Action Needed to Help Drought-Stricken Small Farmers in Africa

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The following article by Canadian Foodgrains Bank Executive Director Jim Cornelius and President of the International Fund for Agricultural Development Kanayo F. Nwanze originally appeared in The Hill Times on June 8.

Action Needed to Help Drought-Stricken Small Farmers in Africa

They need help to adapt to the effects of climate change in the long term

A massive drought that has devastated huge swaths of southern and eastern Africa is putting nearly 14 million people at risk of hunger. This is a humanitarian emergency demanding immediate action.

But while short-term action to address current food needs is critical, the international community must also take ambitious action to support smallholder farmers in adapting to the effects of climate change. Future food and nutrition security depends on it—not only for residents of drought-stricken areas, but also the cities that depend on rural areas for their food.
This intense drought has been linked to a particularly severe El Niño, exacerbating the already negative effects from climate change. Higher temperatures and more extreme weather, including droughts and floods, are resulting in failed crops, ailing livestock, and localized conflicts in many of the regions where we work. The knock-on effects are greater hunger, more poverty, and increased conflict and migration.

It is clear that food security and climate change are two of humanity’s greatest challenges this century—and they are inextricably linked.

About three billion people live in rural areas of developing countries and represent more than 70 per cent of people living in poverty and hunger. Most work in agriculture. They live on the frontlines of climate change because they rely almost entirely on favourable climatic conditions for their livelihoods. Many of them farm marginal lands and lack the access to financial resources and knowledge that could help them adapt to new challenges.

Two recent agreements, however, provide hope. At United Nations headquarters in New York last September, 193 countries agreed to a set of global goals to create prosperity, health, and security for all, while protecting the planet over the next 15 years. In December, at the UN Climate Change Summit (COP21) in Paris, the international community committed to limiting global average temperature rise to well below two degrees Celsius. It further pledged to enhance adaptive capacity, strengthen resilience, and reduce vulnerability to climate change.

The Canadian government has pledged to make Canada a leader in international efforts to fight climate change, including through providing development assistance to the most vulnerable countries around the world. In the lead-up to the Paris summit, Canada announced it would give $2.65 billion over five years to support developing countries in reducing greenhouse gas emissions and adapting to the effects of climate change. Canada has also committed to support the implementation of the global goals.

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) created ASAP, the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme, in 2012. Today, ASAP is the largest global financing source dedicated to supporting the adaptation of smallholders to climate change. As a result, much of IFAD’s work on the ground includes climate action.

The international community will need to invest in sustainable agriculture, particularly for small-scale farmers, a key focus of the implementation plans for both the global goals and climate agreement. The Canadian Foodgrains Bank and IFAD recognize that sustainable agriculture, which can boost production of nutritious foods and improve farmer livelihoods while also conserving natural resources and building climate resilience, is needed to enable small-scale farmers to address environmental challenges.

The Foodgrains Bank and IFAD have seen impressive outcomes for both farmers and the environment from the introduction of conservation agriculture. It entails minimal soil disturbance through reduced or no tillage; use of cover crops, mulch, and residues; and diversified crop rotations. The results are better soil water retention, reduced soil erosion, increased soil organic matter, and improved food and nutrition security. It is especially valuable in helping farmers adapt to drought conditions.

Canada has been a global leader in addressing food and nutrition security and supporting agricultural development through its international aid budget in the past. Focused, predictable funding from the international community for smallholder agriculture in years to come will help see a more prosperous, peaceful world.

Increased investments in sustainable agriculture, as well as social-protection systems, such as insurance programs, when all else fails, will help meet the most crucial challenges of the 21st century.

Without them, the world faces a very real risk of seeing the reversal of many positive development gains in poverty and hunger reduction in recent years in Africa and elsewhere. By investing in smallholders we can boost resilience, food security, and livelihoods of people like those who are facing drought in southern and eastern Africa today.

Kanayo F. Nwanze is the president of the International Fund for Agricultural Development, an international financial institution and a specialized United Nations agency. Jim Cornelius is the executive director of Canadian Foodgrains Bank.