The impact of climate change on African smallholder farmers

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By Oka Nosayaba

African smallholders farmers, who supply about 70 percent of the continent’s total food, will be among the most affected by changing climatic conditions and their impact on the natural resources they depend upon. Clear links have been established between the ability of the local agricultural systems and knowledge to adapt to these impacts and the potential consequences on food security.
If we all take action now, we can protect the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and eliminate global hunger.

Sustainable Development should be conceived beyond scientific findings to value change (Clark 1989), moral development (Roslton, 1994), social reengineering (Al Gore, 1992) or transformational process (Viederman, 1994) towards a mutually beneficial world for the present and future generations as well.  The widely accepted and endorsed abstraction of the Brundtland Commission with regards to sustainable development generally affirms that:

  • There is a today and a tomorrow;
  • The present generation should meet its production and consumption needs;
  • To redistribute wealth from the future to the present will compromise the ability of the future generation to meet their basic need;
  • The present level of production and consumption is in divergence with the aim of sustainable development.

A disheartening truth, however, is that humanity has failed to provide for a sizable portion of its populations, with about 795 millions of people mostly from developing countries lacking enough food for a healthy life, poor nutrition causing about 3.1 million children deaths annually while roughly 100 million children are grossly underweight (FAO 2015). Weather conditions and environmental degradation have adversely affected their local crop yields through delayed rainfall, excessive heat, water shortage with its attendant impact on communal lifestyle and livelihood sources.

The 2002 UN summit in Johannesburg accentuated in its communique that “we recognise that poverty eradication, changing consumption and production patterns and protecting and managing the natural resource base for economic and social development are overarching objectives of and essential requirements for sustainable development. The deep fault line that divides human society between the rich and the poor and the ever-increasing gap between the developed and developing worlds pose a major threat to global prosperity, security and stability”. This above already reveals the asymmetry in the distribution of global wealth in a society that pledges “… to provide for the consumption and production of the need of the present generation”.

There are fundamental questions of how can a society overlook its hungry people, and pledge to provide future generations if it cannot sustainably manage its consumption today. From the Kyoto Protocol of 1992 through COP1 (Berlin 1995) to COP 21 (Paris 2015), the committee of States in the United Nations have made several declarations to reassure the global community of the commitment to confront the setbacks of Sustainable Development. It culminated to a rather complex “2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development” with goals 7, 11, 12, 13 and 15 championing the cause of the environment.

Observers cannot trivialise the level of resources and inconceivable selflessness of those invested in working daily to combat the menace of environmental degradation. But the agony of millions of hungry people that had to endure starvation, the helpless mothers watching children die of starvation should cause a reawakening.

Meanwhile, a UNCTAD report (2015) exposed that the bulk of the developing countries agricultural exports are the resultant of the efforts of smallholder farmers. It clearly outlined that smallholders supply about 70 percent of Africa’s total food requirements and provide around 80 percent of the food consumed in both Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. A good example is Ghana’s cocoa production, which is dominated by thousands of smallholder producers cultivating less than 2 hectares per farm. Yet the country has attained an estimated 20 per cent of the global cocoa production, placing it as second in global supply hierarchy. But another report by the UNFCC (2015) has forecast that climate change is projected to affect the livelihoods of those mostly dependent on natural resources (e.g., agriculture, fishing, and forestry) especially smallholder and subsistence farmers whose harvest will be compounded by environmental and physical processes.

Smallholder farmers will be exposed to disturbing outcomes through the negative forecast because they typically rely on traditional knowledge when forecasting the weather conditions during farming. However, this practice has become dangerous due to climate change effects as seasons, floods, and storms follow irregular patterns. Some IPCC scientific reports have substantiated the reality of the impact of climate change on agriculture and the importance of local community-based knowledge. Recent findings show that climate change and extreme weather events will have greater impacts on sectors linked to natural production, such as agriculture and forestry. Clear links have also been established between the ability of the agricultural systems to adapt to these impacts and potential consequences on food security.

However, this climate change menace did not fall on the world suddenly. There have been warning signals, whilst humanity continued in its yearnings for intensifying sophistication and acquisition of wealth. The few profligates disregard the effect of their avidity on the majority and on our collective sustainable future, especially the menace of excessive emission of CO2. The growth of consumerism has also exacerbated the planet’s already-stretched resources and has triggered growth without development and improvement of the quality of life. The insightful question of how we got here will only reveal that dogmas and habits were difficult to change because many assume that the earth resources are infinite and that Mother Nature has an auto-reset mechanism for our self-inflicted looming disaster.

The cheering news, however, is the global consensus to curtail climate change through sustainably altering our lifestyle and consumption pattern. In spite of this consciousness especially through media campaigns, policy instruments and innovations, many are still in denial, hoping the effects will reverse bey themselves. Conversely, others feel the approach is shallow because rather than the comprehensive assessments of varying stakeholders’ concerns, policy makers tend to proffer quick fixes that are anchored on the commitment to the environment.

We call on all segments of the society to join the fight using their skills, resources and networks. After all, as long as your present home is on planet earth, you are a stakeholder. Climate change affect us all alike. Tell your story or the stories of the heroic efforts of those in your neighbour, form a pressure group, sign a petition enlist those in your network, join an advocacy group to policymakers; make your voice count. We can protect the livelihoods of smallholder farmers and eliminate global hunger. Visit the Climate Reality Project for more information on how you can help.

Oka Nosayaba is a volunteer Climate Reality Leader of The Climate Reality Project. He is passionate about taking awareness campaign to the various segment of Climate Change Stakeholders, through project design and implementation, sensitisation and advocacy.

Photo credit: Oka Nosayaba


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author in their private capacity and do necessarily represent the views of the African Climate Reality Project.
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