Green Economy Initiatives Tackle Climate Change in Africa

At the 2013 UN Climate Change Conference in November in Warsaw, Poland, Africa was urged to move toward sustainable development to adapt to climate change by exploring green economy initiatives.  The United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) defines green economy initiatives (GEI) as initiatives that result in an economy that is low-carbon, resource efficient, and socially inclusive.  These initiatives include components to provide analysis and policy support for investing in green sectors and addressing environmentally unfriendly ones.  Of these sectors, agriculture was a hot topic for low-carbon development goals and food security in response to climate change.  According to Henry Neufeldt, head of Climate Change Research at the World Agroforestry Centre (ICRAF), food production is responsible for between 9.5 and 14.7 gigatonnes of carbon in the atmosphere every year, 19 to 29 percent of total greenhouse gas emissions.  Merlyn Van Voore, an adaption specialist with UNEP, said that climate-smart agriculture could potentially reduce greenhouse gas emissions by between 1 and 4 billion tonnes by 2020.

One of the workshops that took place at this year’s UN Climate Change Conference addressed the current state of scientific knowledge on how to enhance the adaptation of agriculture to climate change impacts while promoting rural and sustainable development, productivity of agricultural systems, and food security in all countries, particularly in developing ones (click here for a summary of the session).  Several countries were asked to address their respective agricultural sector’s adaptability to climate change; Gambia on behalf of the Least Developed Countries (LCDs), Niger, and Malawi represented Africa for this portion of the workshop (click for each country’s report).   The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change also outlined risks of climate change in the context of food security.  For West Africa, risk factors specifically include more variable rain and population growth, while risk management and adaptation will need to encompass improved water management, sustainable farming practices, drought-resistant crops, and drought forecasting.

Also during the workshop, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) presented the main effects of climate change on agricultural production:  increased variability of production; decreased production in certain areas; and changes in the geography of production.  The FAO cited their efforts in Mali to integrate climate resilience into agricultural production for food security in rural areas of the country.  A critical part of this integration was farmer field schools, group-based adult education that allow farmers to actively learn through demonstrations or experimentation to uncover new local knowledge.  In terms of movement toward green initiatives elsewhere, FAO has created an E-learning Tool for development partners, agricultural extension staff, community-based organizations, and field practitioners for Planning for Community-Based Adaptation to Climate Change.

The workshop emphasized that adaptation to climate change is a social learning process, will vary by location, and will disproportionately affect some sectors, including agriculture and food security.  In years to come, farmer-level demonstrations are expected to be crucial in implementing green economy initiatives that will promote adaptation of agriculture to climate change.