The land, agriculture and forestry nexus at the heart of African sustainability

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Not only is Africa the continent with the greatest potential to increase productivity; it also has the highest percentage of rainfed agriculture and therefore among the most vulnerable areas to climate impacts.
With 60% of the continent’s trade derived from agricultural commodities, it is not surprising that Africa is increasingly recognizing the need for robust adaptation programs and climate smart agriculture.

Alongside this, the forests of Africa are receiving increasing attention around the world, and for good reason. Representing 16% of the world’s forest cover at 600 million hectares; they are precious habitats of economic resources for African people, 70% of whom rely on them for energy among other vital forms of livelihood support.
The sessions on Agriculture, Land and Forestry Day at the African Development Bank’s pavilion during COP24, focused on the implications of how Africa is leading the transformation of agriculture and forestry as a pillar of sustainable economic development and poverty reduction.
In sessions on “Transformative adaptation for Agriculture’, “Strengthening resilience in the face of climate change, ‘REDD+ in Africa: 10 years later” and “Land restoration for climate solutions,” a host of subject experts and representatives from a range of African countries shared their perspectives on progress so far and next steps for ensuring the sustainability of African lands and forests in the future.

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All participants greed that as they work to advance climate smart agriculture, African governments and adaptation funders should also consider the need for longer-term, more systemic, transformative approaches to adaptation.
A systems approach to food production was outlined in detail by Ana Maria Loboguerrero, Head of Global Policy Research at CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change, Agriculture and Food Security (CCAFS).
She stressed the need for several interventions at once in order to achieve the systemic change we need to ensure food security and increased productivity for African agriculture.
These interventions included scaling up existing technologies and developing new ones, empowering consumers and farmers so that we can listen to their demands as well as financing mechanisms and incentives. She stressed the importance of capacity building to ensure that ongoing transformation achieves the desired goal.

“With big, disruptive changes, some people win and some people lose. Policy has a really important role in terms of minimising these gaps and ensuring that lots of people don’t lose out. We need to concentrate on capacity building so that the greatest number of people can adapt to these technologies and use them to their – and our collective benefit.”
All agreed that participation and coordination, with leadership from farmers and other agricultural stakeholders, is essential for equitable transformation.
One country that has been doing particularly well on this front is the DRC, which has had a lot of success so far in its implementation of the REDD+ initiative. This programme was launched within UNFCCC to reduce emissions from deforestation and forest degradation.
In view of the hope that REDD+ has aroused, nearly 30 African countries have embarked on it with various fortunes. These countries are indeed aware of the crucial role of forests in preserving social and ecological balance because many thousands of communities depend on forest resources.

Victor Kadilu of Fonaredd DRC explained that it is critical that as the country evolves and opens access up to remote forest areas, emissions are kept as low as possible. Right now, land use accounts for 90% of the country’s emissions. If not managed carefully, deforestation presents a significant climate risk:
“DRC is a forest country with about 10% of global forest and more than 60% of Africa’s forest. Emissions from these are of significance; more than three years of global emissions are stored in Congolese forests.
We need to ensure their safety for posterity, and our children’s children. We need to come up with a proactive approach and look at land use for economic purposes.
Ancestral agriculture is the first driver of African deforestation. We need to review our ‘slash and burn’ practices, which are a big driver for deforestation.

On a macro level, any investment going into the agriculture sector should benefit the local communities and ensure that it does not hamper or destroy the forests.”
Some speakers discussed the ways in which the UNFCCC can strengthen and catalyze action. Julia Wolf, Natural Resources Officer – Climate Change, FAO, pointed out that it is critical first to understand what is meant by ‘transformational’ in the context of the NDCs, and then to agree how it will be measured.

“122 million people will be food insecure by 2030. We talk about reduced vulnerability and increased adaptive capacity; how do we actually quantify the change we want to see and how do we report on adaptation? These are the real challenges.
Recognising the socio-economic element of food production is of critical importance; agriculture is everywhere.
The challenge will be looking at the new NDCs for 2020 and seeing how agriculture fits into those,” she said.

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