Throughout much of Africa, agriculture is an industry that employs a sizable portion of the populace especially in rural areas and contributes in equal measure to their economies. However, historically and increasingly, this vital sector has continued to suffer neglect by successful governments at the expense of emerging sectors such as manufacturing, wholesale and retail trade, hospitality, transport, communication, finance, energy, infrastructure and oil and gas exploration and prospecting. This has contributed to governments across the continent not honouring the 2003 Maputo Declaration on Agriculture and Food Security where they pledged at least 10 per cent of their budget to agriculture.
Even though there is a general consensus among climate scientists that “most of the observed warming over the last 50 years is likely to have been caused by human activities”, there is a contrasting view. Other hypotheses which have proposed to explain all or most of the observed increase in global temperature include:
- The warming is within the range of natural variation
- The warming is a consequence of coming out of a prior cool period as the little ice age
- The warming is primarily a result of variances in solar irradiance, possibly via modulation of cloud cover
- The observed warming actually reflects Urban Heat Island, as most readings are done in heavily populated areas which have been expanding over the last few decades with growing population (Oreskes, 2004)
In spite of the differing opinion, global warming clearly has adverse effects on weather dependent industries such as agriculture. Many developing countries like Kenya depend to a great extent on these industries to contribute significantly to their GDP. Yet such poor countries are at a greater risk both in terms of exposure to climatic changes and sensitivity to such changes as well as in terms of their low capacity and means to govern a changing climate. Over-reliance on rain-fed agriculture further exacerbates the risk to starvation due to climate change as whenever “poor weather conditions” are experienced, food shortages occur.
Global warming adversely affects food security in various ways. They include a decline in rainfall which in turn leads to lower water resources for agriculture, frequent prolonged droughts and dry spells and increased heat stress. These are accompanied by more outbreaks of pests and diseases for crops, livestock and humans, above historical normal rainfall and flash floods which damage food crops already growing in the field. Their increased frequency, intensity and magnitude adversely impact on food, health, water and income security.
The month of August in the year 2011 saw millions of people in East Africa being affected by the worst drought and the consequent famine in 60 years history. The drought was due to La Nina, a wide-ranging climatic phenomenon over the pacific, which, at irregular intervals, causes a sharp decline in rainfall, even for the East African region. These vagaries of the weather mostly affect the pastoralists whose freedom to simply move out of an area in search of greener pastures and readily available water is increasingly becoming more restricted. No wonder, a recent study by the US National Academy of Sciences has projected that above average temperature levels raise the likelihood of conflict in the East Africa region. A very good example is the border area between Kenya and Ethiopia where clashes between the different pastoralist tribes from the two countries frequently fight over resources.
As noted earlier, since the economy of developing countries depends heavily on agriculture and climate change models predict a decrease in agricultural output and food security, poverty of households will increase. A high population growth rate is expected to put more pressure on the existing natural resources especially water and wood to supply energy. Already, statistics estimate that by the year 2050, there will be 9 billion inhabitants in the world while arable land continues to shrink as the days go by.
In light of these factors and many others, the Canadian 4-H Council will host a seven day youth conference about how to feed a hungry world to celebrate their 100th anniversary. This event, dubbed the “Youth Ag-Summit” (YAS) is in the month of August 2013 in Calgary, Alberta, Canada. For climate change and agriculture, major international organizations such as FAO, WFP, and IFAD just to mention a few reckon that climate-smart agriculture is the way forward in this vital sector. Possible strategies they recommend to prevent food insecurity from increasing due to climate change include:
- “People centred” strategies such as setting up community based grain banks, helping rural households diversify their sources of income, and social protection schemes;
- Improved water management practices such as building infrastructure for more efficient irrigation systems and small-scale water capture, storage and use;
- Adopting farming practices aimed at conserving soil moisture, organic matter and nutrients –such as crop rotation and using mulch stubble and straw;
- Use of short-cycle seed varieties that allow for harvesting before the peak of the cyclone season.
All in all, African policy makers are confronted with an even greater challenge on how to tackle climate change in agriculture not withstanding the bottlenecks agriculture has continued to encounter due to decades of neglect of the sector and rural development. We hope that the 120 global youth who earned their spots and got selected to attend the YAS will conceive ideas that will help “Feed a Hungry Planet” in the future and continue for a long time to come.