need an integrated water resource management,’ he pointed out.
Concurring, Ringler called for private investment on on-farm irrigation as a short term priority and a large scale public investment in water storage as one the ways for long term answers to the water problem in SSA.
Clean Development Mechanism
The Clean Development Mechanism, Ringler argued, should be expanded to compensate technologies that replace wood fuel in Africa .
A large percentage of the people in Africa were using firewood and charcoal which should be considered dirty energy. “In Ethiopia for instance,” she said, “92 percent of the people were using wood fuel and the forest cover had declined over the years from 40 to 4 percent.” . Ethiopia has a population of 73 million people.
“Replacing firewood with other clean energy sources like solar power should be accommodated under CDM as one of the ways of fighting global warming and Sub-Saharan Africa could play a big role in this,” she said at a meeting. “If a project replaces firewood then CDM funds should be made available to it,” she added.
Araya Asfaw, Director, Horn of Africa-Regional Environment Center, said Africa must prepare and talk with one voice in Copenhagen next year when a new agreement replacing the Kyoto Protocol is expected to be concluded.
“Africa did not benefit from the Kyoto protocol because it made it difficult for her to access the CDM fund yet it needs funds to mitigate and adapt to global warming,” he said.
He said most technologies recommended for CDM currently like solar power are not accessible to Africa because of lack of funds. Even countries protecting forests should be compensated.
In the past, he said, Africa has not been effective in global negotiations and African Union and her member states should this time round come up with a strong voice to ensure it benefits from the next agreement since it’s more affected by climate change and has very little mechanism for coping up.

**Ochieng’ Ogodo is a Nairobi journalist whose works have been published in various parts of the world, including Africa, the US and Europe . He is the English-speaking Africa and Middle East region winner for the 2008 Reuters-IUCN Media Awards for Excellence in Environmental Reporting. He can be reached at or

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