Written by Polycap Kalokwera
The global battle against climate change has made remarkable strides over the last three decades, marked by an enhanced understanding of climate science and the development of effective tools to address its causes and consequences.
As the 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP28) approaches, discussions on robust adaptation and mitigation strategies intensify. There is a growing consensus on the pivotal role of agroecology in fortifying Africa’s climate resilience and ensuring food security.
Scheduled to convene from 30 November to 12 December 2023 at Expo City, Dubai, United Arab Emirates, COP28 aims to bring nations, experts, and stakeholders together to advance the global agenda outlined in the Paris Agreement.
This year, the conference places particular emphasis on bolstering food systems resilience, with the goal of building on past successes and charting a course for ambitious measures to tackle the challenges posed by climate change.
Dr Million Belay, AFSA General Coordinator and Panel Expert with IPES-Food, underscores the significance of agroecology within Africa’s rich cultural tapestry. He emphasizes, “Ignoring agroecology is ignoring Africa’s farmers and sidelining the planet’s most vulnerable people who are being hit first and worst by the climate crisis.”
Dr Belay contends that agroecology, deeply embedded in African culture, provides the most effective means to build resilience and empower small-scale farmers, pastoralists, and fishers to adapt to climate change.
He highlights tangible benefits such as cost reduction, increased soil fertility, and the promotion of diverse, healthy, and culturally appropriate food crops.
“Sustainable food systems are essential to ensure adequate food production, reduce food waste, and protect human and environmental health, fostering improved livelihoods and reduced environmental consequences,” adds Dr Belay.
Aligned with the vision of the African Union’s Agenda 2063, which prioritizes inclusive growth and sustainable development, agroecology emerges as a promising solution.
Dr Belay stresses that current climate change adaptation and mitigation methods in Africa are unsustainable, advocating for agroecology’s role in enhancing biodiversity, restoring degraded land, and improving economic performance.
Recent FAO report
Recent findings from the Food and Agriculture Organization of the UN (FAO) underscore the urgency for action. The report, titled ‘The Impact of Disasters on Agriculture and Food Security: Avoiding and Reducing Losses Through Investment in Resilience,’ published in October 2023 highlights the escalating impact of climate-related disasters on global agriculture and food security.
The report is part of global efforts to measure progress towards a more sustainable future, including the 2023 SDG Summit and the midterm review of the Sendai Framework for Disaster Risk Reduction 2015-2030, as well as the first Global Stocktake (GST) of the Paris Agreement on climate change at the UN Climate Change Conference (UNFCCC COP 28) and the 2024 Summit of the Future.
The report defines disasters as “serious disruptions to the functioning of a community or society.” Having increased in severity and frequency, from 100 events per year in the 1970s to around 400 events per year in the past 20 years, disasters are affecting agrifood systems, compromising food security, and undermining the agriculture sector’s sustainability.
According to the study, over the last 30 years, disasters have resulted in a loss of an estimated USD 3.8 trillion worth of crops and livestock production. This corresponds to an average loss of USD 123 billion per year, or 5% of annual global agricultural gross domestic product (GDP). Lower-income countries (LICs) and lower-middle-income countries (LMICs) have been affected the most, with losses ranging from 10-15% of their total agricultural GDP. Over the same time period, small island developing States (SIDS) have lost nearly 7% of their agricultural GDP.
The study argues that to build resilient agrifood systems, it is essential to understand interconnected and systemic risks and underlying disaster risk drivers. “Proactive and timely interventions,” it notes, “can build resilience by preventing and reducing risks in agriculture,” as evidenced, for example, by anticipatory and preventive actions against the desert locust outbreak in the Horn of Africa in 2020-2021, which “demonstrated favourable benefit to cost ratios for investing in disaster prevention and resilience.”
-Uganda’s effort in desirable farming methods-
In October 2023, the Ugandan government, in collaboration with Participatory Ecological Land Use Management (Pelum) Uganda, advanced in developing the first-ever National Agroecology Strategy. Officials anticipate that this strategy will regulate the previously private sector-dominated area to ensure the production of safe food.
During the launch of the 2023 National Agroecology Week of Action in Kampala, Bob George, the National focal point person for organic agriculture and agroecology at the Ministry of Agriculture, Animal Industry, and Fisheries (MAAIF), stated that the strategy will guide the implementation of agroecology practices and organic farming in Uganda, from the farm to the market level. The strategy is designed to scale up the adoption of agroecological practices, invest in research, and address market issues.
However, the debate over agricultural methods continues, with President Yoweri Museveni’s refusal to sign the National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill in 2017 and 2021. The bill aims to provide a regulatory framework for the safe development and application of biotechnology, research, development, and the release of genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
While the National Agricultural Research Organisation (NARO) still continues to advocate for GMOs, Deputy Speaker Mr. Thomas Tayebwa advises a focus on improving indigenous seeds and animal breeds, cautioning against harming the market for Ugandan products.
During his tour on Thursday, November 10th, to the NARO centre at Namulonge, Gayaza in Wakiso district, the Deputy Speaker explored cutting-edge technologies and innovations developed by scientists to enhance agricultural production in Uganda.
Tayebwa, emphasizing the competitive advantage of high-quality organic products over GMOs, stated, “Instead of pushing for the law to legalize GMOs, let’s focus on improving the quality of our indigenous products. Our country’s strength lies in high-quality organic products, not GMOs.”
Expressing his commitment to the cause, the deputy speaker reiterated his stance after touring the NARO center, saying, “I am one of the people who fought the Bill (National Biotechnology and Biosafety Bill), and I am ready to continue the war I started. This war is in the public interest, and as a country, we must not give up.”
In 2022, Peter Gubbles, Director of Action Learning and Advocacy at Groundswell West Africa, questioned the effectiveness of initiatives like Agriculture Innovation Mission for Climate (AIM for Climate).
Gubbles argues that agroecology offers a superior alternative for climate change adaptation and mitigation, criticizing AIM for Climate’s emphasis on technology-driven solutions that may displace small-scale farmers.
Gubbles states, “Agricultural drones, vertical farming procedures, and high precision machines continue industrial agriculture and use of fossil fuels. This will distract and delay real climate action and push investment in entirely the wrong direction.”
Aspiration 6 of the agenda 2063 envisions “An Africa whose development is people-driven, relying on the potential of African people, especially its women and youth, and caring for children.” However, Gubbles asserts that AIM for Climate seeks to replace smallholders with technology-driven solutions, pushing for large-scale farming that may harm the environment.
-Vulnerability and Exposure to Climate Change in Africa-
The vulnerability and exposure of Africa to climate change are highlighted in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) Sixth Assessment Report 2022: Impacts, adaptation and Vulnerability report, conducted by the Working Group II, in Africa exposure and vulnerability to climate change are affected.
The report reveals that socioeconomic, political, and environmental factors contribute to the exposure and vulnerability of Africans to climate change, with a significant portion of the workforce engaged in rain-fed agriculture.
However, Prof Felix Kanungwe Kalaba, the Lead Author of the Africa chapter, emphasizes the disproportionate impact on Africa despite its minimal contribution to greenhouse gas emissions. He stresses the need for inclusive and sustainable development to prevent millions from falling into extreme poverty due to climate change.
Despite the urgency, climate-related research in Africa faces severe constraints, with only 3.8% of global funding allocated over the past 30 years.
Prof Kanungwe advocates for increased funding for African partners, emphasizing the importance of African knowledge in shaping adaptation strategies.
Bridget Mugambe, AFSA’s Program Coordinator, urges a shift in climate finance towards agroecology to ensure sustainability.
“Africa is feeling the effects of the climate emergency every day, with rising temperatures, droughts, and floods already hitting small-scale farmers and women hard. To sustain our livelihoods and feed communities, we are forced to adapt, yet we are receiving negligible funds from the international community. We need to put food systems at the center of adaptation plans for Africa and direct climate finance to agroecology. Africa can be fed by Africans.”
On May 3rd, 2021, 36 Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Uganda and across Africa, under the Alliance for Food Sovereignty in Africa (AFSA), canceled their participation in the United Nations Food Systems Summit (UNFSS) in New York, USA. They expressed concern that the summit ignored their agenda, emphasizing agricultural industrialization instead of agroecology. The CSOs conditioned their participation on the adoption of agroecology principles.
As COP28 approaches, the consideration of agroecology becomes paramount in achieving the goals outlined in Article 2 of the UNFCCC, aiming to prevent dangerous interference with the climate system and ensure food production is not threatened.
Agroecology, defined as “sustainable farming that works with nature,” offers a holistic approach to food production, security, and nutrition. By avoiding chemical inputs and promoting natural processes, agroecology addresses environmental concerns associated with traditional agriculture.
Baliraine Hakim, Chairperson of the AFSA Board of Directors, emphasizes the alignment of agroecology with indigenous knowledge, making it a fitting solution for African farmers.
“When farmers grow crops organically, they use technologies based on ecological knowledge rather than chemistry or genetic engineering.” Hakim said
Vicky Lukwiya, a small-scale farmer in Gulu District, has practiced Agroecology her entire life and believes that agroecological farming principles, learned from an agricultural expert, should be adopted globally.
“As smallholder farmers, we treasure our indigenous knowledge and believe all our agricultural practices as Africans are perfect for our healthy food. Therefore, globally, we should embrace agroecological farming since it has the explicit goal of strengthening the sustainability of all parts of the food system, from the seed and the soil, to the table, including ecological knowledge, economic viability, and social justice.” Ms Lukwiya said
COP1 was first held in March 1995 in Berlin, Germany, with COP3 in Kyoto, Japan, and then after the Kyoto Protocol was adopted. COP is the supreme decision-making body of the Convention.
All States that are Parties to the Convention are represented at the COP to review the implementation of the Convention and any other legal instruments that the COP adopts and take decisions necessary to promote the effective implementation of the Convention, including institutional and administrative arrangements.news