Editor’s note: On December 12, Hailemariam Desalegn, the board chair of the Alliance of Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA), former prime minister of Ethiopia, visited Beijing and gave a speech on School of Public Policy and Management of Tsinghua University. Desalegn emphasized that Africa’s agricultural development is facing numerous threats, which could be exacerbated by the global climate change. However, China’s rich experience in sustainable intensive agricultural production and climate smart agricultural practices can effectively help Africa to cope with these challenges. The following is edited from his speech.
This week, the 25th Conference of the Parties (COP) is taking place in Madrid, which is an event that reminds us of the time-sensitiveness and high relevance of agricultural climate change resilience and adaptation Today, hundreds of millions of people remain hungry, yet agriculture already uses almost 50% of the world’s vegetated land, and generates 25% of annual greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. How can we achieve a sustainable food future by meeting growing demands for food, avoiding deforestation, and reforesting or restoring abandoned and unproductive land—and in ways that help stabilize the climate, promote economic development, and reduce poverty? And how can China-Africa cooperation contribute to this vision and achieving the sustainable development goals?
There are numerous threats currently facing the agricultural sector in Africa. These include droughts, floods and commodity price instability, that are all amplified due to climate change. The gains made in increasing farming households’ incomes can be wiped out by shocks arising from crop disease, drought, climate change, political crises/conflicts and economic shocks, such as price volatility. In the event of shocks, the rural poor, the majority of whom are smallholder farmers, are hardest hit as they have the least resources to prepare, withstand and bounce back from disruption.
Although the full impact of climate change on Africa’s farmers is far from certain, current predictions and recent trends seem to indicate that both Southern Africa and Sahelian West Africa are likely to become drier, with rainy seasons reduced in length and less consistent. This, in a context where nearly all crop production is rain-fed, will require significant adjustments to the growth patterns and genetic makeup of crops. Varieties will need to mature earlier and be resistance to droughts and diseases to allow farmers to cope with the changing climate.
Furthermore, the need to undertake agricultural activities in a manner that ensures the prudent and sustainable management of environmental resources is key. Without a deliberate focus to help countries, communities, and farmers deal with these problems, experience shows that any gains in progress for agricultural transformation can be quickly eliminated– and even leave things worse off than they were before.
At the same time, according to a report by WRI, released earlier this year, agriculture and land-use change contributed to one quarter of total human-caused GHG emissions in 2010—roughly 12 gigatons (Gt) measured as carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Of this total, a little more than half resulted from agricultural production, including such sources as methane from livestock production and rice cultivation, nitrous oxide from nitrogen fertilizer, and carbon dioxide released by fossil fuels used in agricultural production. A little less than half of the emissions resulted from land-use change (vegetation clearing and soil plowing) as agriculture expanded.
China has accumulated rich experiences in sustainability as well as climate smart agriculture practices such assoil conservation, drought tolerance, early maturing, disease-resistance, and utilizing agricultural mulch film. China also has the political will and resources to support developing countries to tackle climate change. For example, in September 2015, China announced a 20 billion-yuan ($3.1 billion) South-South Climate Cooperation Fund. China is committed to funding 10 low-carbon demonstration projects, 100 climate change adaptation and mitigation projects, and 1,000 training places in developing nations (the “10-100-1000” plan).
Established in 2006, the Alliance for a Green Revolution in Africa (AGRA) is an African-led and Africa-based institution that puts smallholder farmers at the center of the continent’s growing economy by transforming agriculture from a solitary struggle to survive into a business that thrives. AGRA’s adaptation framework builds strengths in seed systems, integrated soil fertility management, the development of market access, inclusive finance and knowledge management. State capability, policy and regional trade also form a key part of the delivery channels through which climate adaptation initiatives will be developed and implemented for food systems change. AGRA is also working closely with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to promote China’s contribution and influence to the Consultative Group for International Agricultural Research (CGIAR) – a global consultative group that contributes to research and developing agricultural resilience and adaptation.
There is no doubt that this challenge of creating a sustainable food future involves balancing many competing needs and there is no silver bullet to address the issue. We firmly believe that continued China-Africa cooperation will be able to contribute to this vision and achieve the 2030 sustainable development goals.