Climate Change and Desertification

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. 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.

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 the risk of species extinction. In some parts of Africa, the direct causes of desertification are driven by a complex set of underlying factors including 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 in managing 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.

Climate-smart agriculture consists of farming systems and practices that sustainably increase productivity, resilience (adaptation), reduces/removes greenhouse gases (mitigation), and enhances the 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 into 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).

Priority action:

  • Enhancing food security and developing community based storage systems for water, seeds and food;
  • Improving crop production through the use of appropriate technologies and agricultural traditional and modern inputs;
  • Promoting afforestation and re-afforestation programmes with fast and climate change-resistant growing trees and fruit tree plantations to combating erosion and to provide fuel wood;
  • Improving water management to withstand erratic rain through water harvesting, water conservation, and small-scale irrigation;
  • Undertaking research on the diversification of crops and livestock to improve nutrition and food security and accommodate the increasing incidence of droughts and aridity;
  • Improving extension services to encourage information flows to and capacity-building among farmers to promote community initiatives for the rehabilitation of degraded lands, including soil restoration techniques;
  • Promoting adaptation strategies, such as helping farmers adapt alternative cropping and water management strategies in response to changing temperatures and precipitation patterns;
  • Supporting sustainable cultivation practices such as observance of the fallow period, crop rotation, bushfire control, and agro-forestry practices;
  • Supporting agricultural extension services to supply modern inputs to the farmer, especially seeds, drought resistant crop varieties, fertilizers and pesticides;
  • Developing initiatives to promote access and use of appropriate technology particularly in energy efficiency and substitution, improving agricultural techniques and water harvesting and conservation;
  • Recognizing and promoting the application of local and indigenous know-how and innovations in supporting climate change adaptation and combating desertification;
  • Increasing community awareness and strengthen the information base and dissemination about drought and desertification;
  • Strengthening active involvement of the local community in land degradation and drought research and monitoring and ensure traditional knowledge integration;
  • Documenting and disseminating good practice including indigenous practices used to address droughts and desertification;

Promoting and scaling up climate-smart agriculture programmes