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CAADP - Agriculture Development Posts

Climate change strikes Africa with hungry locust swarms

If you have heard the biblical story about the seven bowls, this may sound similar. Since the 23rd of January a large quantity of locusts have invaded a considerable part of Africa and are feasting on vulnerable vegetation and putting in danger the crops and if not stopped, they can cause great agricultural damage, risking human starvation in those regions.

Locusts are insects similar to grasshoppers, but with an entirely different behaviour. Their lifestyles are like that of its cousins, however, when they have the exact combination of conditions, locusts can reproduce fast and in a short amount of time, turn into a very inconvenient swarm.

These types of plagues can move quickly, suddenly covering up the sky with dark clouds full of locusts. According to Associated Press (AP) “an average swarm can destroy as much in a day as is sufficient to feed 2,500 people”. In Africa Desert locusts (Schistocerca gregaria) are the species that have already destroyed hundreds of miles of vegetation and forced thousands of people to struggle moving through them. It is the largest outbreak of locusts Africa has seen in 25 years and some regions had not suffered from them in as long as 70 years.

It is important to mention that plagues move quickly, if not controlled their numbers could grow 500 times bigger in five months. People are asking their local governments to force them into action, as many lives depend on their farms and crops.

What caused this to happen? 

It is an issue widely discussed throughout the latest years as it has caused a lot of damage, Climate Change as a consequence of human behaviour.

In Australia, climate change worsened the fires and made them incontrollable and terribly destructive. China is in quarantine, in an attempt to stop the spreading of the Coronavirus 2019-nCoV outbreak, which by the 23rd of January, has already claimed the lives of more than twenty people and had already reached other countries.

Extreme climate change has also accelerated the process of glacier melting, water shortages, warmer temperatures and many more natural conditions that have been altered due to human actions which caused the extreme conditions we are experiencing nowadays.

Africa, for example, has been experiencing heavy rains since last year, this could probably be caused by the rise in water temperatures in the Indian Ocean, located on the eastern coast of Africa. The combination of rainfall and warmth has created the perfect environment for locust breeding, as greenery springs up faster, the locusts are well fed and continue to reproduce.


And the future is not likely to change. Forecasts for this year state that high temperatures and rain are likely to continue the same probably until June. The situation is concerning, and time is of the essence when dealing with these matters because the are only made worse as days go by. Even more reason to lobby the government into a quick solution. Otherwise, millions of people will suffer watching all their year’s work be destroyed, the economy will also be jeopardized.

What’s next? 

This situation is currently being monitored by world organizations such as the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, which is paying special attention to in africa and modern technologies for a better understanding and addressing of the locust problem.

Their evaluation states that “the current Desert Locust situation is extremely alarming and represents an unprecedented threat to food security and livelihoods in the Horn of Africa. In addition, important locust situations continue to develop along both sides of the Red Sea, in Oman and in southern Iran.

Normally, FAO operates a centralized Desert Locust Information Service (DLIS) within the Locust Group at FAO Headquarters, Rome, Italy that monitors the Desert Locust situation throughout the world, thus providing information on the general locust situation to the global community and giving timely warnings and forecasts to those countries in danger of invasion.

Measures are being taken by the UN agency since they now consider Africa’s problem of international concern. In a press release issued on Monday, FAO Director-General QU Dongyu said the agency is activating fast-track mechanisms to support governments, “authorities in the region have already jump-started control activities, but in view of the scale and urgency of the threat, additional financial backing from the international donor community is needed so they can access the tools and resources required to get the job done,” Mr. Qu said.

To get the financial support they need, FAO in cooperation with Africa, is in need of a global campaign to raise about $70 million dollars, to support both pest control with aerial control with pesticides and to conduct food security operations across de damaged regions. “Communities in Eastern Africa have already been impacted by extended droughts, which have eroded their capacities to grow food and make a living. We need to help them get back on their feet, once the locusts are gone”, FAO’s Director General said.

We too have an important role to play, as individuals in different parts of the world it is evident that most of us can´t do much to help control the locust plague itself. What we can do is raise awareness about the dangers and effects of climate change and try to change the focus that it is generally given.

Media, politicians and business organisations always speak in terms of what is best for them, and what is heard about climate change is that it is an ominous presence that appeared out of nowhere. However, we as humans caused it with our actions, and we can also stop it, by following a more sustainable way of life.

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South African agriculture: endangered or saved by climate change?

Africa is a very rich country despite what everyone might think. It is wealthy in terms of vegetation types, biodiversity, climates and different types of soil. It has the second largest tropical rainforest, only behind Amazonia, which is home to millions of species of animals and more than 6,000 species of trees. They extend over 3.3 million square kilometers and are considered vital to the fight against climate change, due to their capacity to absorb large amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2).

With these natural conditions, and the vast types of soil, one of the country’s main economic activities is agriculture, from farming to livestock production. Since tackling the issue of underdevelopment in Africa is of the outmost importance, the nation is being supported by the United Nations (UN) to achieve the goals for Sustainable Development, that include No poverty, Zero hunger, Decent work and economic growth, Responsible consumption and production, Climate Action, among others.

Where does agriculture stand in South Africa?

This sector is a very important source of employment in rural areas and it contributes year after year to foreign exchange and commerce. Since the landscapes, weather and land features are so rich in South Africa, agriculture is diverse in terms of crops. According to South African Government, agriculture-related activities play an important role in the process of economic development and can contribute significantly to household food security. The National Development Plan (NDP) sets out a broad vision of eliminating poverty and reducing inequality by 2030, along with the UN 2030 agenda.

What is more, climate change is moving rapidly, deforestation for instance is eliminating a fair share of the country’s rainforest at a rate of 0.3% a year, and with the current demand for palm oil, this number is prone to rise.

The droughts and shorter rainfall seasons are also affecting agricultural activities and South Africa is staying behind other nation’s production such as India, as well as it faces more threats and challenges to produce the necessary number of crops to meet the growing global demand.

To add to the previous point, there is a large amount of food waste happening all over the world. So much food gets thrown away by restaurants, lost during transport, storage, food processing and retail. This constitutes the main reason to why production needs are so high. If we can find a way to stop wasting food through sustainable living, it could mean a positive change for our environment. Land, water, and resources wouldn’t be as exploited as they currently are, and we would decrease the toxic gases that come from food decomposition. Another alternative would be the correct management of organic waste, such as compost, to nourish the lands that are eroding and contribute to a faster disintegration of these residues.

Furthermore, the continuing increase in population every year causes a greater need for food production, an issue that is becoming increasingly difficult due to higher temperatures, fewer clean water and natural resources, all consequence of Climate Change.

Then, how is Climate Change going to help the development of agriculture in South Africa?

It probably sounds unlikely, however, many international organizations are concerned and working toward a sustainable development. In this case, the rainforests hold about 250 million tons of carbon a year, and different studies show that those in Africa store more carbon dioxide than the Amazonia. With the hope of keeping global temperature increases below the 2°C it is important that these rainforests are well protected. Initiatives like those of the Paris Summit in 2015 have stated incentives for the protection of forests to prevent at a global scale the increase of carbon levels.

Moreover, international policies like the 2030 agenda for Sustainable Development are designed to tackle issues well beyond climate change. This means that there are different pressing issues in the world, one of them being climate conditions, but there are more, for example hunger, poverty, gender inequality, education and health, clean energy access, economic growth and many others which Africa currently suffers from.

In South Africa there is a current trend of sustainable agricultural practices with intentions to change the management of water and natural resources, contribute to the economic and social well-being of the country, good quality food production and to maintain its rich biodiversity.

Following the National Development Plan mentioned above, the South African government aims to ensure that one million hectares are used to produce crops including fruit and livestock and provide superior breeding animals to targeted smallholder and subsistence farmers.

New trends and technologies are the right path towards global change. In this case, there is currently a program in Senegal that could find its way into South Africa to improve farmers crops through Artificial Intelligence (AI). The initiative started as a collaboration between the Dakar Institute of Technology (DIT) and the French AI school VIVADATA. The main idea of this program is to analyze data like rainfall, soil quality, PH, temperature and moisture levels, to show exactly when and where farmers should water or fertilize the land and help them understand the new way their crops are adjusting to climate change.

Many more developments like VIVADATA are arising, providing the necessary opportunities for developing countries, which in partnership with international, Non-profit, public or private organisations, will be able to reach local people and help them improve their way of life. Finally, with technology’s accelerated rhythm, there are more opportunities to understand how the world is changing and to teach us the way we should adapt and care for it.

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The future of agricultural progress is in gender equality

There has always been a fight in the world for gender equality. Whether it was equal rights to vote, work or marry freely, women have always been a vulnerable minority of society. Most of the progress made in the gender equality field has occurred in modern and developed countries, which have made wonderful changes in women’s rights.

However, many of these changes are still far from accomplishing complete inclusion for women, let alone for diverse minority groups such as the LGBT+ community or people with special needs. When we realize that developed countries have the most “advanced” policies, we can imagine that in underdeveloped countries, the matter is still rudimentary.

In recent years, greater attention has been paid to issues of the gender gap, both at the national and international level. Internationally, gender-specific regulations have been adopted within the Human Rights treaty framework (particularly the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of discrimination against women). In addition, the international community has solemnly proclaimed its commitment to the equality of Gender and Women’s Empowerment at the Fourth World Conference on Women (Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action), at the World Food Summit (Objective 1.3 of the Plan of Action), and in other recent international conferences.

Part of these efforts are supported by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), since it has become evidently clear that women play a very important role in the future of food and agriculture, specially in South Africa.

Gender equality in Africa? 

First of all, in Africa, close to 62% of women work for the agricultural sector where they do most of the work of production, processing and commercializing the products. They have a primordial job in agriculture, however, only a few have access to research programs (22% of them represent women in the scientific community), to the planning and stablishing of goals, and to the decision-making process.

Women constantly face challenges that men do not, they have little access to resources and basic services that include land, finance, training, supplies and equipment to mention a few. It has been only in recent years that laws in South Africa have changed so that women could own a piece of land.

“Gender equality was one of the fundamental principles of land reform in South Africa. To promote this principle, the White Paper sets out a number of mechanisms, including elimination of legal provisions restricting women’s access to land, non-sexist participation methodologies, financial support for women, registration of land redistributed in the name of women and priority for women applying for a grant” (White Paper on Land Policy 1997 and Gender Policy in Land Reform 1997)

But only think about the unique and special point of view that women, who have worked all their lives in the fields and come from generations of women who have done the same, can bring to the table. They have privileged insight and knowledge that could take research on the subject to a new level.

Studies show that if women had the same opportunities as men in the agricultural sector, for example, productivity would increase by 20% in several African countries. The World Bank has stated that by helping women improve and increase their role in the economy, there would be significant benefits for development and economic growth.

Game players  

Wanjiru Kamau-Rutenberg, Director of the institution African Women in Agricultural Research and Development (AWARD) said that “today, when it comes to food security, Africa is playing a football match in which the outcome is a matter of life and death, all the more so given the effects of climate change and population growth. Bringing the talent of all team members is more than ever a pressing need. You cannot play with half of your team members because then you are bound to lose” (OMPI, 2018).

Besides the evolution of laws and changes made around the world on this subject, there are programs designed specifically to help empower women in Africa. Because when women improve their livelihoods, entire families, communities and countries benefit from it. Women in South Africa work, take care of their families and help stablish a strong sense of community. Therefore, the influence they represent can be a real game changer.

IFAD has been at the forefront of gender equality in rural communities, with a focus on transformative and long-lasting results. Their programmes and projects are inclusive and results oriented as they help rural women grow more food, connect to markets, increase their incomes, and become more literate and financially skilled.

They also highlight the fact that change has to come from within. This is why all family members, including both men and women, are being brought into the programs, approaching them with a different focus on the problem which aims to break the persistent pattern of gender inequality from the inside out. Not just focusing on the woman of the house, but on every link of a family which then transforms into a community, society, nation, mankind.

Even though there is still much to do concerning gender equality in agriculture, we know that it is a key factor when trying to accomplish what hasn’t been done in centuries, taking the South African country and the African continent out of poverty and underdevelopment.

There is a match to be played, and all its team members sit on the bench for now, deciding whether they can play with half the team or they need to improve their chances and include everyone. Only the future of the planet and mankind are at stake. Will they make the right choice?

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