For Sub-Saharan Africa, 2015 is a turning point. The summits on sustainable development, financing and climate change are swinging the spotlight not only onto Africa’s needs to accelerate development and adapt to global warming, but also onto the region’s urgent energy crisis. 

But this crisis is also a moment of great opportunity, as we demonstrate in the Africa Progress Report 2015, Power People Planet: Seizing Africa’s Energy and Climate Opportunities. Demand for modern energy is set to surge, fuelled by economic growth, demographic change and urbanisation. As the costs of low-carbon energy fall, Africa could leapfrog into a new era of power generation. Utility reform, new technologies and new business models could be as transformative in energy as the mobile phone has been in telecommunications.

The Africa Progress Report 2015 explains the bold steps that leaders globally and in Africa must take to achieve this vision. Above all, the report shows that the global climate moment is also Africa’s moment – Africa’s moment to lead the world.

On the green banks of the Niger River in downtown Bamako alongside heavily guarded foreign hotels, a group of urban farmers busily weed and water vegetables on some of Mali's prime real-estate. The "guerrilla growers" do not own the land they're cultivating but property rules aren't stopping them from trying to feed themselves in one of the world's poorest countries. In North America and Europe "guerrilla gardening" usually means an act of political protest against industrialised food production or a lack of green space but in Bamako and across Africa the growing trend for urban gardens is about survival. 

An SMS pops up on Joseph Mburu’s screen in a Nairobi call centre. “I have mulberry trees kwa shamba, my problem is moles. Wat can i do?” Mburu, an agriculture expert, texts back. He recommends the use of a trap or poison. If that doesn’t work, try burning dry cow dung in the mole hole or pouring in one-week old cow urine, he suggests.

Africa will be able to feed itself in the next 15 years. That’s one of the big “bets on the future” that Bill and Melinda Gates have made in their foundation’s latest annual letter. Helped by other breakthroughs in health, mobile banking and education, they argue that the lives of people in poor countries “will improve faster in the next 15 years than at any other time in history”.

The Kenyan government may be pushed into reconsidering its current ban on genetically modified (GM) foods, as the technology appears to be winning support from some farmers struggling to deal with climate stresses.  In Kenya's driest counties, there is increasing demand for GM crops because of their potential to improve food security and increase yields.  However, some local farmers remain apprehensive; they argue that research regarding the degree to which GM crops increase yields remains unsupported, and they pose serious environmental risks.

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Poverty alleviation in rural areas is a top priority for social and economic development, particularly against a backdrop of rising populations up to 2050 and to meet growing food demands in a rapidly urbanizing world. Sustainable intensification of agricultural techniques are therefore required, such as water management practices that result in higher agricultural production without causing severe environmental impacts, whilst at the same time improving resilience to drought and dry spells.

In Zambia, the weather is changing — the rainy season begins later in the year than it once did, and its duration is now unpredictable, creating confusion about the best time for planting.  Traditional means of weather forecasting for planting and harvesting are no longer working as they once did.  Female farmers may be more prone to economic difficulties than males in part because they lack access to technology and technological know-how that can help them adapt to climate change. This article suggests women must be equipped with knowledge systems that help them implement farming strategies that increase adaptive capacity in the face of climate change.  

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) approved US $88 million in grant financing for climate change adaptation efforts in 9 vulnerable countries. This is funded by IFAD's new Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP), which channels climate finance to smallholder farmers so that they can improve their resilience to climate change.  These ASAP-supported projects will benefit poor rural communities in Bolivia, Nicaragua, Mali, Nigeria, Rwanda, Djibouti, Yemen, Kyrgyzstan and Viet Nam. 

Climate change is already affecting the livelihoods of West African smallholder farmers who rely on rain-fed agricultural techniques, and it is expected to make food shortages more acute as the region’s population continues to grow. However, some experts have proposed that an integrated approach to land management that ensures sustainable policies could help agriculture-dependent West Africa cope with the looming effects of climate change.

Farmers facing long periods of dry weather and floods have expressed hope that a new climate change adaptation initiative being rolled out in Tanzania and Malawi will spell an end to dismal crop yields.

The Climate Services Adaptation Programme launched in November 2013 by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) presents a window of opportunity for African farmers to use scientific knowledge to battle weather challenges.

How will climate change spatially affect agriculture production in Ethiopia? Case studies of important cereal crops

Nearly all of Ethiopia’s agriculture is dependent on rainfall, particularly the amount and seasonal occurrence. Future climate change predictions agree that changes in rainfall, temperature, and seasonality will impact Ethiopia with dramatic consequences. When, where, and how these changes will transpire has not been adequately addressed. The objective of our study was to model how projected climate change scenarios will spatially and temporally impact cereal production, a dietary staple for millions of Ethiopians.We used Maxent software fit with crop data collected from household surveys and bioclimatic variables from the WorldClim database to develop spatially explicit models of crop production in Ethiopia. Our results were extrapolated to three climate change projections (i.e., Canadian Centre for Climate Modeling and Analysis, Hadley Centre CoupledModel v3, and Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization), each having two emission scenarios.

Rapid changes in microbial biomass and aggregate size distribution in response to changes in organic matter management in grass pasture

Adding high quantities of organic matter can increase carbon (C) inputs to soil and help maintain soil structure. This study investigated short-term effects of application of different levels of composted dairymanure (CDM) versus interseeding a legume into grass pasture on aggregate stability and soil C and nitrogen (N) contents. CDM was added to amixture of perennial grasses at 22.4, 33.6 or 44.8 Mg ha−1. A grass–legume treatment was established by interseeding alfalfa (Medicago sativa) into the grass mixture. A no-input control was sampled as a reference. Soils (0–5 and5–15 cm)were sampled approximately 1.5 years after study implementation andwet sieved to obtain four aggregate size classes: large macroaggregates (>2000 μm), small macroaggregates (250–2000 μm), microaggregates (53–250 μm) and silt and clay fraction (b53 μm). Significant CDM influences were found in the 5–15 cmdepth.

Farmers in Dodoma, Tanzania have long relied on traditional weather forecasting methods to decide when to plant their maize crops. Since 2007, ongoing drought has threatened harvests. The FarmSMS initiative, led by the Tanzania Meteorological Agency (TMA), aims to help farmers reduce the risk of crop failure by delivering real-time weather information to mobile handsets that can inform planting decisions

Firewood has long been used as a cooking fuel in many homes in rural Kenya. But demand for timber is stripping the countryside of its mature trees.  A growing number of Kenyans, however, have discovered an alternative way to increase incomes; farming mangoes.  This practice can help absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, while at same time providing farmers with a reliable cash crop in an arid region struggling to produce staple crops like maize.

Indigenous farmers living in Kenya’s Rift Valley have traditionally observed the behavior of insects to help predict future weather scenarios.  This traditional knowledge helped guide decisions about when to prepare land for planting, as well as what kinds of crops to sow.  However, climate change, the increasingly variable weather patterns, and human activities in the Rift Valley region have led to a decline in insect populations making it difficult for farmers to predict the weather for the coming season.​

Tanzania has set a goal to become a middle-income economy by 2025, a feat that may only be accomplished if the government can successfully increase agricultural production.  To reach this goal, Tanzania has ushered in a coterie of nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to help support agriculture all along the supply chain. Enterprising firms promising better seeds, fertilizers and outputs are entering into the mix. And the government is also supporting the growth of large farms, too, which they say could employ technology to assist small farmers via local agreements. Still, the government of Tanzania faces challenges on many fronts, including resistance from farmers reluctant to change traditional agricultural practices, and the ongoing difficulty of adapting to a changing—and less predictable—climate.

Hybrid seeds are growing in popularity as they offer higher potential yields under good conditions.  However, as local climate regimes become more variable and unpredictable, local farmers in Zimbabwe are opting for traditional crop varieties. Some farmers believe that these more traditional varieties enhance resilience under unpredictable conditions by increasing crop diversity and food variety throughout the year.  Still, agricultural scientists consider hybrid varieties the better choice in terms of overall productivity and market integration potential.  

It is wondrous how the threat of climate change, a clear sign of the excesses and limitations of advanced economies, could ever become a driver of grand visions of progress in the developing world. But that is precisely at the root of a phenomenon that is ushering in a transformation of African agriculture.

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