DAKAR, Senegal — Climate change may pose a threat to the entire world, but it poses a special threat to the world’s poor. The vast majority of impoverished people (as high as 75 percent) depend on agriculture for the bulk of their income. The more climate change reduces yields, the more impoverished farmers suffer. At the same time, only about 5 percent of all global funding that goes to addressing climate change goes to the poorest regions of the world. Using climate-smart agriculture in Senegal could be the key to sustainable farming.
Climate-Smart Agriculture in Senegal
Senegal is one country where climate change has been projected to have a transformative effect on agriculture. Senegal, though one of Africa’s most stable countries, is also one of the world’s most impoverished. It is currently ranked 164 out of 189 countries on the U.N.’s Human Development Index. Between 1960 and 2006, average annual rainfalls had declined by 10 to 15 millimeters per decade and average temperatures rose almost a full degree Celsius. These changes threaten the livelihoods of many smallholder farmers. This is where climate-smart agriculture comes in.
The concept of “climate-smart agriculture” was developed by the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) in 2010. The FAO describes it as “a means of identifying which production systems and enabling institutions are best suited to respond to the challenges of climate change for specific locations, to maintain and enhance the capacity of agriculture to support food security in a sustainable way.” Climate-smart agriculture has three pillars:
- Increase agricultural productivity and, as a result, incomes
- Create crops and farming practices that are resistant to climate change
- Reduce greenhouse gas emissions in the process
In Senegal in particular, the Center for the Improvement of the Adaptation to Drought (CERAAS) spearheads the implementation of climate-smart agriculture. CERAAS was founded in 1989 by the combined efforts of the Senegalese Agricultural Research Institute (ISRA) and the West and Central African Council for Agricultural Research and Development (CORAF). In its 30 years of existence, CERAAS has increased Senegalese farmer incomes by 34 percent and decreased famines by as much as 50 percent. It has done this using a few significant methods.
- Climate-Smart Seeds: One of the most important functions of CERAAS is the creation and distribution of seeds designed to withstand climate change. For instance, “Faourou,” a strain of sorghum, and “Gawane,” a strain of millet, can survive three weeks of drought while increasing yields by 30 percent on average.
- Training in Climate-Smart Farming Methods: According to the FAO, established farming methods fail to work as climate changes. This means new farming methods have to be developed and taught. CERAAS has already recruited more than 123 technicians from around the world to do research to improve agricultural methods in recently drought-prone areas. Among their conclusions is an irrigation method that increases water efficiency by 20 percent and strategies for staving off a type of weed called “striga,” which flourishes in high temperatures.
Other Ways to Lift People out of Poverty: The technicians working on CERAAS have come up with other ways to help Senegalese farmers, some of which could also be used to help farmers all over the world. For one, since these agricultural methods are projected to increase crop yields, scientists with CERAAS are thinking of ways to uses this extra produce for biofuels. This development, in turn, could reduce the dependency of Senegal and other West African countries on unstable exports like oil.
Climate-smart agriculture in Senegal has already proven so successful that, in 2018, it already started to expand into other nations in West Africa. It has an even wider scope that now includes in California. Hopefully, these methods will be adopted by many more economies in the future. These methods have the capacity to bring thousands of people out of poverty, to improve the food independence many countries and to slow climate change in the process.