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Agricultural Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change Impacts

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Akinnagbe O.M* and Irohibe I. J.
Department of Agricultural Extension, Faculty of Agriculture,
University of Nigeria, Nsukka
Tel: +2348035399151


Climate change is expected to intensify existing problems and create new combinations of risks, particularly in Africa. The situation is made worst due to factors such as widespread poverty, overdependence on rainfed agriculture, inequitable land distribution, limited access to capital and technology, inadequate public infrastructure such as roads, long term weather forecasts and inadequate research and extension. By lessening the severity of key damages to the agricultural sector, adaptation is the key defensive measure. Adaptation to climate change involves changes in agricultural management practices in response to changes in climate conditions. This paper reviews agricultural adaptation strategies employed by farmers in various countries in Africa in cushioning the effects of climate change. The common agricultural adaptation strategies used by farmers were the use of drought resistant varieties of crops, crop diversification, change in cropping pattern and calendar of planting, conserving soil moisture through appropriate tillage methods, improving irrigation efficiency and afforestation and agro-forestry. The paper concluded that improving and strengthening human capital through training, outreach programmes, extension services at all levels may improve capacity to adapt to climate change impact.

Key words: Adaptation strategies, agriculture, climate change, impacts and Africa.

Introduction Climate change is rapidly emerging as a global critical development issue affecting many sectors in the world and is considered to be one of the most serious threat to sustainable development. Globally, an unprecedented increase in greenhouse emissions has led to increased climate change impacts. Agricultural activities have been shown to contribute immensely to climate change as it ranks third after energy consumption and chlorofluorocarbon production in enhancing green house emissions. In fact, emissions from agricultural sources are believed to account for some 15% of today's anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions. Land use changes, often made for agricultural purposes, contribute another 8% or so to the total (Ozor and Nnaji, 2011). Agriculture is the economic mainstay in most African countries, except in oil-exporting countries, contributing 20-30% of Africa’s gross domestic product (GDP) and 55% of the total value of African exports, with 70% of the continent’s population depending on the sector for their livelihood (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, 2009). In most African countries, crop farming is mainly subsistence and rain-fed, but due to climate change frequent and untimely raining affects harvest of produce and thus, food production. This makes Africa particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. The vulnerability of the region is further worsened by the fact that the climate is already too hot as it is tropical in nature. With reference to sub-Saharan Africa, there is growing interest on the likely impacts of climate change on agriculture, economic growth and sustainable development. This is because the region has been experiencing increased drought in recent times due to increased temperature and reduced rainfall. Incidences of climate change include changes in soil moisture, soil quality, crop resilience, timing/length of growing seasons, yield of crops and animals, atmospheric temperatures, weed insurgence, flooding, unprecedented droughts, sea level rises and many more (Ozor and Nnaji, 2011) This adversely affects agricultural activities which are the mainstay of most African economies. The situation is made worst due to factors such as widespread poverty, over dependence on rain fed agriculture, inequitable land distribution, limited access to capital and technology, inadequate public infrastructure such as roads, long term weather forecasts and inadequate research and extension (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, 1998). Therefore, this paper reviews the agricultural adaptation strategies employed by farmers in Africa to cushion the effects of climate change.
Agricultural Adaptation Strategies to Climate Change Impacts Adapting to climate change entails taking the right measures to reduce the negative effects of climate change (or exploit the positive ones) by making the appropriate adjustments and changes. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (2007) defines adaptation as adjustments in natural or human systems in response to actual or expected climatic stimuli or effects, which moderates harm or exploits beneficial opportunities. It also refers to actions that people, countries, and societies take to adjust to climate change that has occurred. Adaptation has three possible objectives: to reduce exposure to the risk of damage; to develop the capacity to cope with unavoidable damages; and to take advantage of new opportunities. In this paper, the adaptation used in Africa was discussed under crop and livestock adaptation strategies.
1.0 Crop Adaptation Strategies
1.1 Planting of drought resistant varieties of crops: Emphasis on more drought-resistant crops in drought-prone areas could help in reducing vulnerability to climate change. For example, wheat requires significantly less irrigation water compared to dry season rice. The use of drought-resistant crop varieties have been tried by smallholder farmers as adaptation methods to climate change in Nigeria, Senegal, Burkina Faso and Ghana (Ngigi, 2009). Also, strategies against drought were adopted by nomadic pastoralists living in the desert margins of Kenya (Langill and Ndathi, 1998).
1.2 Crop diversification: Diversification towards high value crops is feasible in the medium to long term. Crop diversity is a high priority adaptation measure in both irrigated and non-irrigated areas. In Southern Africa for example, land use is manipulated leading to land use conversion such as the shift from livestock farming to game farming. (Ziervogel et al.,2008). In Kordofan and Drafur states of Western Sudan, food crops have replaced cash crops, and more resilient crop varieties have been introduced (DFID, 2004). In Tanzania, farmers diversify crop types as a way of spreading risks on the farm (Orindi and Eriksen 2005; Adger et al., 2003). Crop diversification can serve as insurance against rainfall variability.
1.3 Change in cropping pattern and calendar of planting: Climate change adversely affects crop production through long-term alterations in rainfall resulting in changes of cropping pattern and calendar of operations. According to Urama and Ozor (2011), farmers in Central Africa (Cmeroon, Equatorial Guinea and Central African Republic) noted that the trend of uncertainties in extreme weather events had generally increased within the past five years as shown in Table 1 below.
Table 1: Trends in extreme weather events in Central Africa from 2005 to 2009 in percentage
|Extreme weather events 2005 2006 2007 |
|2008 2009 |

Same 51.2 48.8 43.9 36.9 33.1
Declined 29.4 29.2 28.3 25.2 25.5
Increased 19.4 22.0 27.8 37.9 41.4
Heavy winds
Same 43.2 39.6 33.6 23.5 18.2
Declined 27.5 27.5 27.0 19.9 20.7
Increased 29.4 32.9 39.4 56.7 61.1
Incidence of dust covering the atmosphere
Same 49.0 46.7 42.6 34.9 26.8
Declined 16.4 16.5 15.4 13.6 10.5
Increased 34.5 36.9 42.0 51.5 62.6
Same 49.7 48.2 45.0 43.0 40.5
Declined 36.1 36.1 37.4 38.1 39.9
Increased 14.2 15.7 17.6 18.9 19.5
Same 33.4 34.8 27.8 18.6 14.0
Declined 11.5 9.6 8.9 8.3 9.2
Increased 55.0 55.5 63.3 73.1 76.8
Same 47.9 47.3 42.6 37.4 35.7
Declined 19.6 18.5 18.7 18.3 19.4
Increased 32.5 34.2 38.7 44.3 44.9
Heat waves
Same 43.4 39.7 36.5 26.3 24.9
Declined 14.2 14.2 11.5 10.0 9.8
Increased 42.4 46.1 52.0 63.7 65.3
High Sun intensity
Same 34.1 31.2 23.8 14.9 11.7
Declined 11.7 11.6 7.6 6.2 6.0
Increased 54.2 57.2 68.7 78.8 82.3
Heavy rainfall
Same 29.0 26.1 19.3 15.9 12.7
Declined 40.9 40.8 45.9 43.2 43.9
Increased 30.1 33.1 34.8 40.9 43.4
Desertification or loss of forest resources
Same 27.0 27.1 13.4 9.3 8.8
Declined 11.3 11.1 8.5 7.8 7.5
Increased 61.8 61.8 78.1 82.9 83.8
Volume of sand encroachment
Same 62.6 61.4 55.5 50.4 46.9
Declined 23.0 23.7 23.3 20.3 21.3
Increased 14.5 14.8 21.2 29.2 31.8
| |
|Source: Ngoh et al, 2011 |

In Tanzania, to avoid crop production risks due to rainfall variability and drought, staggered plating is very common to most farmers whereby crops are planted before the onset of rain (dry land) on uncultivated land. Others were planted immediately after rain, while other plots were planted a few days after the first rains. Tilling the land commences in fields which were planted prior to cultivation on the third week after the onset of rain which also enables to destroy early geminating weeds and reduces weeding. These were done purposely to distribute risk by ensuring that any rain was utilized to the maximum by the crop planted in dry field (Liwenga, 2003).
1.4 Mixed cropping: Mixed cropping involves growing two or more crops in proximity in the same field. The system is commonly practised in Tanzania where cereals (maize, sorghum), legumes (beans) and nuts (groundnuts) are grown together. The advantages of mixing crops with varying attributes are in terms of maturity period (e.g. maize and beans), drought tolerance (maize and sorghum), input requirements (cereals and legumes) and end users of the product (e.g. maize as food and sunflower for cash). A research conducted by Mendelsohn et al. (2000) on analyzing adaptations made in Africa reveals that in all countries apart from Cameroon and South Africa the planting of different varieties of the same crop is considered to be one of the most important adaptations. Different planting dates are also considered an important adaptation in Egypt, Kenya and Senegal.
1.5 Improved irrigation efficiency: Success of climate change adaptation depends on availability of fresh water in drought-prone areas. It should be emphasized that most adaptation methods provide benefits even with the lower end of climate change scenarios, such as improved irrigation efficiency. As water becomes a limiting factor, improved irrigation efficiency will become an important adaptation tool especially in dry season, because irrigation practices for dry area are water intensive. Climate change is expected to result in decreased fresh water availability (surface and groundwater) and reduced soil moisture during the dry season, while the crop water demand is expected to increase because of increased evapo-transpiration caused by climate change and the continuous introduction of high-yielding varieties and intensive agriculture (Selvaraju, et al., 2006). In Egypt, Kenya and South Africa significant numbers of farmers have adapted by increased use of irrigation. In Gambia, South Africa and Sudan, farmers employ such adaptation measures as irrigation water transfer, water harvesting and storage to cushion the effects of rainfall variability (Nkomo et al, 2005 and Osman et al (2005). As temperature increases, farmers tend to irrigate more frequently. Irrigation is clearly an adaptation strategy to warming. When precipitation increases, they tend to irrigate less often and resort to natural rainfall more often. Farms in the deserts reduce irrigation when temperature increases. Similarly, when precipitation increases, farms close to the deserts increase irrigation.
1.6 Adopting soil conservation measures that conserve soil moisture: Soil conservation techniques are increasingly practiced in Burkina Faso, Kenya, Senegal and Niger. A study carried out by Lema and Majule (2009) in Manyoni District of Tanzania revealed that farmers in Kamenyanga and Kintinku ensure proper timing of different farming activities, incorporating crop residues to replenish soil fertility, burning crop residues to enhance quick release of nutrients and allowing livestock to graze on farmlands after harvesting crops so as to improve soil organic matter. In Tanzania, farmers used contour ridges as a strategy to minimize soil erosion to encourage better root penetration and enhance moisture conservation (Lema and Majule, 2009). In Senegal and Burkina Faso, local farmers have improved their adaptive capacity by using traditional pruning and fertilizing techniques to double tree densities in semi-arid areas. These help in holding soils together and reversing desertification. Nyong, et al. (2007) noted that local farmers in the Sahel conserve carbon in soils through the use of zero tillage practices, mulching and other soil management techniques. Natural mulches moderate soil temperatures and extremes, suppress diseases and harmful pests, and conserve soil moisture. Before the advent of chemical fertilizers, local farmers largely depended on organic farming, which also is capable of reducing GHG emissions.
1.7 Planting of trees (Afforestation) and agroforestry: Tree planting is the process of transplanting tree seedlings, generally for forestry, land reclamation, or landscaping purposes. It differs from the transplantation of larger trees in arboriculture, and from the lower cost but slower and less reliable distribution of tree seeds. In silviculture, the activity is known as reforestation, or afforestation, depending on whether the area being planted has or has not recently been forested. It involves planting seedlings over an area of land where the forest has been harvested or damaged by fire or disease or insects. Rural farmers in most of the Africa countries have been planting trees as a way of adapting to the effect of climate change. Agroforestry is a rational land-use planning system that tries to find some balance in the raising of food crops and forests (Adesina et al. 1999). A practice similar to this has been described in a part of south western part of Nigeria to raise shade tolerant crops such as Dioscorea spp and cocoyam in essentially a permanent forest setting (Adesina 1988). In addition to the fact that agroforestry techniques can be perfected to cope with the new conditions that are anticipated under a drier condition and a higher population density, they lead to an increase in the amount of organic matter in the soil thereby improving agricultural productivity and reducing the pressure exerted on forests. In the drier parts of the Sahel, baobab (Adansonia digitata) and acacia (Acacia) trees are usually planted by local farmers as they were realized as valuable trees especially during the hot and dry parts of the year (Nyong et al., 2007).

2.0 Livestock adaptation strategies
Livestock producers have traditionally adapted to various environmental and climatic changes by building on their in-depth knowledge of the environment in which they live. The following have been identified by several experts (IFAD, 2009; FAO, 2008; Thornton, et al., 2008; Sidahmed, 2008) as ways to improve adaptation in the livestock sector:
2.1 Production adjustments: Changes in livestock practices could include: (i) diversification, intensification and/or integration of pasture management, livestock and crop production; (ii) altering the timing of operations; (iii) conservation of nature and ecosystems; (iv) modifying stock routings and distances; and (v) introducing mixed livestock farming systems, such as stall-fed systems and pasture grazing. Adaptation strategies that are applied among pastoralists in the Sahel region of Africa include the use of emergency fodder in times of droughts, multi-species composition of herds to survive climate extremes, and culling of weak livestock for food during periods of drought. During drought periods, pastoralists and agro-pastoralists change from cattle (Bos) to sheep (Capra) and goat (Capra) husbandry as the feed requirements of the later is less than the former (Oba 1997). Pastoralists’ nomadic mobility reduces the pressure on low carrying capacity grazing areas through the circular movement from the dry northern areas to the wet southern areas of the Sahel. This system of seasonal movement represents a local type of traditional ranching management system of range resources.
2.2 Breeding strategies: Many local breeds are already adapted to harsh living conditions. However, developing countries are usually characterized by a lack of technology in livestock breeding and agricultural programmes that might otherwise help to speed adaptation. Adaptation strategies address not only the tolerance of livestock to heat, but also their ability to survive, grow and reproduce in conditions of poor nutrition, parasites and diseases (Hoffmann, 2008). Such measures could include: (i) identifying and strengthening local breeds that have adapted to local climatic stress and feed sources and (ii) improving local genetics through cross-breeding with heat and disease tolerant breeds. If climate change is faster than natural selection, the risk to the survival and adaptation of the new breed is greater (Hoffmann, 2008)
2.3 Livestock management systems: Efficient and affordable adaptation practices need to be developed for the rural poor who are unable to afford expensive adaptation technologies. These could include (i) provision of shade and water to reduce heat stress from increased temperature. Given current high energy prices, providing natural (low cost) shade instead of high cost air conditioning is more suitable for rural poor producers; (ii) reduction of livestock numbers – a lower number of more productive animals leads to more efficient production and lower GHG emissions from livestock production (Batima, 2006); (iii) changes in livestock/herd composition (selection of large animals rather than small); (iv) improved management of water resources through the introduction of simple techniques for localized irrigation (e.g. drip and sprinkler irrigation), accompanied by infrastructure to harvest and store rainwater, such as tanks connected to the roofs of houses and small surface and underground dams.
2.4 Capacity building for livestock keepers: There is a need to improve the capacity of livestock producers and herders to understand and deal with climate change increasing their awareness of global changes. In addition, training in agro-ecological technologies and practices for the production and conservation of fodder improves the supply of animal feed and reduces malnutrition and mortality in herds.
3.0 Other Adaptation Strategies
3.1 Labour migration: Migration is a dominant mode of labour (seasonal migration), providing a critical livelihood source. The role of remittances derived from migration provides a key coping mechanism in drought and non-drought years but is one that can be dramatically affected by periods of climate shock, when adjustments to basic goods such as food prices are impacted by food aid and other interventions (Devereux and Maxwell, 2001). Migration is (and always has been) an important mechanism to deal with climate stress. Pastoralist societies have of course habitually migrated, with their animals, from water source to grazing lands in response to drought as well as part of their normal mode of life. But it is becoming apparent that migration as a response to environmental change is not limited to nomadic societies. In western Sudan, for example, studies have shown that one adaptive response to drought is to send an older male family member to Khartoum to try and find paid labour to tide the family over until after the drought (McLeman and Smit (2004). Temporary migration as an adaptive response to climate stress is already apparent in many areas. But the picture is nuanced; the ability to migrate is a function of mobility and resources (both financial and social). In other words, the people most vulnerable to climate change are not necessarily the ones most likely to migrate. In the West African Sahel, recent studies have cast light on the use of temporary migration as an adaptive mechanism to climate change. The region has suffered a prolonged drought for much of the past three decades and one way that households have adapted is by sending their young men and women in search of wage labour after each harvest. But how far they travel depends, in part, on the success of the harvest (Oli, 2008).
3.2 Income diversification: A survey carried out by Mertz et al., (2010) indicated that in Southern Burkina Faso, farmers adapt to the effects of low yield by indulging in dry season market gardening and non-farm income sources. This is corroborated by additional in-depth studies at local level in northern Burkina Faso, where local people focus on activities that are less dependent on climate (Nielsen and Reenberg, 2010a, 2010b). An analysis of national household survey data in Burkina Faso between 1998 and 2007 showed that the average wealth increased for almost all major livelihood groups and the number of wealthy people steadily increased (D'haen, 2011). These results highlight the importance of off-farm income which generates opportunities, especially in marginal rural areas, for long-term adaptation strategies to climate variability and change (D'haen, 2011).
Conclusion and Recommendation Africa is already under pressure from climate stresses which increase vulnerability to further climate change and reduce adaptive capacity. The adverse effects of climate change have a particularly devastating effect on agriculture, which is the mainstay of most African economies. This has affected food production with its resultant effect on widespread poverty. Some African communities have developed traditional agricultural adaptation strategies to cope with climate variability and extreme events. Experience on these strategies needs to be shared among communities. Strategies include: diversification of herds and incomes, use of forest products as a buffer against climate induced crop failure, soil fertility improvement techniques, soil moisture and water conservation practices, decentralization of governance of resources and the manipulation of land use leading to land use conversion, to name a few. However, some of these strategies may need to be adjusted to face additional risks associated with climate change. The major constraint to applying agricultural adaptation strategies in Africa has been a general lack of knowledge, expertise and data on climate change issues; a lack of specific climate change institutions to deal with climate change work and the need for a better institutional framework in which to implement adaptation. Actions to address these gaps include: training programmes for local government officials, dedicated research activities and post-graduate courses; and the initiation of specific institutional frameworks for climate change. Proactive adaptation can improve capacities to cope with climate change by taking climate change into account in long term decision-making, removing disincentives for changing behaviour in response to climate change (such as removing subsidies for maladaptive activities), and introducing incentives to modify behaviour in response to climate change (such as the use of market-based mechanisms to promote adaptive responses). Furthermore, strengthening human capital through training, outreach, and extension services improves decision-making capacity at every level and increases the collective capacity to adapt. This can be achieved if extension retrains its staff, mount awareness programmes, and disseminate proven measures to boost the adaptive/resilience capacities of various stakeholders including farmers, foresters, pastoralists, hunters, etc to climate change impacts on agricultural production in Africa. Also, there is need for increased research and innovation in agriculture to find out more sustainable ways of adaptation to climate change.

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