Farmers like to say that we owe our entire existence to a six-inch layer of topsoil and the fact that it rains, but with climate change bringing more frequent droughts, the adage is wearing worryingly thin.
In many African countries, where millions rely on small-scale, rain-fed agriculture, water scarcity has led to more “bust” than “boom” for food production in recent years.
With the continent facing the greatest impact of rising temperatures worldwide, Africa’s vulnerability and capacity to adapt to more extreme weather should be a global concern, but especially so for its close neighbors, donors, and principal trading partners in Europe.
After Africa Climate Week took place in Ghana last month (March 18-22), climate adaptation in agriculture should be high on the agenda and Europe should be watching closely for several reasons.
Firstly, the recognized success of a number of “climate-smart” practices offers hope that it is not only possible but also profitable for African smallholders to adapt to a new and unpredictable climate.
In our work at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA), we have seen encouraging results from a whole range of climate-smart techniques, from simple farming practices like crop rotation and minimum tillage to accurate weather forecasts sent by SMS.
And these outcomes, such as higher yields from drought-resistant seeds, make African agriculture a less risky and more attractive investment opportunity.
The private sector, particularly in Europe, is increasingly seeing the business case for engaging with climate-smart agriculture, which in turn is further helping to increase resilience.
One example is Livelihoods Funds, which is supported by investment from 12 private companies including Danone, Schneider Electric, Crédit Agricole, Groupe Caisse des Dépôts, Mars Inc and Veolia. It supports practical and efficient solutions that build resilient communities and sustainable businesses.
Elsewhere, concerns about the global supply of cocoa outstripping supply in the near future has prompted Mars Inc. to invest in sustainable and efficient production methods in major cocoa producing countries of West Africa.
And, in Zimbabwe, telecommunications group Econet Wireless entered a partnership with the Zimbabwe Farmers Union (ZFU) to provide a bundle of communication services via mobile and internet systems at a discounted rate.
Within two years, 39,000 farmers were receiving crop advice, weather forecasts and information about insurance, all of which helped them to contend with new climatic conditions and safeguard their livelihoods. As a result, they were also better placed to invest more in better inputs and services for their own farms.
Another reason why climate adaptation in agriculture is so important is that it can open up access to new trade markets, which is becoming increasingly important amid global economic uncertainty.
For example, traditional livestock keepers in Namibia have been working with the Meatco Foundation to improve their management of rangelands. This has helped improve trade opportunities within Africa and into Europe by allowing farmers to sell their high-quality and sustainably produced beef.
And Primark, the European clothes retailer, has extended support for sustainably produced cotton following successful sales. Finally, climate-smart agriculture offers a growing opportunity for sharing and learning from innovation, particularly when it comes to new technologies.
When farmer cooperatives, research organizations and companies collaborate to roll out mobile technology or drones that help smallholders make better, more informed decisions, everyone can learn from this, including those of us based in Europe.
And these partnerships, which result in products like the CLIMARK weather dashboard for pastoralists in East Africa, can provide valuable insights into how to increase their reach and support yet more farmers.
Investment in climate resilience, then, is not just a social venture but a sound business case because of the shared value. Progressive businesses and markets recognize that climate risks are “shared imperatives”, which they can only tackle together with those who also face them.
So, it is encouraging to see the EU recognize the importance of supporting institutions like CTA and other initiatives such as Horizon2020, EDG11 and the EUTF working to scale up climate-smart solutions.
Africa’s prosperity under new and extreme environmental conditions is so materially important to Europe that the EU must continue to invest in innovative, mutually beneficial and sustainable ways to address our shared climate risks to unlock value for all involved.
About the author: Oluyede Ajayi is Senior Programme Coordinator for Agriculture and Climate Change at the Technical Centre for Agricultural and Rural Cooperation (CTA).