The United Nations’ 2014 Climate Summit engaged nations and leaders from government, finance, business and civil society in meaningful discussions around the imminent threat of climate change and possibilities for mitigating and adapting to its devastating effects. Because it is estimated that farmers will need to feed 9 billion people by 2050, food security and agriculture have moved to the forefront of these policy deliberations. Nearly 500 million farmers are in danger of crop failure, desertification and drought due to the threat of climate change. Livelihoods are at risk, and the global rates of hunger, undernourishment and starvation may sharply increase.
The announcement of a Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture
At the Climate Summit, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations announced the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture, an initiative joined, at launch, by 20 governments and 30 organizations and companies. Participants have agreed to work towards identifying a more sustainable path to food security in the face of climate change by bringing together nations, academia, farmers organizations, industry leaders and civil society for actionable solutions. The Global Alliance will be supported by regional efforts, including the Africa Climate-Smart Agriculture Alliance. First on the African alliance’s agenda is to assist over 25 million farming households in adopting climate-smart agriculture by 2025. Nkosana Dlamini-Zuma, Chair of the African Union, noted Africa’s success creating partnerships between governmental and non-governmental organizations. The program in the Shinyanga region of Tanzania led by the CGIAR’s Alternatives to Slash-and-Burn (ASB) Partnership for the Tropical Forest Margins is one such success story.
Climate-smart landscapes in Shinyanga, Tanzania
The Wasukuma people have inhabited the Shinyanga region of Tanzania for many generations, remaining primarily agropastoralists over the years. Before 1925, the region was a prime example of polyculture crop production with integrated fallow periods of several years. However, because of the spread of Trypanosomiasis, a livestock disease transmitted by the tse tse fly, communities began clearing woodlands with the hopes of controlling the spread of the fly. This led to degradation and desertification, which only intensified as the region experienced a period of “villagization”—an increased need for construction timber and fuel that heightened the rate of deforestation. As the woodlands were cleared, associated environmental problems ensued; drought, animal feed scarcity and poverty became widespread in the area. It was not until 1986, when the government of Tanzania realized the significance of the problem, that traditional fodder systems were reinforced.
Ngitili, the process of fallowing cropland for fodder cultivation to reverse desertification and loss of minerals in the soil, was implemented under the restoration program HASHI (Hifadhi Ardhi Shinyanga, Shinyanga Soil Conservation Program). As of 2004, the program covered over 370,000 hectares of land, employing agroforestry measures alongside the cultivation of tree seedlings, drought resistant crops, herbal medicines and wild fruits, while also encouraging beneficial insects and adopting improved stoves for the reduction of household energy demands—that is, firewood. The Ngitili land management program now falls under the Tanzania REDD+, which implements and monitors forestry management practices across the country in an effort to reduce carbon emissions.
Key stakeholders in the success of climate-smart agriculture
The successful implementation of Ngitili and other climate-smart agricultural practices in northern Tanzania was accomplished through intricately developed multi-stakeholder partnerships. Both the local and national government—combined with key international donors—enable the HASHI program to experience continued and expanded success. NORAD (the Norwegian government’s development agency) and the World Agroforestry Centre, for example, became involved early on providing both technical and financial support. However, participation of main actors on the local level, including co-ops and local councils, were paramount in the development and success of the HASHI program. The local knowledge and expertise of the Wasukuma people contributed to the implementation of agroforestry practices. Their support demonstrates a continued need for policy changes that reflect local expertise in order to truly develop climate-smart landscapes.
The success of climate resilient agricultural systems like Ngitili undoubtedly lie in the hands of Africa’s future farmers. Africa is demographically the world’s youngest continent, and with high unemployment rates, many young people are relying on agriculture as a future and livelihood. Ibrahim Ceesay, the 29 year old head of the Africa Youth Initiative on Climate Change (AYICC), recognizes that the youth are “the custodians of the future” and argues that young people have the capabilities and energy to farm in smart ways that ensure food security in the face of climate change.
What are other examples or entry points for encouraging and practicing climate-smart agriculture in areas hard-hit by climate change and food insecurity?Sarina Katz holds dual degrees in International Relations and History from Penn State University. Her interest in sustainability began with her work on campus-wide environmental campaigns combined with her time on an organic family farm in Costa Rica.