UN workshop points to technology for climate-resilient agriculture

By Helena Wright and Katrin Glatzel

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Image credit: IISD

Last month, the UNFCCC Technology Executive Committee and the Adaptation Committee co-hosted the ‘Workshop on Technologies for Adaptation’ in Bonn, Germany.  The workshop highlighted a range of technologies for adaptation to climate change in agriculture; a sector that is extremely vulnerable to climate change and most commonly prioritised by countries in their Adaptation Technology Needs Assessments. 

Creating an enabling environment for climate-smart agriculture: institutions and technology matter

There are a range of “enablers” and “barriers” to climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector, with a lack of finance often identified as the key barrier by countries.  Market factors, such as food price fluctuations, are also commonly seen as an obstacle to food security under climate change.

Enabling measures in the agriculture sector must therefore include innovative financial products that enable farmers to access to finance, credit or loans to be able to invest in adequate technologies and to diversify production. For this to be achieved, political leadership and strong institutions are key.

However, technologies needed to adapt to climate change are not just ‘hard’ technologies (such as fertilisers or equipment) but also ‘soft’ technologies (the right farming practices, skills or institutions) as identified in the workshop background paper on “Technologies for Adaptation”.

The different forms of technologies can be complementary, for example, seed varieties require know-how to be used effectively, or an early warning system requires effective institutions. Providing seasonal forecasts for farmers, for example, will be key in making agriculture more resilient to climate change; precautions before extreme weather events, such as floods or droughts, can be taken, which will ultimately reduce the costs of damages to equipment, agricultural produce or livestock.  

These soft technologies can be just as important for climate change adaptation in the agriculture sector, as having the right ‘hard’ technology.

Recognising indigenous knowledge

The importance of technology justice, which is “the right of people to decide, choose and use technologies that assist them” has been widely advocated as an integral part of delivering a climate-smart agriculture. Communities, alongside governments and the private sector, must play a central role in technology adoption to ensure it is effective, sustainable and inclusive.

Knowledge held by local people is essential to identify and scale-up responses to different climate-related challenges. 

The ‘re-greening of the Sahel,’ a famous example when food security was improved for almost 3 million people, started when local farmers’ practices were rediscovered by innovative farmers and NGOs and then diffused by a coalition of different actors, including farmers, donors, private and public sector. The use of the Zaï technique (planting pits) by farmers to improve soil fertility and humidity was eventually scaled-up. Since then, along with protection of trees to provide fodder, firewood and fruit, the technique has been effective in rehabilitating degraded land and in protecting against drought in the Sahel.

Another example is the case of ‘floating agriculture’ in Bangladesh. This age-old practice of cultivating vegetables on a floating platform was promoted by NGOs in North-east Bangladesh. However, while the practice has captured the imagination of policy-makers, it was argued that more research is needed to find out whether the technology is in fact resilient under a changing climate. 

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Community-based adaptation. Image credit: ARCAB/IIED

Learning from successes and failures

It is important to draw lessons from successes and failures for future projects and in the development of longer-term policies. For example, new climate-resilient crop varieties are increasingly being developed drawing on experiences from field-trials. ‘

Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa,’ supported by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was developed through conventional breeding methods and disseminated through capacity-building events and activities for maize breeders, seed producers, extensions workers, NGOs and farmer groups.

In this context, South-South cooperation and research will be vital to enable farmers to adapt to climate change. Governments need to ensure that research and innovation facilities are strengthened to encourage a new generation of researchers and entrepreneurs to meet the challenges of a changing climate.

It is generally more difficult to identify examples of failures than successes, perhaps because the success stories are widely promoted. It is important, though, to also look at the technologies and approaches that have not worked, in order to learn lessons and continuously improve technologies, soft and hard, to be able to build a climate resilient agriculture sector in developing countries.

There are, however, physical limits to adaptation, including physiological or bio-physical limits to heat tolerance in plants or animals. This highlights the urgent need to mitigate emissions to prevent the worst impacts of climate change.

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Innovation happens best when it happens together

Last week’s 5th EU-Africa Business Forum  sought cooperation between Europe and Africa to invest in an emerging Africa and rise-up to the challenges ahead. Hopes of forging strong partnerships between the public and private sectors between Europe and Africa and within Africa drew a distinguished cast of heads of state, entrepreneurs, investors, policymakers, and researchers together.

As part of the Horizon 2020 Agenda – the EU’s biggest Research and Innovation programme worth nearly EUR 80 billion – the DG for Research and Innovation and COLEACP, a network promoting sustainable agricultural trade between the EU and ACP countries, brought a sub-set of these parties together to identify ways in which public and private sectors can stimulate and distribute innovations for food and nutrition security.

To borrow from the Montpellier Panel, innovation and bringing innovation to scale ‘requires that we go beyond sector silos in academia, business and government and think more strategically and holistically about how we can cope with interconnected issues that require integrated approaches and solutions; that we re-think our research and innovation systems to facilitate multi-disciplinary, collaborate research at a range of scales.’

I would also add that too often, public sector research is focused on discovery whereas private sector research seeks commercialization. Yet these differences in approaches can be overcome.  In fact, they’re surmountable with a little dose of collaboration.

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At the National Crops Resources Research Institute (NaCRRI) in Kampala, Uganda, plant breeders are working side-by-side with private seed companies and farmers. Dr. Godfrey Asea, a maize breeder at NaCRRI and Masagazi Cliff-Richard the owner of Pearl Seeds (pictured right) collaborate through an AGRA-funded grant.

Both are recipients of the PASS programme that aims to increase income and reduce poverty through developing efficient, equitable and sustainable seed systems. One of the ways they collaborate is by carrying out seed breeding trials on land held by seed companies. This ensures that the crop varieties they develop at the NaCRRI research station get early buy-in from the earliest of adopters and future marketers.

Breeders at NaCRRI forge other instrumental links with farmers, the ultimate consumers of their innovations. Ssemakula Gorretrie a sweet potato breeder shows off her wares: sweet potatoes of different colors, nutritional value and starchiness. 

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“The women, they like the driest varieties because they grind down the easiest for cooking.” Some varieties have the best yields, are the most resistant to rot, or the best for cooking, others are the most orange signifying that they are fortified with beta-carotene to improve malnutrition. Any way you look at it, she is developing a sweet potato for all her customers.

As Professor Sir Gordon Conway reminds us that “anyone can innovate in a bath,” the researchers, seed companies and farmers that take part in the AGRA PASS programme are innovating together with positive results. 

 

By Emily Alpert

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Worming our way towards sustainable intensification: No-till farming in the UK

“There is nothing wrong with our land except our interference” (Edward Faulkner- Ploughman’s folly, 1943).

 Land degradation is a serious problem that affects food security and livelihoods. It reduces agricultural productivity and leaves farmers less resilient to shocks and stresses, made worse in recent years by climate change. With global population expected to reach 9.6 billion by 2050 the world faces unprecedented demands on its natural resources. Adding to this the likely impact of climate change and the challenge of feeding a world where approximately 1 billion people are already chronically hungry is a major challenge for the global community.

In order to meet global demand, we need to adopt to sustainable intensification practices. At its heart, sustainable intensification is about sustainably producing more outputs on the same or less amounts of land. It has the inherent goal of producing more food with less impact on the environment.

Activities for sustainable intensification fall under 3 main pillars of Ecological, Genetic and Socio-economic activity;

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Fig 1: The theoretical model of Sustainable Intensification (Sustainable Intensification: A New Paradigm for African Agriculture, The Montpellier Panel, 2013).

No-till farming (also known as Conservation Agriculture) is an activity for sustainable intensification that falls under the ecological category. No-till farming enables the sustainable intensification of agriculture by conserving and enhancing the quality of the soil, leading to higher yields and the protection  of the local environment and ecosystem services (Friedrich et al., 2008).

The three basic principles to no-till farming are crop rotations, reducing soil disturbance and permanently covering the soil with cover crops which protect and provide nutrients for the soil.

ImageLast week, I visited Tony Reynolds at his Thurlby Grange Farm in Lincolnshire to hear about his experience of no-till agriculture in the UK. Tony Reynolds has 3 farms ranging from 250-595ha (a total of 1250ha). He adopted no-till farming when in 2003, the police stopped him from ploughing his field as the dust cloud produced by his degraded soils was causing a danger to traffic on the nearby road.  Since changing to no-till farming, he has reported a significant reduction in the cost of inputs. Crop establishment using traditional farming methods cost him £266/ha, which have now been reduced to £30/ha and his diesel fuel consumption has dropped from 96 to 42 litres/ha using no-till farming.

“Earthworms are natures plough” (Darwin , 1881). Earthworms were found in almost every core Tony Reynolds (pictured above) dug.

Between years 1-5, his confided that his yields did dip, but they returned to normal at year 6 and are now better than they have ever been.

The soil quality has improved greatly with increased organic matter, better Potassium levels and a change in soil pH from a highly acidic pH level 4 in 2006, to close to neutral pH level 7 in 2013. Water infiltration in the soil improved remarkably and interestingly, Black grass has almost gone from his farm. Tony states that by killing it off completely the first time it is seen and not tilling, black grass does not germinate and become resistant to herbicide.  Therefore contrary to other research, he believes that good management and no-till agriculture is the reason why black grass has all but gone from his farm.

Bill Crabtree (also known as “No-Till Bill”), a key figure in the no-till revolution in Australia was also at the farm and spoke of his experiences of no-till in Western Australia. Bill Crabtree farms 7,000 dryland acres near Perth. High winds and drought mean that soil erosion is a big issue. However, the commitment of 95% of the agricultural land in Western Australia to no-till farming has allowed the transformation of previously degraded land into productive agricultural land, despite the continuing droughts that affect the region. Crop yields are not only improving but catching up with other regions of Australia, prompting the uptake of no-till to increase in other Australian states.

ImageSoil is made up of biological, chemical and physical properties. We seem to have forgotten about the biological properties in soil and no-till farming helps to tackle this. No-till farming has been growing in popularity (from  45 million ha in 1999 to 111 million ha in 2009) in response to the ever increasing food insecurity, unsustainable farming and climate change challenges. The examples from Tony and Bill have highlighted how the use of no-till can improve soil quality and increase resilience against the shocks and stresses that are the major causes of food insecurity.

By Stephanie Brittain

 

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Green Meets Brown: The Many Colours of a Food Revolution

ImageDr. Norman Borlaug, “the Father of the Green Revolution” would be turning 100 this week. Influential figures in the fight against hunger gathered in his honour in Mexico, to celebrate his work in wheat improvement that saved more than a billion people worldwide from starvation. Amongst them, Howard G. Buffett and I presented our ideas to continue Dr. Borlaug’s legacy, by adjusting its colour.

In my book “The Doubly Green Revolution” I dissect this great movement, looking not only at its monumental achievement of avoiding famine, but also its costs to the environment. The Green Revolution is criticised for promoting excessive use of fertilisers that can run into waterways and even lead to over-salinisation of farmland and loss of biodiversity.

That is why, building on Borlaug’s work, I instead encouraged the audience at the Borlaug100 summit in Mexico to catalyse this “doubly green” revolution; a transformation of the food system that not only boosts yields, but leaves the environment unharmed or even improved.

This art of creating more food with less impact has been termed Sustainable Intensification, and should be the basis for all investments in farming, both big and small. We are rapidly running out of good-quality arable land and water, globally and in Africa. Climate change could leave another 50 million hungry by 2050. We need to intensify food production, getting ‘more with less.’ But this has to be sustainable, with more prudent use of inputs, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, increasing natural capital and building resilience.

As I commented in my keynote speech at the summit – Sustainable Intensification is a the slogan for the future that I think Norman Borlaug would have been proud of. But it is a tall order; a much taller order than the Green Revolution itself.

In conversation with me for the first time, the farmer and philanthropist Howard G. Buffett spoke in similar vein, but with a different colour palette. Buffett advocates for a “Brown Revolution,” reminding us that protecting the environment, especially our soils, is paramount to feeding the world and reducing poverty in the 21st century.

He believes Africa needs a ‘Brown Revolution,’ to improve soil quality and increase agricultural productivity. Africa’s soils are massively depleted, and fertilizer use remains at around one tenth of the world average. Finding the right types of fertiliser to match and enhance specific soils, and ensuring that they are used sparingly is no small feat.

Nevertheless, under the N2Africa Initiative in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Howard G Buffett Foundation will be investing $2 million to increase the productivity of legumes (read: protein-dense crops) to improve family nutrition, soil health and farm income through nitrogen fixing.

In line with Buffet’s book 40 chances, that quantifies just how many chances we have on this earth to achieve our goals, both Howard G. Buffett and I are making the most of ours to maintain the natural resources that we all depend on for our food and the majority of us, our livelihoods. As we continue to improve upon the achievements of our predecessors, whether doubly green or brown, we seek to pave the way for the next generation of agricultural revolutions.

Follow Professor Sir Gordon Conway and the Agriculture for Impact team on Twitter: www.twitter.com/ag4impact

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Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition: a Global Panel

©LIDC, 2013

©LIDC, 2013

By Katrin Glatzel

Described as “opinionated” and “feisty”, by Sir John Beddington, the Global Panel on Agriculture and Food Systems for Nutrition was launched at the end of October. Hosted by Professor Jeff Waage’s secretariat at the London International Development Centre (LIDC), the Panel includes several high-ranking members from governments, international organisations and academia.

At this first meeting, former President of Ghana John Kufuor was joined by Rhoda Peace Tumusiime (African Union), Jane Karuku (AGRA), Emmy Simmons (The Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa) and John Beddington (Oxford University). The Panel, funded by DFID and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, was created in June 2013 during the G8 and the first working meeting of the Panel was followed by its official launch on 29th October.

The purpose of the Panel is to provide global research and policy leadership to maximise the contribution of agriculture and food systems to improve nutrition and health outcomes. The members outlined their work priorities and set out the Panel’s ambition to exert influence on the 2014 Congress of the UN standing committee on nutrition (UNSCN), the 2014 Year of Agriculture (declared by the African Union) and the post-2015 agenda and implementation process to embed nutrition.

The role of women and children was particularly highlighted in passionate keynote speeches by Jane Karuku and Rhoda Peace Tumusiime. It is an important area to consider. The Lancet series published a study in June this year, reaffirming that reducing under-nutrition will require substantial additional benefits arising from “nutrition sensitive” interventions, including agricultural interventions. The study furthermore underlined that for maternal health and healthy fetal growth and development, nutrition and agricultural interventions are crucial, which eventually will contribute to overall development progress. The USD 9.6bn funding gap for nutrition-specific and nutrition-sensitive programmes has yet to be closed and the Panel can play a role in ensuring that the post-2015 sustainable development agenda will address malnutrition as a priority.

The LIDC has set out the Panel’s aims and objectives as to review any existing and new evidence and to present the findings in a clear and accessible manner through reports and communications to the target audiences. The Panel also aims to identify priority areas where there is reasonable evidence of benefit and to provide high-level leadership to support agricultural and nutrition policy development in these areas.

The Global Panel therefore presents an opportunity to translate science and research into policies; the complexity of the matter was at times reflected by a sense of ‘disorientation’, yet the enthusiasm and excitement felt at the launch event last week gives reason for optimism that the Panel will in fact translate its ambition, objectives and expertise in the area of nutrition and agriculture into tangible outputs for policy-makers.  In Jane Karuku’s words: “we haven’t seen agriculture so widely discussed as in the past two years; the opportunity to act is now”.

 

The full Panel members list is:

  • Akinwumi Adesina, Federal Minister of Agriculture and Rural Development, Nigeria
  • Sir John Beddington CMG FRS (Co-Chair), former UK Government Chief Scientific Advisor, Co-Chair
  • José Graziano da Silva, Director General, Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO)
  • Mahabub Hossain, Executive Director, BRAC
  • Jane Karuku, President, AGRA
  • John Kufuor (Co-Chair), former President of Ghana, Co-Chair
  • Rachel Kyte, Vice President for the Sustainable Development Network, World Bank; and Chair of CGIAR Fund Council
  • Anthony Lake, Executive Director of UNICEF
  • Maurício Antônio Lopes, President, Embrapa
  • K. Srinath Reddy, President, Public Health Foundation of India
  • Emmy Simmons, Board Member, Partnership to Cut Hunger and Poverty in Africa/AGree
  • Rhoda Peace Tumusiime, Commissioner for Rural Economy and Agriculture, African Union Commission
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New $1.5 Million Grant Awarded to Agriculture for Impact

 

Funding aims to inform policy debates around science and innovation for African Smallholder Agriculture

London, UK – Agriculture for Impact, a research initiative based out of Imperial College London, has just received a $1.5 million grant from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to continue its research and advocacy efforts related to science and innovation for African agriculture.

Under the leadership of Professor Sir Gordon Conway, a global expert on agricultural development with over 50 years of practical experience, the team will provide information and expertise to enable decision makers in the European Union to provide more effective support to benefit smallholder farmers.

“Science and innovation are critical for tackling these challenges which African farmers face,” says Sir Gordon Conway.  “Existing solutions can bridge part of this gap, but we will also need to generate new research, innovation and knowledge relevant to African smallholder farmers.”

“Helping smallholder farmers increase their productivity and profitability is the most effective way to reduce hunger and poverty around the world,” adds Sir Gordon.  “Our work helps compile, analyse and translate the research which is most promising to deliver these impacts.”

Sub-Saharan African agriculture continues to face a series of interconnected challenges:

- a population nearly one-quarter of whom are chronically hungry, 40% of whose children are stunted and which is set to double in size by the year 2050,

- a resource base where 75% of soils are considered “degraded or highly degraded” and only 4% of cultivated land is irrigated,

- a food production system which produces average cereal yields of a meagre 1.3 tonnes per hectare,  generating only 10% of global agricultural output on 25% of the world’s arable land.

At the same time, the population in Africa is growing at about 2.5% per annum, and per capita incomes are beginning to rise – both of which will create extra demand for food.

For more information, please contact:

Michael Hoevel

m.hoevel@imperial.ac.uk  /  +44 (0)79 6265 7322 (UK mobile)

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Agriculture Development: The Key to Achieving the Millennium Develpment Goals

DanielBy Ajiroba Oladipupo Daniel

The MDGs overview

The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that came out of the United Nations Millennium Summit in 2000 marked a noticeable shift in the commitments from governments to eradicate extreme poverty. For the first time actual timelines and deadlines were set for which governments could be held to account. The MDGs inspired new hope in the United Nations system, re-invigorating the development industry bogged down by increasing poverty. Additionally, for the first time the UN system laid out a number of global blueprints covering how the MDGs should and could be achieved by 2015.

Critically looking at the MDGs, we can see clearly that they are a global pro-poor growth agenda. They are targeted at reducing the incidence of poverty across a comity of nations where more than 65 percent of the MDGs target group live in rural areas. For most of the rural poor population, we can agree that agriculture development would be a critical component in the successful attainment of the MDGs. Therefore a key factor in meeting the MDGs by 2015 in many parts of the world is for development projects and agendas to target a more productive and profitable agricultural sector. Even though structural transformations in other sectors of the economy are important in the longer term, more immediate gains in poor households’ welfare can be achieved through agriculture, which can help the poor overcome some of the critical constraints they now face in meeting their basic needs.

Connecting agriculture and the MDGs

Although only Millennium Development Goal 1 talks directly about “Eradicating extreme poverty and hunger,” many other goals directly or indirectly point to poverty issues. When we can address the issue of hunger successfully, we will have achieved many other things as well. With 2015 fast approaching, it is gradually becoming clear that the MDGs will likely not be achieved in many countries. This is not to say that there has not been progress, but the overall results do not reflect the optimism and hope we had in 2000. As of today, an estimated one billion people in the world are believed to be living in poverty, and of this one billion, a large percentage live in rural areas of developing nations. In many developing nations, fairly large percentages of the population depend solely on agriculture and related activities to survive. It is therefore pertinent that poverty reduction programmes or policies should be focused on agriculture. Agriculture-led economic growth, if well pursued, can go a long way in helping countries especially in Sub Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia to achieve MDG 1 as large numbers of people in these regions depend on agriculture. For instance growing crops and tendering animals  provides many household requirements such as medicine, drugs, food and fuel, excess from this provides income, and so with immediate needs being met through agriculture, it provides other opportunities to access better health services, keep children in school, and develop non-farm rural enterprises.. In poor economies, it is the economic growth that promotes increased employment and rising wages that will help to reduce hunger and poverty. Continue reading

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