Today, as global attention is increasingly focused on political conflicts and rising food pricesit can be difficult to also focus on hunger and humanitarian crisis takes place across East Africa. It is a prolonged drought that is decimating agricultural and animal production, Africa’s main source of income.
I agree that a food crisis in the Horn of Africa may seem a sadly familiar situation. But if you talk to the people on the ground, for them the situation today looks very different. And they’re right: climate experts say let’s get going decades back to find something comparable.
There are good reasons to fear that over the next few decades, climate impacts on agriculture will pose an existential threat to hundreds of millions of people in large parts of Africa and Asia who depend on small-scale farming and animal husbandry or “smallholders” to support their families. These climatic stresses also put at risk the two billion people who depend on these small farmers for food.
Fortunately, there is evidence that the world is about to take action. Last November’s global climate summit, known as COP26, in Glasgow cemented almost a billion dollars in new support for the development of climate-smart agricultural innovations through the CGIAR Global Agricultural Research Partnership.
Equally important, the summit saw the launch of a new grand coalition called Agricultural Innovation for Climate Mission, or AIM for the climate. It was launched by the United States and the United Arab Emirates and now includes 40 government partners and 100 non-government partners. Together, they are mobilizing billions of dollars in increased investments in climate-smart agriculture and food systems innovation to develop game-changing tools and technologies targeting the needs of the world’s farmers, ranchers and producers. to include smallholders and build momentum towards COP27 in Egypt. The good news is that we already know the kinds of innovations that can help farmers adapt. They understand:
- A new generation of early warning systems that capitalize on advances in satellite imagery, climate modeling and data science to alert farmers to threats to their crops and help them avoid disasters. For example, Ethiopia wheat rust early warning system tracks climatic conditions that can produce rapid outbreaks of this devastating crop disease. It provides regular text notifications to farmers that have helped prevent hundreds of millions of dollars in losses.
- CGIAR breeders have already developed new varieties of stress-tolerant plants rice,But and Beans developed specifically for farmers in Africa and Asia. The challenge is to do the same for a wide range of other crops and adopt technologies that allow breeders to work at the rapid pace of climate change.
- Innovations that support livestock health and sustainable productivity are also essential for adapting agriculture in low-income countries. Many people in rich countries focus on the contributions of livestock to climate change, and they are real. But in sub-Saharan Africa, a region that is only about four percent of global carbon emissions, livestock are a family’s most valuable financial asset and livestock losses are among the worst results of the current drought in East Africa. Today, promising work is underway to develop sustainable strategies provide farmers with climate-smart food and fodder. Additionally, in Kenya, the government is supporting an innovative effort to provide livestock insurance for pastoralists which uses data from satellites and other sources to quickly issue payments when pasture conditions deteriorate.
These are just a few of the many promising innovations that can be deployed to protect agriculture-dependent families in vulnerable regions. I remain hopeful that the world will eventually respond vigorously, even though it can be difficult to inspire hope at a time that seems to feature such a convergence of crises – from climate disasters to COVID-19 to conflict.
My faith in peasant agriculture is rooted in my upbringing on a family farm in Zimbabwe. My parents went through a lot of adversity, but the income they earned supported me and my 10 siblings. Yes, African farmers today face a new set of challenges caused by climate change. But every day I learn about a new, exciting tool or technology that could help them adapt. The key is to bring together the investments and partnerships that will ensure farmers have the innovations they need to overcome a wide range of climate threats, so they can do for their children what my parents did for me and my brothers and sisters. sisters.