Climate change is already a reality. The latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that global climate change is already damaging crops and undermining food production capacity in much of the world, particularly in poor countries. Negative impacts on crop yields have been more prevalent than positive ones. Even worse, that is often the case for staple foods such as wheat and maize, which feed much of the global population.
Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The region is marked by strong dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources, high levels of poverty, and limited infrastructure in rural areas. This region is projected to suffer further water stress, more frequent droughts, floods, and other alteration in rainfall patterns, leading to lower agriculture yields unless adaptation measures are taken. Furthermore, climate change is likely to reduce the land suitable for agriculture, potentially leading to increases in clearing of native forest and pasturelands for crop cultivation, with a consequent significant increase in carbon release. The effects of climate change on African agriculture thus are severe and a major challenge.
In this context, we have set out to analyze the barriers and opportunities for promoting climate-smart agriculture (CSA) in sub-Saharan Africa. This means agriculture that: (i) increases productivity and income, (ii) adapts and builds resilience to climate change, and (iii) reduces greenhouse gas emissions where needed. We have conducted scoping studies through the work of national consultants and assessed practices and policies in 15 Eastern and Southern African countries (Botswana, Democratic Republic of Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe).
All in all, Eastern and Southern Africa hold great potential for CSA, but this potential needs to be further explored. The region has a large number of traditional agricultural practices as well as research-based programmes and techniques that have CSA qualities. CSA promotion requires concerted action from multiple actors, perhaps most notably from governments themselves, as from non-state actors who can work as CSA advocates. To the same extent that climate change poses an enormous challenge to African agriculture, it may bring about an opportunity to transform it. Not simply an opportunity to change its material basis, but one to shift its policies, institutions, and development strategies in the direction of sustainability and of a food-secure future free from poverty.