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Time short to protect Africa’s food supply from climate change

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BARCELONA (Thomson Reuters Foundation) – Without action to help farmers adjust to changing climate conditions, it will become impossible to grow some staple food crops in parts of sub-Saharan Africa, with maize, beans and bananas most at risk, researchers said on Monday.

In a study of how global warming will affect nine crops that make up half the region’s food production, scientists found that up to 30 percent of areas growing maize and bananas, and up to 60 percent of those producing beans could become unviable by the end of the century.

Six of the nine crops – cassava, groundnut, pearl millet, finger millet, sorghum and yam – are projected to remain stable under moderate and extreme climate change scenarios.

“This study tells where, and crucially when, interventions need to be made to stop climate change destroying vital food supplies in Africa,” said Julian Ramirez-Villegas, the study’s lead author who works with the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).

“We know what needs to be done, and for the first time, we now have deadlines for taking action,” he added in a statement.

For example, the study warns that around 40 percent of maize-growing areas will require “transformation”, which could mean changing the type of crop grown, or in extreme cases even abandoning crop farming.

Sorghum and millet, which have higher tolerance to drought and heat, could replace maize in most places under threat.

But for 0.5 percent of maize-growing areas – equal to 0.8 million hectares in South Africa that now produce 2.7 million tonnes – there is no viable crop substitution, the study said.

In a few places, the need to adapt to climate change is already urgent, the researchers said. Those include pockets in highly climate-exposed areas of the Sahel in Guinea, Gambia, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Niger.

Banana-growing regions of West Africa, including areas in Ghana and Benin, will need to act within the next decade, as the land is expected to become unsuitable for bananas by 2025.

And maize-growing areas of Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe and Tanzania also have less than 10 years left to change tack under the most extreme climate change scenarios, the study added.

“If we don’t do anything now, farmers are no longer going to be able to grow certain crops in certain sites,” Ramirez-Villegas told the Thomson Reuters Foundation from Colombia.

“But we know there are several adaptation options … with which farmers should be able to carry on growing these crops for a longer period of time than we project.”



Those options begin with shorter-term actions like improving irrigation and weather information services for farmers, and developing new varieties of maize and beans that can better tolerate heat and drought.

Such measures are already underway in parts of Africa, including the “Drought Tolerant Maize for Africa” initiative that has released 160 varieties, benefiting up to 40 million people in 13 countries.

But governments will still need to re-assess agricultural and food security policies to see whether bigger transformations are needed, such as switching to different crops or livestock.

If so, they will need to help farmers access markets or build processing and storage facilities for new crops.

CCAFS researcher Andy Jarvis, a co-author of the paper published in the journal Nature Climate Change, noted adjusting national policies can take decades.

“Our findings show that time is running out to transform African agriculture. This will require not only increased funding but also a supportive policy environment to bring the needed solutions to those affected,” he said.

A separate study released on Monday, by researchers from Brown and Tufts universities, suggested scientists have overlooked how two important human responses to climate will impact food production in the future: how much land people choose to farm, and the number of crops they plant.

Looking at Mato Grosso, a key soy-producing state in Brazil, they found a temperature rise of 1 degree Celsius was tied to substantial decreases in crop area and double cropping, accounting for 70 percent of the overall loss in production. Only 30 percent was attributable to falling crop yield.

“If you look at yields alone, you’re not looking at all of the information because there are economic and social changes going on as well,” said Leah VanWey, professor of sociology at Brown and one of the study’s senior authors. “You’re not taking into account farmers’ reactions to climate shocks.”


(Reporting by Megan Rowling; editing by Ros Russell. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women’s rights, trafficking, corruption and climate change. Visit

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Morocco prepares to host global climate change conference

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More than 30,000 people are expected to attend the COP22 gathering in Marrakesh in November.

Morocco has begun preparations for COP22, the 2015 global climate conference, where African nations hope to see further action to help mitigate damage from climate change.

The event, expected to attract 30,000 attendees, will be held November 7 – 18 in Marrakech. Morocco recently appointed a committee, headed by Foreign Minister Salaheddine Mezouar, to guide logistical preparations.

The conference follows COP21 last November in Paris, where 195 participating countries produced a landmark agreement to reduce carbon emissions.

Repairing damage will be key issue

The upcoming conference is expected to focus on an issue of great importance to many African nations: Mitigation of damage already done by climate change and help adapting to a new environment.

Speaking at a recent “From COP21 to COP22” conference in Geneva, Helen Clark, administrator of the United Nations Development Program, said the next conference must drive mitigation efforts.

Following the Paris agreement, Clark said, agencies and governments must “scale up” initiatives to repair or reduce damage and help countries adapt to changing environmental conditions.

Clark said her agency would facilitate access to financial and technical resources along with other major global actors.

From decision to action

She said COP 22 in Morocco marks a transition from the consensus building and decision-making of Paris to a “COP of Action.”

Clark said that in addition to supporting development to reduce emissions, her agency will work with more than 100 countries to finance mitigation measures as well as strengthening disaster management work and linking it to climate change damage.

While Africa is the least polluting continent on the planet, it has suffered some of climate change’s most severe effects.

At the climate conference in Paris, African leaders emphasized the need for financial help to address losses in their countries.

Drought, flooding, erosion hit Africa

Southern Africa, including Mozambique, Botswana, Zimbabwe and South Africa has been hard hit by drought as have Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia in the Horn of Africa.

Drought has nearly emptied the Kariba Dam reservoir on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, forcing power shortages and energy rationing.

At the same time, heavy rains, landslides and flooding have hit Burundi, Nigeria and Malawi.

In tiny Zanzibar, the rise of sea levels is salinizing the soil, making farming impossible. Zanzibaris have also seen rising temperatures, floods and increased sea waves.

Coastal erosion is emerging as a major threat in West Africa, where large shares of gross domestic products are associated with the sea, including fishing and tourism.

Financial help to mitigate damages and help countries adapt to a new and changing environment are expected to take center state at the Marrakech conference.

Morocco has ambitious plans to reduce emissions

Morocco hopes hosting the conference will also shine an international spotlight on its ambitious efforts to reduce its own reliance on greenhouse gas emissions with its pledge to reduce them by one third percent by 2030.

Morocco plans to increase the share of renewable energy to 42 percent by 2020 and to 52 percent by 2030. The country recently opened what is believed to be the world’s largest solar power plant near the city of Ouarzazate, about 120 miles southeast of Marrakech

As preparations get under way, organizers have begun holding workshops to educate tour and hotel operators and discuss logistics in the city of about 1 million population is Morocco’s most popular tourist destination, known for its colorful markets. Marrakech hosted COP7 in 2001.

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African Nations See High Stakes, Opportunities in Paris Climate Talks

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Africa at Cop21

African nations brought a unified agenda to the Paris climate conference, making clear they are willing to take aggressive steps to fight global warming but need international support to make significant cuts in pollution.

Africa is highly motivated. Ironically, it is the least polluting of the world’s continents, but it has suffered some of the most severe effects so far – drought in some regions and severe flooding in others.

As the Paris conference drew to a close, key issues of vital interest to Africa were under debate, including the allocation of responsibility for reducing carbon emissions between rich and poor countries as well as how to finance clean-energy improvements and repair damage already done.

Aggressive emission cuts sought

“African countries have demonstrated greater ambition in cutting their emissions than the high-emitting nations,” Akinwumi Adesina, president of the African Development Bank, said. Forty-seven of 53 African countries had completed plans to cut emissions by an October deadline, he said.

Alassane Ouattara, President of Côte d’Ivoire, said his country has set a goal of reducing greenhouse emissions by 28 percent by 2030 by increasing renewable sources, reforestation and development of carbon neutral agriculture.

Morocco recently increased its goal to increase renewables from 42 percent in 2020 to 52 percent in 2030.

Seeking international support

At the same time, numerous African nations made clear that they would need international support to make good on their pledges.

Sudan, for example, pledged to “reach 20% renewable share in the power mix by 2030… Aims to raise forest area to 25% of Sudan by 2030… Pledge conditional on international support.”

Yemen pledged a 1 percent cut in emissions by 2030 without international support or by 14 percent cut if international support was forthcoming.

High cost of action

Adesina said Africa needs an international investment of $55 billion a year up to 2030 to create a more efficient energy sector that uses more renewable resources for power. He said the African Development Bank would contribute $5 billion in financing, which will represent 40 percent of its total investments.

The United Nations has estimated it will take more than $93 billion a year for the world’s 48 poorest, least developed countries, including 34 in Africa, to put their action plans into effect.

Of more than $60 billion that has been committed so far, less than a third goes to the poorest countries, according to a November 2015 report by the International Institute for Environment and Development.

Paying for climate damage

African leaders also stressed the need for financial help to confront losses climate change has already wrought in their countries.

The United Nation’s Adaptation Fund “must be reinforced to support the losses and damages suffered by developing countries,” Denis Sassou Nguesso, President of Congo, said, echoing comments of many African leaders.

Currently, the negative effects include drought in South African, Mozambique, Botswana and Zimbabwe as well as heavy rains, landslides and flooding in Burundi, Nigeria, and Somalia.

Great Green Wall

The Great Green Wall aims to cultivate more forested land in Africa to fight the effects of climate change.

Seeing opportunity in the challenge

Adesina and other African leaders also pointed to the opportunities – both economic and environmental – that significant climate change work could unleash.

For example, the continent has significant capacity to produce wind and solar power, as well as potential geothermal power.

African forests have the potential to absorb tons of carbon emissions and reforestation efforts are under way to grow forest stock.

Among the efforts unveiled at the Paris conference is the African Restoration Initiative, a coalition of African countries and donors who seek to restore 250 million acres of degraded or deforested land by 2030.

Economic opportunity

As their development accelerates, African nations also are poised to benefit from clean industrialization, tapping technologies that have emerged in the past decade rather than relying heavily on older, carbon-hungry machinery.

“Industrialized countries will have to retrofit older infrastructure to harness the sector’s vast potential. Africa, however, is not married to any technological platform and is ready to leapfrog to these new, efficient and more sophisticated technologies,” Carlos Lopes, executive secretary of the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa, said at the Paris conference.

Progress for Africa

As Africa looks ahead to the challenges and opportunities of climate change, Adesina of the African Development Bank contrasted its position today with that of the last climate conference.

“A decade ago, at COP 11 in Montreal in 2005, Africa had no common position and no common negotiators,” he said. “This year, at COP 21, it has a Conference of African Heads of State on Climate Change; it has an expert team of about 200 climate negotiators; it has a clearly outlined position on the negotiations; and it has a well-articulated collective work program to support low-carbon and climate-resilient development on the continent.”

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Room to Breathe: Balancing Climate Change with Development

Comments (0) Africa, Environment, Latest Updates from Reuters, Politics

seyni nafo

By Sheldon Mayer, Managing Editor

In preparation for the 21st United Nations Climate Change Conference (COP21) to be held in Paris in early December, the African Group representative, Seyni Nafo, is readying the hard line he will take with the need to balance Africa’s development and to reduce the horrific impacts of climate change upon the continent.

Mr. Nafo, of Mali, will be representing the 54-country continent in UN negotiations in the UN Framework on Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), a multilateral treaty signed  in 1992. The 34-year-old Nafo has said that “it’s a positive agenda. It will bring concrete initiatives, not just statements but ambitious initiatives,” an issue that is always of concern in UN treaties due the unenforceable nature of most documents.

Seyni Nafo: There and Back Again

A position of influence is not new to Nafo, the son of an international banker who held lofty positions, including with the African Development Bank. Even with four siblings including a twin, Nafo’s voice was always heard. As Nafo and his family dutifully followed his father, Nafo rubbed shoulders with the elite, particularly during his time at Lycée Saint-Martin-de-France in Pontoise. Run by the Congregation of the Oratory, Nafo said that the Lycée Saint Martin was “not necessarily a school of excellence, but a school of bourgeois or aristocrats,” which built his character and formed the foundation for the strong leader he is today.

Representing nearly 1 billion people in Africa’s struggle to maintain development in the face of carbon emission reductions takes a certain kind of leader: according to Alix Mazounie of the Climate Action Network, Nafo has the necessary “x-factor.” “[Nafo] has a real ability to negotiate with developed countries, and encourage them to do more for Africa…he prefers realistic commitments rather than aberrant figures,” both of which are integral qualities when dealing with the at times glacial UN body.

Before he arrived at the peak of African climate negotiations, Nafo spent a great deal of time abroad. After completing his studies, he worked as a trader in Chicago and learned the ropes of high-powered finance in the world’s carbon emission leader. After returning to Mali 27 years ago, Nafo’s view on climate change sharply focused—“we have no choice,” he said, but to turn to renewables.

A Breath of Fresh Air

While he continues to work as a trader in the African market, he is acutely conscious of the vast differences in his current (albeit officially unknown) income and his potential income were he a hedge fund manager in the United States. The fact that he knows the opportunities available to him and yet remains in his current position as Africa’s climate change forerunner shows his true character. By using his knowledge of international markets, he has embraced the challenges of representing a continent that has relatively little sway in terms of negotiating climate deals but that bears the brunt of the negative effects of climate change.

Nafo’s comments are usually population-centric, and mean to bring attention to Africa’s particularly difficult position. During a 2012 conference, Nafo issued a firm response to US climate envoy Todd Stern, saying that “Africa is at the forefront of climate impacts; science shows that temperatures [have risen] approximately 150% more than the global average…that means the destruction of crops on a huge scale…crops [that] belong to subsistence farmers and the result is devastation and famine. This is not a game with numbers; it’s a question of people’s lives.” 

Keeping Development Alive In Hostile Climate

Nafo knows that sacrificing development in order to reduceAfrica’s relatively low emissions would have would have catastrophic implications. He is a strong proponent of clean energy because it provides an opportunity to maintain development while lowering emissions. “Not only Africa is the region that has the least amount of greenhouse gas emissions and which is the most vulnerable,” says Nafo, “but it is also the region with the greatest potential for renewable energy and the one with the lowest rate of current energy access.” For Nafo, clean energy is the safest, fastest and surest way to develop the continent. While his commitment to clean energy is not purely a commitment to bluer waters and cleaner skies, it shows a deep understanding of Africa’s bargaining power.

A Fair Shot

For Africa, reducing the impacts of climate change is anything but a game. The summit provides an ideal platform to push their development plans as climate-friendly: Africa has borne the brunt of climate change’s negative impacts despite contributing only 3% of the world’s carbon emissions, according to Nafo. The African continent has been crippled by drought and famine, plagued by seemingly endless civil war, and is now at the mercy of the world’s largest emission offenders.

Africa has not had the same pattern of development as the majority of the world: crippled by Western imperialism and colonialism, as well as today’s mismanagement of assets, internal struggles and external pressures, Africa needs a chance to develop before its industry can be curtailed. A continent with nearly 1/7th of the world’s population and only 3% of its global emissions should not be held responsible for change. It is irresponsible of global leaders to suggest that Africa limit itself in the same way as China or the United States. A realistic (meaning enforceable) plan should be developed that promotes sustainable energy sources without decimating Africa’s burgeoning industrial sector.

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