Climate change affects agriculture in Africa more than in the rest of the world and that can cause hunger in various countries there. But it is possible for governments to fight the problem, delegates at the climate change conference, COP 17, in Durban heard.
An example is the West African country of Mali, which ranks as one of the countries most vulnerable to climate-related hunger, even though the country’s carbon emissions are minimal.
In the developed world, climate change is an abstraction, but in Mali it is a reality. However, instead of waiting for disaster to strike, the government there is taking steps to adapt.
The government of Mali shared the lessons they learnt in agriculture and climate at a session at COP 17. Alexander Muller, assistant director-general of the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation, congratulated the Malian government for organising the event and working to combat climate change.
Praising Mali’s efforts, he said, “In areas with food insecurity, climate change will exacerbate conditions. It’s necessary for farmers to receive support to improve livelihoods, and adopt better farming practises to adapt to climate change.”
Souleymane Cissé, from the Malian environment ministry, commented: “The paradox is although Mali isn’t producing carbon emissions, we are the first victim of climate change. We could not stand by and do nothing.”
Dr Alamin Sinna Toure, from the Environment and Sanitation Agency in Mali, gave an overview of the challenges facing Mali and the steps taken to meet them.
The bulk of Mali’s economy is based on agriculture and fishing, with 80 percent of the population working in agriculture.
“Agriculture is the motor of the Malian economy”, said Toure.
Lack of rainfall is one problem. Mali’s rainfall fell by 20 percent between 1971 and 2000, and things could get worse. The forecasts are alarming, with a further 11 percent reduction expected by 2025. As the rains dry up, the temperature rises. There could be an increase of between four and 4.5°C.
“The result”, said Toure, “is 68 percent of the population will be exposed to food insecurity.
Reviving old agricultural methods may help, according to Adama Kouyaté, from Mali’s ministry of agriculture. “We are trying not to rely on rain, by reviving old agricultural techniques. We are reviving old seeds which were used long ago, replanting them and reviving those crops”, he explained.
Uncertain rainfall translates into uncertain harvest times. With the seasons based on rainfall, farmers can no longer be sure when the season starts.
“A drought can take place at any cycle of plant growth - all this has repercussions on the reproductive cycle, and affects yield”, said Toure. “If we have a year of drought like in 1983/1984, the production system will be hugely affected”, he added.
To safeguard its future, Mali has developed a national initiative on climate change and an action plan. The national plan of climatic adaptation has invested in projects which help farmers adapt to climate change.
“The big policy lines involve capacity building in various sectors so each can know their role, promote and develop use of different types of land”, explained Toure. “We can thus use more suitable varieties for different areas.”
An important aspect is to enable farmers to limit methane emissions especially in irrigator zones.
Two projects in particular provide solutions to problems faced by farmers. The objectives of the Integration of Resilience in Agricultural Production for Food Security are capacity building, standing up to climate change and integrating various strategies in agricultural development projects.
The first component of this project was to change operations on the ground.
“We were trying to multiply the number of varieties of seeds that tolerate stress, and then distribute these seeds”, said Toure.
Integrated management of ground fertility, and participative knowledge allowed farmers to adopt better management practice, which resulted in better crops. Hands-on field schools were set up to educate farmers on climate change, and management. To date, 600 centres have been established.
The outcome met expectations. Thirty percent of cultivated areas improved due to implemented strategies.
The ministry of agriculture’s project to improve adaptive capacity to climate change included capacity-building for the most vulnerable - the rural population. Targeted communities received agriculture assistance.
Toure stressed this project was dependent on community participation. “Together with the help of the community, the government could help its population. Complete holistic actions are needed to deal with climate change.”
Cissé elaborated on the strategic framework. “In July 2010 we developed an agency for sustainable development, and a national council for environment including stakeholders from all sectors-private and public. We also have a fund, Climate Mali, to have necessary investments to adapt or fight off climate change. We’ve invested in a green economy.”
Optimistic of Mali’s future, Toure announced an ambition to be an agricultural powerhouse. “We have the ambition and potential, but we lack the funds”, he said. The nation supposedly has big potential in terms of agricultural land. “Thirty million hectares of arable land are available for agriculture or herding”, claimed Toure.
Despite this potential, Mali remains a poor country with a precarious food supply situation.