Making agriculture in Africa climate-smart

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    African policy-makers promote climate-smart agriculture and aim to mainstream it in agricultural policies at continental, regional and national levels. ECDPM explains barriers and discusses the way forward.

    African economies in danger

    The Paris Agreement paves the way for mitigation and adaptation measures in developing countries. Although the Agreement refers to the “need to safeguard food security”, it does not mention agriculture as a separate sector. The link between agriculture and climate is however obvious. The Fifth Assessment Report (2014) of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) explains that climate change is already having a negative impact on food security, especially through agriculture, affecting crops, livestock production and fisheries. Agriculture in turn contributes significantly to climate change. African agriculture is responsible for 15% of total global emissions from agriculture. Knowing that agriculture is the backbone of African economies, the problem of climate change impacting food security is huge.

    An integrative response

    There is a myriad of approaches to achieve sustainable agriculture ranging from agroecology, sustainable intensification to ecosystem-based adaptation. Often they overlap or they are complementary. At times, they compete. In 2010, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) launched a new concept, baptised as climate-smart agriculture (CSA). CSA is based on three pillars: sustainably increasing agricultural productivity, adapting and building resilience to climate change, and reducing or removing greenhouse gases. There exists a wide variety of techniques to achieve these goals, for instance, the landscape approach or conservation agriculture. African governments, at continental, regional and national levels, are attempting to mainstream climate change into their agricultural policies, generally referring to it as CSA. The African Union (AU) sees things big: it wants 25 million farming households to be using CSA practices by the year 2025, calling it the CSA Vision 25x25. One of the concrete tool of the Vision 25x25 is NEPAD’s launch of the Africa CSA Alliance (ACSAA), aiming to involve a wide variety of stakeholders to empower 6 million smallholder farmers by 2021, through tailoring CSA practices specific to the country context. Responses from regional bodies have emerged as well. In 2015, the Common Market for Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) launched a platform: the COMESA Climate-Smart Agriculture Partnership. The idea is to work with governments to launch national CSA Programmes. Madagascar has been one of the pioneers: with support from COMESA, it has climate-proofed its National Agriculture Investment Plan (NAIP). The Government also recently concluded a Climate Smart Investment Framework, in support to the NAIP.

    A reality-check

    Implementing CSA is a process with varying degrees of success. During our recent visit to Madagascar, the CSA focal point at the Ministry of Agriculture underlined Madagascar’s advancement with the Framework. However, administrative hurdles are stalling the process. The Ministry is waiting for an independent technical assessment. As long as this is not done, the Framework cannot be presented to potential funders of CSA projects. Another big challenge that Madagascar is facing is scaling-up the many small climate-smart projects on the island’s huge territory. The FAO is working on bridging the various initiatives, but progress has been slow. CSA policies at regional and continental levels also struggle with slow progress. In essence, this is due to a lack of state-of-the-art knowledge and data, capacity challenges, and the difficulty of mobilising resources to fund CSA practices (agriculture and climate financing sources tend to be separate). In addition, there is a disconnection between policies and frameworks at the continental, regional, national and local levels.


    The solution lies in finding a multi-stakeholder, bottom-up, intersectorial approach that can overcome these challenges. A mouth full. Potential lies with the private sector as well: investing in climate-sensitive agriculture is an opportunity for them to make sustainable profits. In this regards, governments and financial partners should create an enabling environment and provide financial incentives to mitigate risks, especially for small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). After all, SMEs are in a good position to address opportunities in local markets and they can better adapt climate-smart technologies to local markets. Despite agriculture not coming forward as a separate sector in the Paris Agreement, the Subsidiary Body for Science and Technological Advice, an auxiliary body of the UNFCCC, will pay specific attention to agriculture as a point of discussion during its meetings in the run-up to the operationalisation of the Paris Agreement in 2020. The next meeting will be held in May 2016 in Bonn. The Green Climate Fund (GCF) is promising. This Fund, in the first place fed by developed countries as of 2020 to the tune of US$100 billion a year, will benefit African countries. One of the four priority areas of the GCF is CSA. The projects that the GDF will fund in these countries will be based on their Intended Nationally Determined Contributions (INDCs). Although agriculture is very prominent in the countries’ INDCs, not all countries have made the link. Support is needed there. Also, ensuring that the funding gets into the right hands, with their desired impact - the decades old aid challenge - will be a factor to monitor closely. Especially given the enormous budget the GCF is expected to sit on. Despite many issues to be resolved, CSA is stepping up. The Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA) is soon hosting the Annual Forum (June 2016, Rome) where experiences among all interesting partners will be shared. ECDPM will be present. For more information on ECDPM’s work on CSA, refer to: See also the infographic: About the author Dr Hanne Knaepen is a Policy Officer with ECDPM’s Food Security Programme.
    This article was published in GREAT Insights Volume 5, Issue 3  (May/June 2016).
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