Mojisola Karigidi, Founder and Product Developer, Moepelorse Bio Resources

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Subjects of Interest

  • Food Security
  • Governance
  • Health
  • Sustainable Development

Helping farmers build resilience to climate change 09 Jun 2021

As Nigeria and some other African countries are looking to diversify their economy and also boost food security on the continent, we must be on the frontline of the fight against climate change. Increase in temperature globally has caused unprecedented increase in heat waves, longer periods of drought, irregular seasonal patterns, heavy rainfalls causing floods and diseases, and other extreme weather events.
The agriculture sector is one of the worse hit sectors by climate change especially in low-income countries of sub-Saharan Africa and Asia. Climate change has continued to reduce agricultural output, thus threatening food security.

Excessive Greenhouse Gases (GHG), such as carbon dioxide, methane and nitrous oxide, produced mainly as a result of human activities including burning of fossil fuels (oil, natural gas and coal), trees, wood products and solid wastes, interfere with the energy balance of our planet. Such interference over time results in the trapping of excess heat in the atmosphere, which contributes enormously to climate change. Activities that increase the release of GHGs into the atmosphere must be reduced or substituted in some other way to limit the impact of climate change in the future.

The main sources of GHG vary in percentage from one region to another. For example, in Nigeria, according to a 2014 report of the World Resources Institute (WRI) Climate Analysis Indicator Tool, land-use changes and forestry accounted for 38.2 per cent of GHG emissions, while the energy sector accounted for 32.6 per cent of the country’s emissions. These were followed by emissions from waste, agriculture and industrial processes which, respectively, contributed approximately 14 per cent, 13 per cent and 2 per cent of the country’s overall emissions.

However, in the United States in 2019, according to the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the transportation sector contributed 29 per cent of the GHG emissions while electricity contributed 25 per cent, followed by industry which accounted for 23 per cent. Commercial and residential emissions contributed 13 per cent and agriculture accounted for 10 per cent of the total GHG emissions.

On the global dimension, a 2016 report by the African Development Bank (AfDB) showed that 73 per cent of GHG emissions were released by the energy sector, 18 per cent emanated from agriculture, forestry and land use – with 12.5 from agriculture alone – and 3 per cent from waste management. The AfDB also stated that in low-income countries, agriculture, forestry and other land use contribute the largest amount of GHG emissions, while in developed or high-income countries, GHG emissions are mainly from the energy sector and industry.

Although Africa contributes the least to GHG emissions, about 2-3 per cent of the world’s carbon dioxide emissions from the energy and industry sectors according to WRI, the continent is the most vulnerable to the hazardous effects of climate change.

Cutting down emissions might not yield immediate elimination of the current impacts of climate change which are consequences of long-term accumulation of GHG, it can, however, produce beneficial results for future generations. Certain strategies can be adopted to limit the immediate impact of climate change on food production while the governments across the globe push for more climate-friendly policies.

One way to help farmers build resilience in the face of climate change is to develop and make available seeds that are resistant to extreme weather conditions. Farmers all over the world are in dare need of crop varieties that can grow and thrive in their changing environment. Erratic rainfall and shorter rainy season translate to a decline in the length of crop production period in most parts of Africa where agriculture is mainly rain-fed. In fact, about 60 per cent of global food production is rain-fed. This highlights the need for crop varieties better adapted to the prevailing conditions. Options for adaptation to climate change already exist in genebanks and in the form of germplasm or seeds in some fields in different parts of the world.

It is important for each region to identify which crop varieties should be cultivated in their environment based on local environmental challenges, the needs of farmers, the urgency to improve food production outcomes and then share information with others. Crop or seed variety selection must also be responsive to the needs of various players in the food supply chain. For example, a variety might be able to grow well with less water and achieve an impressive tuber or cob size but may be deficient during processing for food or flour as the case may be. The weight of the adopted variety when dried or powdered, as well as its swelling capacity, are important features that should also be considered when adapting certain crops to tackle climate change in Africa.

As drought and flood become more common, fostering healthier agricultural soil can benefit farmers and the environment. Soil is healthy if it is continuously able to function as a vital living ecosystem to sustain plants, animals and humans. The presence of living organisms such as beneficial fungi and other microbes in the soil helps it to hold more water and drain better.

Healthy soil can also store more carbon. During the process of photosynthesis, plants take in carbon in the form of carbon dioxide. The carbon dioxide is returned to the soil when plants die. Soil therefore serves as a reservoir for carbon, helping to remove it from the atmosphere. Moreover, carbon in the soil plays a significant role in soil fertility and stability. It helps release the required nutrients for plant growth and improve soil structure. All of these make the soil more resilient during short periods of reduced periods of rainfall.

Activities that can help farmers improve soil health include planting of cover crops, reducing tillage and soil compaction, improved crop rotation, use of compost and covering of topsoil with wood chip or straw to prevent or limit heat transfer to the soil and protect compost from washing off easily. Efficient soil management can be a very useful buffer against weather extremes caused by global warming.

Fishes and farm animals are also endangered by extreme weather conditions. Increasing ocean temperatures means that coastal fish are not exempted from the effects of climate change. The livestock industry is vulnerable to climate change as well, although livestock including cattle, sheep and goat contribute significantly to climate change. According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), 14.5 per cent of total human-generated GHG emissions come from livestock production, majorly through the production and processing of animal feeds; methane released during digestion by enteric fermentation and manure storage; and nitrous oxide arising from manure storage and use of fertilizer. Hence livestock farmers must be assisted to limit their carbon footprint from animal production while promoting adaptation to climate change.

To build resilience in livestock sector, there must be improvements in production practices. This can be achieved through better genetics, nutrition and improved health of the animals. Blood testing and vaccination against diseases that appear in periods of extreme weather conditions can improve animal health and productivity. Increasing farmers’ access to technologies that analyse animal health will ensure the delivery of precise treatments to prevent development of resistance by disease pathogens.

The impact of climate change on agriculture creates the urgent need to analyse how these changes affect food production and how agriculturists have to adapt innovative measures to overcome some of these challenges.

Efficient irrigation management in areas that were typically rainfed, breeding crop varieties that can survive in places prone to drought, preventing the destruction of farms and farm animals by flood are some of the climate specific strategies that farmers have adopted.

More collaboration between farmers and scientists such as molecular biologists, ecologists, botanists, veterinary researchers and engineers should be encouraged to aid the development and adaptation of crop varieties and animals genetically engineered to survive harsh weather conditions.

Empowering farmers by increasing the dissemination of techniques and practices to withstand a changing climate in order to meet the increasing demand for agricultural products is critically important for global food security.

Mojisola Karigidi, a Financial Nigeria Columnist, is a Nigerian biochemist and the founder and product developer at Moepelorse Bio Resources. She is also a Global Innovation Through Science and Technology (GIST) awardee, and an Aspen New Voices fellow.