Climate Change Innovations for Agricultural Productivity in Africa

Photo by Matt Palmer on Unsplash

By

Chimere Iheonu

Date Published

March 6, 2024

Category

Global

Introduction

In Africa, agriculture has remained at subsistence and traditional levels, despite its essential role in economic development and livelihood support for most Africans. The World Bank (2024a,b) estimates that in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA), agriculture contributes about 17.33% of gross domestic product (GDP) and 53.13% to total employment.

Notwithstanding, agricultural growth in the region has performed poorly, growing by 2.48% in 2022. That same year, population growth in SSA was 2.54% (World Bank, 2024c,d), raising concerns for food security.

A major challenge to agricultural growth in the SSA is climate change, and addressing climate-change related agricultural issues can help Africa become more food secure. The challenges inherent in changing weather conditions have led to various conferences and stakeholder engagements (van Ruijven & Riahi, 2023), with clamour for necessary innovations that will limit the effects of climate change.

To address the adverse impacts of climate change, SSA must adopt regional agricultural innovations. Despite the increasing awareness of the detrimental effects of shifting weather patterns, numerous farmers, especially smallholders, lack practical solutions to climate-related challenges. This limitation impedes their ability to maintain or improve crop yields.

In this article, we discuss some climate-smart innovative approaches that African farmers can adopt to navigate the challenges of climate change, offering insights on how the continent can leverage innovation to overcome climate change challenges that are impeding agricultural productivity.

Brief Overview of Climate-Change Effect in Africa

Although SSA contributes the lowest greenhouse gas emissions in the world, it is most adversely affected by climate change (Iheonu et al., 2023). Climate change in Africa has exacerbated pre-existing challenges in the region, dampening agricultural productivity. Beyond agricultural productivity, the International Monetary Fund (IMF, 2022) reveals that climate change is dampening economic growth and poverty by intensifying food insecurity across the region. 

In Eastern Africa, a desert locust upsurge attributed to climate change led to unprecedented crop damage. Climate change, according to Nakweya (2022), has provided the environment that is necessary for the rapid multiplication of pests, which has significantly impacted crop yield. Drought in West Africa has also led to natural resource depletion and crop failures (Partey, Zougmore, & Ramasamy, 2021).

According to the United Nations (2020), rising temperatures and sea levels, and changing precipitation patterns are adversely affecting food and water security in the region. The World Meteorological Organization (2019) also revealed that warmer temperatures and higher rainfall patterns have intensified drought in several SSA countries, while floods attributed to climate change have led to the destruction of farmlands and the displacement of households. 

Climate Change Innovations for Agricultural Productivity

Agroforestry: This involves integrating trees into the farming system to improve soil fertility, enhance biodiversity, and sequester carbon. According to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA), agroforestry contributes to climate change mitigation by enhancing the resilience of the agricultural landscape to the impacts of climate change, such as drought, temperature fluctuations, and extreme weather events. The composition and diverse structure of agroforestry help buffer against climate extremes by providing shade, windbreaks, and moisture retention.

Trees in agroforestry systems absorb and store carbon dioxide, mitigating greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, the presence of trees enhances soil fertility through nutrient cycling, root exudation, and organic matter deposition. This improved soil health promotes better crop growth and resilience to environmental stresses.

Trees in agroforestry systems also contribute to soil organic carbon through the deposition of leaf litter, which builds into the soil over time, thereby enhancing soil fertility.

The presence of trees and shrubs in the system also helps to mitigate soil erosion by reducing wind and water runoff. Tree roots anchor the soil, stabilize slopes, and improve soil structure, thereby minimizing carbon and nutrient loss. Agroforestry helps to keep soils healthy and carbon reserves in place by reducing erosion and soil degradation.

Carbon Farming: Carbon farming involves the removal of carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and holding it in the soil. Africa can improve its productivity through carbon farming. This involves employing regenerative techniques such as the no till or limited tillage technique, which involves farming without or with very little tillage. This reduces the amount of soil disruption and helps conserve CO2 in the soil. Having more organic carbon in the soil can play a crucial role in soil fertility and crop yield.

Farmers can also employ the cover crop technique, which involves planting crops to cover the soil rather than for harvest. This is effective in improving soil and water quality, weed and pest control, and managing erosion. This is primarily done after harvest and before the next planting season. However, this technique may not be applicable if the crops are grown year-round.

There is also the crop rotation technique, which involves the cultivation of different crops in the same area at different times. The idea behind crop rotation is that different crops use different mixes of nutrients in the soil. As such, rotating crops will help replenish soil nutrients, reduce pest and disease pressure, and improve overall soil health.

For example, some crops help place atmospheric nitrogen in the soil. This benefits subsequent crops that require nitrogen for growth. The rotation of crops can also break the cycle of pests and disease by interrupting the life cycle of pests and specific pathogens that may target certain crop species. Furthermore, when farmers rotate crops, crops with deep roots can aid in the breakage of compacted soil layers and enhance water infiltration.

These practices in carbon farming play a crucial role in enhancing soil health, increasing water retention, and promoting biodiversity within agricultural ecosystems. Moreover, they contribute to mitigating the agricultural sector's impact on climate change by sequestering CO2 in the soil rather than releasing it into the atmosphere. By retaining CO2 in the soil, carbon farming not only supports agricultural sustainability but also contributes to broader environmental conservation efforts and climate resilience.

Table 1: Carbon Farming Techniques and Benefits

Source: Kwakol Research

Crop Diversification

According to Vernooy (2022), crop diversification as an adaptive strategy for climate change mitigation leads to increased yield, improved nutrition for households, and food security.

With the cultivation of a variety of crops with different climate requirements, farmers can spread risk and ensure they have a steady source of income even if a crop fails due to climate change.

Diverse cropping systems are less susceptible to crop failures caused by specific climate-related events, such as droughts or floods, which can lead to more consistent production outcomes. Crop diversification reduces the vulnerability of households to climate change while also contributing to food security.

Improved Crop Varieties: An innovative approach to combating the negative effects of climate change on crop yields is through the development of crop varieties that are better adapted to moisture stress and changing weather conditions.

Improving crop varieties cannot be left to farmers alone, as government efforts are essential to support research and development initiatives, provide funding for breeding programmes, and establish regulatory frameworks for the release and adoption of improved crop varieties. Government investment in agricultural research and extension services is crucial for accelerating the development and dissemination of climate-resilient crop varieties.

Collaboration between the government, farmers, research institutions, and other key stakeholders is important to facilitate knowledge sharing, resources, and technologies. While there are various existing collaborative programmes in Africa, the need for scaling and improved funding for research is essential. In Ethiopia, research on improving barley and faba bean production amid climate change is being supported by the German Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture under the Supporting Sustainable Agricultural Productivity (SSAP) project.

Under this project, breeding programmes are aimed at developing barley and faba bean varieties that are resilient to climate change. This programme works in collaboration with farmers who share experiences and assess new varieties (Ruediger, 2022). The need for scaling up such a programme is essential if Africa is to navigate climate change challenges.

Integrated Pest Management (IPM): IPM is a holistic pest control management that takes advantage of the broad variety of management options available to farmers. This strategy is built on the prevention, avoidance, monitoring, and suppression (PAMS) approach. 

In this model, the prevention approach entails that farmers must first attempt to interrupt any pathway that enables pests to reach farmlands.

Pests move from field to field through farm equipment, which makes cleaning equipment after use mandatory to avoid transporting pests.

If pests already exist on farms, the avoidance approach can be used to prevent pests from impacting crops significantly. Crop rotation can help break the cycle of pests and diseases by depriving these organisms of suitable hosts. On the other hand, monitoring involves the regular assessment of pest populations and their impact on crops. Methods such as virtual inspection and trapping can help farmers detect pest outbreaks early and assess pest pressure, which is necessary for timely decision making and intervention.

Suppression involves combining different procedures to manage pest populations and reduce their impact on crops. These procedures can include the use of biopesticides derived from living organisms, crop rotation, mulching, and handpicking, which can significantly lead to a decline in pest populations and improve crop yield.

Conclusion

While agriculture in Africa is mired with several challenges, rising temperature levels, drought, and flooding can severely impact agricultural productivity and food security in the region. Rising temperatures exacerbate heat stress on crops, leading to reduced yields. Drought and flooding in Africa have become more frequent, threatening food security.

This article has highlighted innovative ways African farmers can navigate the challenges of climate change. The article discusses five ways that can be synergized to improve agricultural productivity in the presence of climate change.

They include agroforestry, carbon farming, crop diversification, improved crop varieties, and integrated pest management. These climate-smart agricultural techniques can significantly improve agricultural productivity in Africa if effectively adopted at scale.

By building adaptive capacity, enhancing resilience, and fostering sustainable agricultural development, Africa can better withstand the impact of climate change and ensure food security. 

References

Iheonu, C.O., Emeka, E.T., Asongu, S.A., & Okwoche, P. (2023). Foreign Investment, International Trade, and Environmental Sustainability: Exploring Ecological Footprints in 37 African Countries. Environmental Processes, 10(48).

https://doi.org/10.1007/s40710-023-00664-5

International Monetary Fund (2022). Climate Change and Chronic Food Insecurity in Sub-Saharan Africa. 

https://www.imf.org/en/Publications/Departmental-Papers-Policy-Papers/Issues/2022/09/13/Climate-Change-and-Chronic-Food-Insecurity-in-Sub-Saharan-Africa-522211 

Nakweya, G. (2022). Helping Africa’s farmers control climate change-induced pests. Prevention Web. https://www.preventionweb.net/news/helping-africas-farmers-control-climate-induced-pests 

Partey, S.T., Zougmare, R.B., & Ramasamy, J. (2021). Drought in West Africa. United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction. https://www.undrr.org/publication/drought-west-africa 

Ruediger, A. (2022). Adapting to Climate Change Through Improved Crop Varieties. SNRD Africa. https://www.snrd-africa.net/adapting-to-climate-change-through-improved-crop-varieties/ 

van Ruijen, B., & Riahi, K. (2023). Stakeholder engagement in climate change solutions. International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis.

https://iiasa.ac.at/policy-briefs/oct-2023/stakeholder-engagement-in-climate-change-solutions 

Ronnie Vernooy (2022) Does crop diversification lead to climate-related resilience? Improving the theory through insights on practice, Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems, 46:6, 877-901. https://doi.org/10.1080/21683565.2022.2076184 

United Nations (2020). Climate change is an increasing threat to Africa. https://unfccc.int/news/climate-change-is-an-increasing-threat-to-africa#:~:text=UN%20Climate%20Change%20News%2C%2027,devoted%20exclusively%20to%20the%20continent

World Bank (2024a). Agriculture, forestry, and fishing, value added (% of GDP). World Bank. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NV.AGR.TOTL.ZS 

World Bank (2024b). Employment in agriculture (% of total employment) (modeled ILO estimate). https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.AGR.EMPL.ZS 

World Bank (2024c). Agriculture, forestry and fisheries, value added (annual % growth). https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/NV.AGR.TOTL.KD.ZG 

World Bank (2024d). Population growth (annual %)- Sub-Saharan Africa. https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SP.POP.GROW?locations=ZG 

World Meteorological Organization (2020). State of the Climate in Africa 2019. https://library.wmo.int/records/item/57196-state-of-the-climate-in-africa-2019#.X5giydPsYiR 

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