By Charles Mkoka
NAIROBI, Oct 14 2016 (IPS)
Two years ago at the 31st African Union Summit in Malabo, Equatorial Guinea, heads of state and government endorsed the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (NEPAD) programme on agriculture and climate change with the bold vision of at least 25 million smallholder households practicing Climate Smart Agriculture (CSA) by 2025.
This means sustainable food systems and broad-based social and environmental resilience from the household level up. CSA also supports the aspirations and goals in Africa’s Agenda 2063 and the AU Malabo Declaration as well as the global Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and COP21 Paris climate agreement.
IPS correspondent Charles Mkoka caught up with Estherine Fotabong, NEPAD Director of Programmes Implementation and Communication, at the Safari Park Hotel in Nairobi, Kenya during the Second Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance Forum this week to shade more light on some of the initiatives her institution is implementing. Excerpts from the interview follow.
Q: What does the CSA Alliance bring to agriculture and rural development on the African continent?
A: As you know, 2025 is the African Union decision to reach 25 million farmers that are practicing CSA on the continent in order that agriculture remains relevant to the changing weather and climate patterns. NEPAD being the technical arm, it is part of our responsibility to translate all the decisions into practical actions on the ground. In that respect we have developed partnership and programmes that are targeted to bring support to farmers.
Q: NEPAD cannot do this mammoth task alone considering its footprint is invisible in some states. In terms of synergy, who are you working with on the ground?
A: In terms of partnership we entered in the NEPAD/International Non Governmental (INGOs) Alliance. This is an alliance between NEPAD and five INGO’s working through communities and community-based groups on the ground. As NEPAD, we cannot be present in every country but we realise the role of subsidiary organisations to work with others who have the first engagement with farmers. The alliance can structure their programmes into providing concentrated support to the farmers. This support would either be providing new technologies of farming, inputs that farmers need or availability of credit. But also to adopt practices that help them cope with weather patterns or adapt to innovations that reduce greenhouse gases.
The second area of partnership is the CSA forum. You have seen the last two days that there is a lot of knowledge but this knowledge is sitting on computers. It is not shared for others to utilize. This platform creates space to bring all those working on agriculture, climate change and climate smart agriculture to share experience and knowledge generated through research.
Q: Can you tell our readers what other programmes you’re involved in at the secretariat level as far as issues of building climate change resilience and rural development are concerned across the continent?
A: Resilience-building among farmers is one target coming out of the Malabo Declaration. The declaration reaffirmed the continent’s resolve towards ensuring, through deliberate and targeted public support, that all segments of our populations, particularly women, the youth, and other disadvantaged sectors of our societies, must participate and directly benefit from the growth and transformation opportunities to improve their lives and livelihoods.
So we are working with member states to review the Agricultural Investment Plans, so that issues of climate change can be mainstreamed in their lives. It is clear that we are not going to go far if we don’t ensure that climate change issues are mainstreamed in national development and sectoral policies.
Zambia, for instance, was an early adopter of conservation agriculture, which is an example of climate smart agriculture. According to reports, farmers – particularly women – appreciated the increase in yields as a result of CSA. Yields have translated into increased income, which has translated into improved social economic conditions for their families.
Q: Despite the experimentally proven results in the case of Zambia as you have stated, why is there low uptake of CSA across the continent?
A: The programmes we have try to address those obstacles. These include land ownership, particularly for smallholder farmers, access to finance, access to technologies to take up CSA techniques are some of the challenges.
So through our Gender Climate Change Agriculture Support Programme we hope to reach a significant number of households and women farmers to contribute to the target. Furthermore, through our Climate Fund programme, we hope to continue to finance grassroots initiatives for the 2025 target. It is our belief that government themselves will put in place investments that will support farmers in their countries to ensure they take on board interventions on CSA so they withstand and cushion shocks brought about by climate variability.
Q: More women are involved in food production on the continent. However, data shows that in terms of the policy framework embracing gender dimension little is being done by countries to provide an enabling environment for women participation especially when it comes to land ownership. What is your take on this?
A: I have always said that I think it will always be smart for any government to invest in women and make their condition better.
Even in the difficult conditions that they work, women contribute 80 percent of the food we consume in our households on the continent. True that they use these resources to support their families so that brings social cohesion in our communities and countries.
But also, we want to invest in women in terms of supporting their economic empowerment. They will also increase their political participation and empowerment. It is really important that countries give particular attention to policies that favour women, such as policies that make it easier to form women cooperatives. In some countries to register a women’s cooperative they have to pay more money than if it was a men’s cooperative. Why?
Why that kind of discrimination and inequality? The platform has to be equal for both men and women. So we need to develop policies that cut across the board for all stakeholders.
The issue of land is a big question and challenge. We can learn from other countries such as Rwanda and Ethiopia. These countries have developed policies that allow for co-ownership of land, so that a woman who is married in a village will not be chased away not to farm when the husband dies, for instance.
Q: In your speech, you hinted at the need to utilise local indigenous knowledge in the face of climate change, together with scientific-backed data. Why is this crucial in resilience-building?
A: We tend to forget what we have been doing over the years and get good results from that. Much as it is important to embrace new knowledge from science, I think we have also good knowledge from what our ancestors have been doing over the years. Such kind of knowledge we should document and replicate.
We should believe that our farmers have knowledge. They have ideas that can be used to cope with climate change. In Cameroon, for instance, fishermen when I visited them described what they had noticed over the years in their area. They explained about the changes in the water level, changes in the seasonal patterns. As such we need to engage with farmers. They have rich information and knowledge that can help us as technocrats to make informed decisions as well.