SEATTLE – While the continent of Africa is the least responsible for climate change on the planet, it is expected to be among the hardest hit by global warming. The effects could be especially devastating for the agricultural sector.
“Mean temperatures in Africa will rise faster than the global average, and agricultural losses in the region will amount to 2% to 7% of GDP by 2100,” according to a new Montpellier Panel report entitled, “African Smallholders Responding to an Uncertain Climate Future.”
“By 2050, hunger and child malnutrition could increase by as much as 20% as a result of climate change, reversing the gains achieved through the Millennium Development Goal (MDG) process whilst jeopardizing the success of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDG).”
According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the Earth’s average temperature has already risen by 1.5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century. Over the next hundred years, this number is projected to climb by another 0.5 to 8.6 degrees Fahrenheit.
“Small changes in the average temperature of the planet can translate to large and potentially dangerous shifts in climate and weather,” the EPA states on its website. For example, changes in rainfall can contribute to increases in floods, droughts, or intense rain and cause more frequent and severe heat waves.
Crop failure in Africa due to changes in weather conditions could be catastrophic. According to an article in the U.S. National Institutes of Health journal Environmental Health Perspectives, about 40 percent of the gross national product of African countries flows from agriculture, and about 70 percent of African workers are employed in agriculture, most of them on small plots of land.
“Africa is full of poor people who are very highly dependent on climate-related issues for their livelihoods,” says Bob Scholes, an ecologist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research in Pretoria, South Africa. “They are subsistence farmers in often very marginal environments.”
Rainfall in particular is a huge variable for crop and animal production. The journal article says that according to Robert Mendelsohn, a professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, small farmers in Africa are especially vulnerable to changes in precipitation. Very few small farmers utilize irrigation or fertilization. Larger growers, such as the commercial farms in parts of East Africa, are better able to cope with weather extremes, but they are in the minority.
The Montpellier Panel, which was comprised of a group of European and African agriculture researchers based at Imperial College London in the UK, states in its report that African smallholder farmers should be given financial, technical and political support to climate-proof their crop production.
The panel says that smallholders can be pioneers of climate-proofing by developing more sustainable and innovative ways of food production. This would include using appropriate mitigation and adaptation strategies, according to an article in SciDev.Net, a news site that focuses on science and technology for global development.
In order for this to happen, smallholder farmers need government investment to fund these kinds of initiatives. “These include the need to gather better nutritional data and improve scientific understanding of how crops respond to climate change. Governments must also spend more money on meteorological services to warn farmers of extreme weather events,” says SciDev.
In the future, mobile phones could be used to provide information on new farming tactics or to give farmers access to world markets. With 75 percent of Africans now owning a phone, important communication and information could be made available.
– Nikki Schaffer