Saturday, May 8, 2021

Climate change takes a toll on agricultural production

The Food, Agriculture & Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) in its 2017 policy brief on Climate-Smart Agriculture in Botswana acknowledges that the effects of climate change on agriculture are severe, and one of the significant emerging challenges to household livelihoods in Africa.

As such, it is imperative that efforts to address agriculture in the context of food security and rural development takes climate change into consideration with the end result that climate-smart agriculture (CSA) is adopted as a matter of urgency.

Climate-smart agriculture is defined as agricultural practices that sustainably increase productivity and systems resilience, while reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. It is not a single specific agricultural technology or practice that can be universally applied; it is a combination of policy, technology, and finance options that involve the direct incorporation of climate change adaptation and mitigation into agricultural development planning and implementation.

“Botswana holds great potential for CSA, but this needs to be further explored. Although the country has traditional practices as well as research-based programmes and techniques that have CSA qualities, CSA promotion requires concerted action from multiple actors to allow for context-specific approaches”, states the policy brief which outlines that Botswana’s agricultural sector consists of crops and livestock production while traditional farming remains the dominant farming system.

The Fifth Assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) in 2014 highlighted that global climate change is already damaging crops and undermining food production capacity, particularly in poor countries.

According to the policy brief, the vulnerability of African countries, including Botswana, to climate change is compounded by strong dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources; high levels of poverty; low levels of human capital; low levels of preparedness for climate events; and poor infrastructure in rural areas.

The policy brief further worryingly observes that “in the absence of interventions, agriculture yields in Botswana could fall by as much as 30 percent by 2030”, as already alluded to by the World Bank. It is observed further that drought is a frequent occurrence in Botswana, and crop production is mainly rain-fed, making it most vulnerable to climate change. Relatively poor soil quality, coupled with an over-reliance on rain for production, has resulted in low productivity of crops in Botswana.

While climate continues to impact the agricultural sector negatively, the World Bank in 2008 acknowledged that “agriculture remains one of the most effective pathways out of poverty. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth that originates in agriculture is approximately four times more effective in reducing poverty than through GDP growth that originates in other sectors, and thus, “the risk which climate change poses to the sector has significant implications for poverty-reducing capacity”.

According to the policy brief, Botswana is developing a Climate Change Policy and Institutional Framework. The country is also developing a National Adaptation Plan (NAP) and Action Plan which will highlight all the priority areas, including Climate-Smart Agriculture.

“There is currently no specific CSA policy or strategy in place; however, the forthcoming National Adaptation Plan will include CSA as a priority area”, concedes the policy brief adding that Botswana has several agricultural policies all nested in the National Policy on Agricultural Development, whose goal is to “improve food security at both household and national levels, as well as to conserve scarce agricultural and land resources for the future”.

Climate-smart agriculture is context and location-specific; therefore, implementation of CSA in Botswana’s agricultural system should use existing policy instruments as a launch pad. Current agricultural and related sectoral policy instrument objectives resonate with a CSA framework to address food security in a sustainable manner that results in adaptation to and mitigation of climate change.

In 2012, government with the assistance of the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) came up with an Agriculture and Food Security Policy Brief reflecting on the challenges of attaining a green economy for Botswana and in the process capturing progress to date in improving production on the various sub-sectors of agriculture.

The policy brief reflects on the challenges of the sector in light of climate change and the crises of food and energy prices, especially so against the backdrop of a global outcry to reduce the numbers of people living in poverty and extreme hunger; as well as to reduce the rate at which the earth is losing its biodiversity and their habitats.

“These factors are most pertinent at this time when the atmosphere is currently suffering from an ever rising concentration of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gases, and freshwater systems are progressively shrinking. The balance between the global demands for poverty reduction and food security, and those environmental sustainability translate into a complex national development agenda which this policy brief attempts to articulate for the benefit of appropriate reforms in the agricultural sector”, it is submitted.

The paper acknowledges that Botswana’s agriculture is laden with opportunities for meeting the green economy targets although it has remained relatively small for many decades. Its growth, now evident in a few of its sub-sectors, is coming at an opportune moment where the momentum and resources for governments to invest in green economy are brooding.

Through careful selection of strategies, technologies, growth-limiting factors such as land, water and energy can be tackled in ways that bring efficiencies, decent jobs and environmental sustainability.

The 2013 Botswana Bio-energy and Food Security Projects (BEFS) undertaken with the assistance of the Food and Agricultural Organization country report also notes that increasing costs of fossil fuels, the threat of climate change and the need to increase energy security and access  have put alternative renewable energy sources, including bio-energy, high on the development agenda.

Compared with other sources of energy, bio-energy potentially offers some developmental advantages. Bio-energy can target and stimulate the agriculture sector, a critical sector for development and poverty reduction, while improving energy access, creating a new market for contributing to environmental objectives. Nevertheless, there are concerns regarding the actual viability of the sector and its environmental and socioeconomic sustainability, also in terms of potential competition with food security.

In 1991 Botswana adopted the National Agricultural Policy whose objectives include the need to increase agricultural productivity; natural resources management; and land conservation; improvement of food security; diversification of the agricultural sector; promotion of rural employment; and to mainstream gender and youth issues in agriculture.

The paper reiterates the view that climate change could have serious consequences for agricultural production and food security in Botswana and in the countries in the Southern African region. Carbon dioxide emissions have steadily increased over the past few decades. In 2008, liquid and solid fuel consumption accounted for 52.7 percent and 47.3 percent of total emissions respectively.

The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change dealing with Impacts, Vulnerabilities and Adaptation in Developing Countries observes that Africa is already a continent under pressure from climate stress and is highly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change.

Many areas in Africa are recognized as having climates that are amongst the most variable in the world on seasonal and decadal time scales. Floods and droughts can occur in the same area within months of each other. These events can lead to famine and widespread disruption of socioeconomic well-being.

The paper acknowledges further that many contribute and compound the impacts of current climate variability in Africa and will have negative effects on the continent’s ability to cope with climate change.

These include poverty, illiteracy and lack of skills, weak institutions, limited infrastructure, lack of technology and information, low levels of primary education and health care, poor access to resources, low management capabilities and armed conflicts.

“Developing countries are already suffering from the impacts of climate change and are the most vulnerable to future change. A number of developing countries have developed adaptation plans or are in the process of finalizing them.

This includes the National Adaptation Programmes of Action of least developed countries. There is now an urgency for developing countries to find ways to implement these plans. Against a backdrop of low human and financial capacity, developing countries lack many of the resources to do this on their own”, states the paper adding that “adaptation is already considered a vital part of any future climate change regime”.

The 2019 Africa Agriculture Report also acknowledges that “governments across the globe are working with international organizations to finding solutions to the rising effects of climate change”.

The report further recognizes that climate change represents a major challenge in efforts to improve food security on the African continent. From Morocco to Kenya, farmers are increasingly affected by weather changes, extreme climate events and the resulting production volatility makes it difficult to improve productivity. In this context, and in the face of growing and increasingly urbanized population, boosting farm yields is necessary to increase the incomes of millions of farmers and ensure food security.

Agriculture is sensitive to weather changes, unpredictable seasons, prolonged periods of excessive heat and erratic rainfall. These fluctuations disrupt farming activity and can cause a surge of diseases in plantations. Climate change is also behind the proliferation of extreme weather events such as droughts, floods and storms.

According to researchers at the US-based University of Notre Dame, eight of the 10 countries most vulnerable to climate change are located in Africa. The agricultural sector provides income and livelihood for over half of the African continent’s population and it’s a major contributor to every African economy.

According to the International Fund for Agricultural Development, the challenge is set to be compounded by an expected reduction of farmland areas and the doubling of the population by 2050.

More worrisome is the fact that although in recent years Africa’s exports have increased, becoming more diversified and competitive, the continent runs an agricultural trade deficit and imports are rising more rapidly than exports.

This highlights the continent’s difficulties boosting agricultural productivity and food production, as well as the need for increased regional and global trade integration.

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