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Mar 1 2012 (IPS) - Governments and civil society organisations in Central Africa are slowly developing strategies in response to global warming. But specialists say the steps being taken seem hesitant in the face of emerging realities.
For some time now, smallholder farmers in many parts of Africa, but particularly in the Congo basin, have noted with alarm a slump in farm output that can be linked to climate change.
“Before 2010, we would harvest, 1,200 kilogrammes per hectare of Kasaï 1 variety of maize, for example, or 1,000 kilos of the jl24 variety of groundnut. But beginning in 2010, yields per hectare fell to 600 kg for groundnuts and 700 kg for maize,” says a worried Jean-Baptiste Mbwengele, president of a production and sales cooperative which groups forty smallholder organisations in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
Mbwengele explains that the drop in production has been caused by disruptions to the agricultural calendar, due to both unusually heavy or prolonged rainy periods which make fungal, bacterial and viral plant diseases worse, and to drought – which he linked to the clearing of forests.
In partnership with the United Nations Development Programme, the DRC has initiated PANA-ASA – the Programme of Action for Adaptation and Food Security – designed to counter the threat that climate change poses to agricultural output and food security.
“This project will facilitate access to genetic material (improved seed) better adapted to the anticipated climatic conditions as well as the adoption of better practices for water management and soil fertility,” explains Jean Ndembo, the national coordinator for PANA-ASA.
Reducing deforestation is also a necessity, both to bolster the resilience of local farmers and to contribute to global mitigation of greenhouse gas emissions in the form of carbon stored in healthy forests.
For several years, the government of the Democratic Republic of Congo has been carrying out reforestation programmes as part of its Agricultural and Rural Sector Rehabilitation Support Programme, known as PARSAR. Supported by the African Development Bank, PARSAR has reforested some 600 hectares in the western provinces of Bandundu and Bas-Congo, planting 2.2 million trees, mostly acacias, according to the programme’s coordinator, Albert Luzayadio.
Smaller areas have also been rehabilitated by PARSAR in the east, in Orientale Province, where 44 hectares have been planted in Kisangani; and in the southeastern province of Katanga, 25 hectares in Pweto have been reforested.
Mimbu explains that besides acacia and eucalyptus, umbrella trees – Maesopsis eminiii, a tall, fast- growing species widely found across tropical Africa – and various fruit trees have been planted at several sites in the southwestern DRC province of Bandundu, including 34 hectares at Ndunga and Ngulambondo, and another 56 hectares at Masimanimba.
“We have managed to carry out this reforestation work since the start of 2011, thanks to the National Forestry Fund established by the government. The aim is to build up resilience, support green growth, and fight global warming, which has many negative impacts,” he told IPS.
But he regrets that no budget was allocated for the care of these trees once planted, and some have been lost due to bushfires. Mimbu’s NGO is a member of the Natural Resources Network (la Réseau Ressource Naturelles), an umbrella organisation for civil society across Central Africa which works for the defence and promotion of better governance of forest resources.
“Armed conflict remains one of the major challenges in adapting to climate change in the Congo Basin. In the provinces of Maniema and North and South Kivu, in the eastern DRC, which have been plagued by conflict since 1997, shelling by armed groups has caused the degradation of forests, destroying soil fertility with the chemicals found in artillery shells,” said Corneille Lebu, a Congolese ecologist.
“The shelling cuts the leaves which in principle absorb carbon, leaving the soil bare, leading to the leaching (of nutrients) and destroying micro-organisms. There is a marked acceleration in the loss of moisture from the soil and the rapid release of greenhouse gases,” Lebu told IPS. “Since 1997, conflict in DRC have resulted in more than five million deaths.”
Lebu believes that for adaptation measures to succeed, it is essential to bring peace to war-ravaged zones, and to restore the soil using manure.”
Cameroon, the DRC and the Central African Republic have all begun implementing their National Adaptation Programmes, according to a 2010 report of COFCCA, the Congo Basin Forests and Climate Change Adaptation project.
Launched in Yaoundé, Cameroon, in 2008, COFCCA aims to identify and set joint priorities at the national and regional levels for forests and forest services that are vulnerable to climate change. The project also supports the sharing of experiences on adaptation strategies for a transfrontier resource such as the Congo Basin forests.
Elsewhere in the region, in 2010 the Gabonese government established an agency for research and observation of the climate from space, involving a tripartite accord with the French Institute of Research for Development (IRD) and the Brazilian Institute for Space Research.
Gabon has set up a station to receive satellite images, with the primary task of monitoring the state of health of tropical forests of the Congo Basin – 1.8 million square kilometres of forest, and constituting a “green lung” for the planet, second in size only to the Amazon.
In Burundi, deforestation is being countered by planting jatropha. Since 2010, the shrub has been planted on dozens of hectares in the Rukoko conservation area, which lies on the country’s border with DRC. The work has been done by the Tubane Association of Gikuzi with support from the Congo Basin Forest Fund.
A second phase of the project will be supported by the African Development Bank; the aim is to simultaneously combat poverty and protect the environment, with an integrated plan for exploitation of jatropha helping to bring an end to the present “anarchic” clearing of forest in the Rukoko Nature Reserve. The jatropha will reduce the impact of forest cover already lost while reducing pressure to cut down even more trees. People living in areas adjacent to the park will gain from the harvest and sale of raw jatropha seeds – which yield a valuable oil – as well as local production of soap and fertiliser from the seeds.
It’s in line with the government’s commitment to limit the impact of climatic changes due to deforestation, which is a growing problem Burundi. In November 2011, the country’s first vice president, Thérence Sinuguruza, called on the Environment Ministry to draft a law forbidding the unregulated cutting down of trees.
But even taken together, the actions of governments and civil society in Central Africa so far are inadequate, as they have not yet produced the desired results, says Odon Munsadi, a Congolese ecologist. “Communities in our respective countries are not yet applying agro-ecological practices, and the effects of climate change remain unchanged.”
“Sub-Saharan Africa produces less than four percent of greenhouse gases, this is much less than North America, Europe, Asia and other industrialised regions,” according to experts. But, “Africa is already suffering the effects of climate change will only suffer more in the years to come.”
* This article is one of a series supported by the Climate and Development Knowledge Network.
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