Many African countries are experiencing a number of adverse climatic hazards that have adversely affected food and water security, water quality, energy and the sustainable livelihoods of rural communities.

In the agricultural sector droughts have resulted in poor crop yields or total crop failure, leading to serious food shortages, hunger and malnutrition. Flooding has also severely disrupted food production in several areas of African countries. Inappropriate farming systems such as continuous cultivation, overgrazing, poor land management, lack of soil/water conservation programmes and high incidences of indiscriminate bushfires aggravate the process of desertification. These factors prevail in many parts of Africa. Deforestation, especially to meet energy needs and expand agricultural land, is another direct cause of desertification in the region. Climate change will exacerbate biodiversity loss and increase risk of species extinction.

In some parts of the region, the above direct causes of desertification are driven by a complex set of underlying factors including the high levels of poverty in the region, illiteracy, high population growth rates, poor governance, poor natural resources tenure and access regimes, conflicts, and climate change. Combating desertification and assisting the poor to manage the impacts of drought constitute the primary option out of poverty for millions of people in Africa.

The human health sector is directly affected by climate change. It is especially linked to infant malnutrition and chronic ailments associated with malaria, cholera and diarrhoea as a result of droughts and floods. Increasing droughts and floods seriously disrupt water availability, in both quantity and quality.

The major climatic hazards that threaten the forestry sector lead to droughts, which cause land degradation and loss of soil fertility, as well as increased forest fires which affect subsistence crops and the availability of fresh water. These are basic needs for human living.

Agrobiodiversity is defined as that part of biodiversity which, in the context of agricultural production, contributes to food production (crops and livestock), livelihoods (raw materials, medicinal plants, animals for transportation, etc.) and habitat conservation (agro-ecosystems) for the population.

The small farmers of Africa – and above all women, who are responsible for the greater part of food production – are particularly dependent upon genetic resources. A rich diversity of native plant varieties and locally adapted animal breeds secures these farmers’ survival in the face of difficult climatic conditions and marginal soils.

The decentralized management of agricultural biodiversity by farmers and their communities is increasingly seen as a prerequisite for sustaining food systems, livelihoods and environments. For example, the Parties to the Convention on Biological Diversity call for the “Mobilization of farming communities, including indigenous and local communities, for the development, maintenance and use of their knowledge and practices in the conservation and sustainable use of biological diversity in the agricultural sector” and encourage countries “to set up and maintain local level forums for farmers, researchers, extension workers and other stakeholders to evolve genuine partnerships”.

Conserve Africa will develop activities that improve the links and collaboration between agriculture and the environment, natural resources and biodiversity sectors in order to involve farming and local communities more centrally in the management of agricultural biodiversity through local farmer associations, project planning and design, best management practices, farmer participation and capacity building. CA’s sustainable agriculture and desertification activities focus on undertaking ecological farming and climate-smart agriculture projects including promoting organic pest control and sustainable farming methods and the introduction of new varieties of crops (vegetables) and tree fruits

Climate-smart agriculture consists of farming systems and practices that sustainably increase productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation), and enhances achievement of national food security and development goals. According to the World Bank and FAO, in Africa farmers are under the greatest threat from climate change, but they could also play a major role in addressing it. It is possible for agriculture to actually sequester — or absorb — carbon in the soil rather than emitting it. It is possible to have higher yields, more carbon in the soil and greater resilience to droughts and heat. This is called the ‘triple win’: interventions that would increase yields (poverty reduction and food security), make yields more resilient in the face of extremes (adaptation), and make the farm a solution to the climate change problem rather than part of the problem (mitigation).

CA will implement climate-smart agriculture activities, practices, know-how and capacity building supported by farmer field schools. It will leverage the efforts of local small scale farming communities to better cope with or adapt to climate change effects, focusing mainly on women’s role in food security. These activities will contribute to making changes in farming systems that achieve multiple goals: fighting against hunger and poverty through improved agricultural productivity that lead to better yields and higher incomes, addressing the inadequacies in agriculture extension and capacity-building approaches, enhancing resilience to climate change; reducing emissions; and increasing agriculture’s potential to capture and sequester atmospheric carbon.

This will involve local communities in particular small-scale farmers, women (since women play a major role in food security at the household level) and farmer organizations) to identify the climate-smart options that best fit their agro-ecological and socio-economic environment. CA’s priority action includes:

  • Promoting afforestation and re-afforestation programmes with fast and climate change-resistant growing trees and fruit tree plantations to combat erosion and provide fuel wood;
  • Supporting adaptation strategies, such as helping farmers adapt alternative cropping and water management strategies in response to changing temperatures and precipitation patterns;
  • Promoting climate-smart agriculture techniques, water harvesting and conservation;
  • Promoting the application of local and indigenous know-how and innovations in supporting climate change adaptation and combating desertification;
  • Developing and integrating traditional and indigenous knowledge to strengthen climate-smart agriculture;
  • Increasing farmers’ adoption of climate-smart eco-agriculture practices to increase farm productivity and incomes, and make agriculture more resilient to climate change, while also contributing to mitigation.