Long-term climate strategies to guide African agriculture

African governments are hard at work to update the agriculture components of their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) to align with long-term strategies for low-emission, climate-resilient development. CASA’s Mairi Dupar reports.

In an online event on 13 May, agricultural policy-makers from Ghana, Kenya, Uganda and Zambia described how they are taking stock and stepping up climate ambitions in the sector.

The speakers are directly responsible for defining the climate change adaptation and mitigation actions from agriculture to be incorporated in their countries’ enhanced NDCs this year.

George Wamukoya, Co-Chair of the Africa LEDS Partnership (AfLP) and Team leader of African Group of Negotiators Expert Support (AGNES) convened the event, under the auspices of the AfLP’s Agriculture, Forestry and Other Land Use Community of Practice.

Countries submitted their first NDCs to the UNFCCC from 2015 – and these form the building blocks of the landmark Paris Agreement. The high-level goal of the agreement is to limit global warming below 2oC and as close as possible to 1.5oC.

The Paris Agreement comes into force this year and as it does so, Parties are invited to update and enhance their original NDCs.

Scientists reported in the IPCC’s Special Report on 1.5oC of Warming that global society must cut carbon emissions from current levels to net zero by 2050 to give a greater chance (than not) of keeping average temperature rise to 1.5oC.  The United Nations’ annual Emissions Gap report demonstrates that a massive effort will be required to achieve this.

Adaptation first

African countries are considering how they can do their part to avoid unneeded greenhouse gas emissions. But the major focus of their NDCs is on adapting to climate change – and for good reason. Agriculture is a critical economic sector in terms of jobs, livelihoods and food security in the region and the impacts of climate change are already being felt now.

African countries already suffer heavily from the effects of climate change today: for instance, crop yields are down as a result of higher temperatures and erratic rainfall  — and the sector suffers secondary impacts such as changing patterns of pests and crop disease. Climate change is expected to have significant future impacts on crop yields in sub-Saharan Africa.

Veronica Ndetu, Climate Policy Coordinator in Kenya’s Ministry of Agriculture, said her country is currently analysing the impacts of climate change on agriculture and its subsectors: crops, livestock and fisheries, and the greenhouse gas emissions from each subsector. This analysis  – along with scenario development for future climate impacts – will provide a solid scientific basis for the country to update its NDC.

“We want to map out adaptation and mitigation options based on the situational analysis,” Ms Ndetu said. Her department will identify ‘enhanced action’ on climate change, she said, but with a strict focus on what is achievable. 

Planning for enhanced climate ambition will start with food security, she stressed. “We will want to say that adaptation is our core business and mitigation is a co-benefit”.

Stephen Muwaya of the Government of Uganda outlined a similar approach. Agriculture is the fulcrum of Uganda’s national development – employing some 72 percent of the population. Much farming is already low intensity and low emissions in nature, he said. He noted that the majority of Ugandan farmers are smallholders who are eking out a meagre crop with few external inputs – i.e. they are already organic farmers – but they also achieve very low yields. Boosting food security for the population has to be a top development priority.

Like Kenya, Uganda is undertaking a situational analysis: with the aim of identifying a 2020 baseline for climate vulnerability and greenhouse gas emissions in the agriculture sector.

“We are also looking to develop a long-term climate-resilient and low greenhouse gas emission pathway,” Mr Muwaya said. “We are looking at long-term modelling and future projections and how we can determine adaptation and mitigation options. Then we should be able to make clear recommendations under the different scenarios.”

Article 4 of the Paris Agreement requires countries to prepare long-term strategies for both low emissions and climate resilience for 2050. In Ugandan terms, this will mean defining national climate goals for 2050 and ensuring that its updated NDC works toward those.

Regarding long-term strategies, Mr Muwaya said: “We hope this should help us have a clear visionary agenda [to] help us identify bold and concrete actions that will help us deliver sustainable economic transformation in our country. We believe that these processes can help us understand the transformation that would help us feed our populations and especially our youthful populations. We should use agriculture to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and beyond.”

Mitigating agricultural emissions will be increasingly important

Although the speakers signalled their emphasis on adaptation, nonetheless, climate change mitigation is also squarely on the agenda as they update their NDCs. That’s compared to the sparse attention paid to mitigation in the sector in the 2015 NDCs.

Ms Ndetu of Kenya said that while climate change adaptation is Kenya’s top concern, the government would consider climate change mitigation in agriculture, wherever possible. One example concerns the use of energy in agriculture: energy use can become quite intensive from the farm gate through the supply chain. The Government of Kenya will be scrutinising how to make energy-related emission savings along the chain.

In Uganda, although food security and poverty are deeply pressing, the government is also doing its part on mitigation, noted Mr Muwaya. They acknowledge that the agriculture sector delivers win-wins for adaptation and mitigation together.

Uganda’s first NDC pledged to reduce the economy’s greenhouse gas emissions by 22 percent by 2030. Half of emissions come from agriculture and most of those are from livestock.

Cutting agriculture-based emissions will continue to be on the table in this year’s review, Mr Muwaya said. The national climate change stocktake provides a chance for the Government of Uganda to gather more evidence on emission sources and what further steps it could take.

Kingsley K Amoako from Ghana’s Ministry of Food and Agriculture said that Ghana is currently reviewing its NDC: “to take robust adaptation actions and raise mitigation ambition. We are going to focus mainly on adaptation, but we have come to accept the fact that agriculture can contribute to mitigation, from soil level to tree ruin and plantation development.”

To inform the review of the agricultural component of Ghana’s NDC, his ministry will develop a long-term national agricultural development strategy that alludes to mitigation – and each five-year NDC will need to contribute to the long-term goals.

Morton Mwanza from Zambia’s Department of Agriculture also envisages such a stepwise approach. Zambia aims to optimise the ‘synergies between agricultural development objectives and climate action’, he said. Long-term strategies will be developed for low emissions and resilience in agriculture and ‘successive NDCs will aid implementation.’

The four countries whose experiences were highlighted in the event are being supported by the African Group of Negotiators Expert Support (AGNES), the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations and the Africa LEDS Partnership. For more information, please visit Formulating long-term climate-resilient development strategies for agriculture.

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