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AFRICA: Climate Change Worsening Farming’s Trade-Related Woes

Julio Godoy

BERLIN, Oct 13 2009 (IPS) - Numerous research institutes and international organisations agree that climate change will in the short and medium term worsen Africa's agriculture and food production capabilities, unless greenhouse gases emissions (GHE) are substantially reduced and adequate trade and investment policies put in place.

Fresh studies on the effects of climate change on agriculture predict that, without proper mitigation and adaptation policies, sub-Saharan African countries will suffer the most in the form of increased malnutrition, unemployment and reduced export earnings.

In its "Climate Change Impact on Agriculture and Costs of Adaptation" report, published Sep 29, the Washington-based International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) warned that "the negative effects of climate change on crop production are especially pronounced in Sub-Saharan Africa, as the agriculture sector accounts for a large share of GDP (gross domestic product), export earnings and employment in most African countries."

The report indicates that by 2050 in sub-Saharan Africa, average rice, wheat and maize yields will decline by up to 14 percent, 22 percent and five percent, respectively, as a result of climate change. This decline will lead to more malnutrition, especially of children.

Without adequate climate change mitigation and adaptation, and in the absence of proper investment and trade policies, "food availability in the (sub-Saharan African) region will average 500 calories less per person in 2050, a 21 percent decline".

Due to climate change, the number of malnourished children in sub-Saharan Africa could jump from 33 million in the year 2000 to 52 million in 2050.

Gerald Nelson, leading author of the report, told IPS that, globally, some seven billion dollars per year must be additionally invested in climate change adaptation programmes such as "research, rural infrastructure and irrigation in the developing world to offset the negative effects of climate change on human well-being.

"Sub-Saharan Africa requires the greatest overall investment – some 40 percent of the additional amount estimated – and a greater share of investments in roads," Nelson added.

In a new discussion paper titled "The special challenge for sub-Saharan Africa", the United Nations’ Food and Agricultural Organisation (FAO) warns too that "the food crisis trap that threatens the African continent is primarily the result of lack of investment in the agricultural sector".

The FAO paper recalls that African agriculture is highly vulnerable to climate change. "Farming in Africa is largely done under rain-fed conditions, and Africa’s reliance on agriculture and its very low levels of irrigation make it singularly vulnerable to the vagaries of its highly variable and changing climate," the paper says.

Further, it says that subsidies and foreign trade policies promoted by industrialised countries harm African farming production.

"Many of the least developed countries in Africa have become increasingly dependent on imported food in recent decades (due to) farm subsidies" in the industrialised countries, represented by the Organisation for Economic Co-Operation and Development (OECD), the paper says.

This dependency on OECD agricultural products is likely to increase in Africa during the next 40 years, unless new trade policies are put in place, the FAO points out. At the same time, international trade policies and African infrastructural and institutional barriers have prevented the development of intra-regional trade.

The FAO paper was prepared for its high-level forum "How to Feed the World in 2050", scheduled for Oct 12-13 at the organisation's headquarters in Rome, Italy.

The paper points out that, although natural water supplies are abundant at the continental level, "this abundance is not evenly distributed and it is apparent that Africa has not been able to intensify its agricultural production through irrigation and improved water management" through water harvesting and storage.

To do away with these shortcomings, the FAO underlines that substantial investment is needed "in public goods that support agriculture, notably research and extension, irrigation and power supply, rural roads, storage facilities, education and health care".

Meanwhile, French governmental agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) have started cooperation projects with African farmers, putting emphasis on investment that reduces the agriculture and international trade carbon footprint. In other words, agriculture must be sustainable.

Carbon footprint is the total set of GHE caused directly and indirectly by an individual, event, organisation or product, expressed as emissions of carbon dioxide (CO2).

"First thing, we have to change the patterns of food consumption and production to reconcile agriculture and mitigation of climate change," Michel Griffon, expert for agriculture at the French National Research Agency, told IPS.

In terms of global GHE, agriculture is believed to be responsible for 25 percent of CO2, 65 percent of methane and 90 percent of nitrous oxide emitted.

Modern farm processes, such as use of machinery over human and animal power, global trading and increased use of fertilisers and other so-called "agro-chemicals", have already made agriculture an energy intensive process in the developed world and is still in the process of doing the same thing in the developing world.

Griffon recalled that while the production of one kg of wheat consumes 1,100 litres, the production of one kg of beef consumes 13 times that amount. "If all inhabitants of the world would consume 30 kgs of beef per year and per capita, we would have to multiply African agricultural production by five," Griffon added.

In addition, the production of beef has a much higher carbon footprint than wheat and other cereals.

As part of a research project launched by, among others, the French National Institute for Agricultural Research and the Centre for International Cooperation on Agriculture, African farmers have started to apply different agricultural techniques that reduce agriculture's environmental pollution and carbon footprint.

These techniques include the rotation and diversification of crops, as well as the plantation of crops in immediate proximity to forests. The former helps to reduce the depletion of soil; the latter contributes to a better management of water and to capture nitrates. The French projects have also focused on improving the collection and storage of rain water.

Gérard Renouard, head of the Association of French Farmers for International Development, an NGO which cooperates on such research programmes, argued that to pursue such techniques on large scale in Africa, "mass investments are needed in the education of farmers, infrastructure and in the technological modernisation of the food industry".

Renouard mentioned that African farmers needed irrigation systems, roads and silos to transport and stock production. For the modernisation of the food industry, pasteurisation and systems to bottle products are needed, he said.

Renouard told IPS that African farmers also need "fair prices for their products to encourage them to invest and increase production."

But these fair prices can only be obtained if "African agriculture is protected from the competition of cheap products from abroad". It is precisely OECD state subsidies that fuel such competition.

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