African smallholder farmers should be given financial, technical and political support to help climate-proof their food production, a report says. Community-led initiatives that combat desertification, flooding and drought are widespread across Africa but need to be significantly scaled up and backed with research to avert the spiralling threat of food insecurity, according to the Montpellier Panel's assessment, published today (25 September).
"Change will come from the bottom up as local people take action for themselves," says Ramadjita Tabo, one of the study's authors and head of the West and Central African hub of the International Crops Research Institute for the Semi-Arid Tropics in Niamey, Niger.
Africa is set to bear the brunt of climate change as temperatures could soar by up to six degrees Celsius by the end of the century. Shrinking crop yields in the face of the extreme weather could wipe out between two and seven per cent of the continent's GDP in the same period, according to the UN.
Although smallholders will suffer the worst effects, they aren’t just victims, says the Montpellier Panel, a group of European and African agriculture researchers based at Imperial College London in the United Kingdom. Farmers can be the pioneers of more sustainable and innovative ways of food production by using appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies, the report states.
For instance, changes farmers make to their work by adopting renewable energy and improving education and technological skills could improve resource management in other areas such as water and nutrition, say the report’s authors. Involving whole communities in farming innovation speeds up adaptation to climate change and this is an area where Africa can teach lessons to other continents, says Tabo. Thanks to combining modern science with traditional knowledge and beliefs, community-led projects are thriving here, he says.
But Aliou Diouf, a programme officer from development organisation ENDA Energy, stresses that the impact of such projects is still limited, as many governments are failing to establish the right financing and infrastructure to scale up these approaches. In addition to financing and government support, the report’s authors highlight several other obstacles to getting smallholders involved in farming innovation.
These include the need to gather better nutritional data and improve scientific understanding of how crops respond to climate change. Governments must also spend more money on meteorological services to warn farmers of extreme weather events, says the report. The already widespread use of mobile phones in Africa – around 75 per cent of Africans have one – offers the perfect way to get these data in farmers' hands, the report says. Information and communication technologies can also help farmers gain access to new markets and technologies, and showcase different farming practices, it says.
Photograph Flickr/Tri Saputro/CIFOR