Managing water is key to adapting African agriculture to climate change
A unanimous decision on how to take action on climate change is incredibly rare. Yet, African nations have overwhelmingly included climate resilient agriculture in their indicative pledges to the United Nations. And agriculture is seen as a major focus through a common position of the African Union on climate adaptation.
Agriculture employs more than 60% of Africa’s working population. But low productivity and high levels of food insecurity persist. So the inclusion of agriculture in strategies should come as no surprise. The question is: how are African nations going to move from pledges to progress?
The Moroccan government, host of this year’s COP22 climate talks, is seeking the answer with the launch of the ambitious Adaptation of African Agriculture initiative. The initiative is high on the agenda. The aim is to mobilize $30 billion to make agriculture more resilient to the changing climate.
Improved water management
This is one of the three key pillars of the initiative – and for good reason. Globally, agriculture uses around 70% of freshwater supply. But water sources are increasingly under threat. Thanks to climate change, annual rainfall in some regions of Africa – especially southern and northern Africa – is expected to decrease. Droughts will be more frequent, more intense and will last longer.
Increasing the amount of water for agriculture through water storage at all levels from field to reservoir will be a part of the solution. But existing water sources also can be managed better. In fact, certain regions in Africa have untapped water. Take west Africa, for example, where Ghana withdraws less than 2% of the available surface and groundwater resources. Yet crops are still perishing when drought hits, and people are still going hungry.
The challenge across the region is to provide an environment that enables countries to draw on the water where needed and use it in the most effective and sustainable way possible. Where water supplies are already under pressure, improving the productivity of water use in agriculture would make more water available for other uses.
The urban, energy and industrial sectors can also encourage productivity gains an
d more sustainable and climate resilient practices through benefit sharing mechanisms like the Tana Water Fund.