Agriculture and climate change: Broadcasters discuss adaptation measures

| February 7, 2022

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From November 22 to December 17 2021, Farm Radio International brought together 545 broadcasters and climate experts to discuss climate change and the increasing impact of climate change on agriculture. 

The four-week discussion was supervised by Farm Radio staff and took place at the same time as the 2021 United Nations Conference of the Parties climate change conference in Glasgow, Scotland. Aided by several subject-matter specialists, participants from across Africa shared their understanding of climate change, its effects on agriculture in their regions, and adaptation measures taken by farmers. 

The discussions explained that climate change is an unexpected and sustained change in climate and weather, marked by an unpredictable rainfall and a sharp increase in temperatures, and caused by human activities which generate greenhouse gases — mainly the burning of fossil fuels such as oil, gas, and coal.

Participants expressed that climate change is damaging the daily lives of farmers, fishers, and herders across sub-Saharan Africa. It reduces biodiversity and crop yields. Unpredictable rainfall prevents crops from growing and excess rainfall causes floods. Sea level rise due to global temperature increases result in the destruction of houses and plantations in coastal areas.

The discussion highlighted farmers’ needs to understand climate adaptation techniques, their need for reliable weather information to better plan for farming activities, and for good practices to manage land sustainably.

Participants noted that farmers’ sources of information include public meteorological and environmental services, non-governmental organizations, FRI’s resources, farmer groups, social media, and specialized programs on climate action.

The discussion also provided the opportunity to reflect on the impact of climate change on women, especially considering their significant role in agriculture. The discussion revealed that educated women and men are more likely to understand climate change. Many experience the early or delayed start of agricultural seasons, droughts during the rainy season, and an early or delayed end to the rainy season, which results in low yields.

Broadcasters also said that many farmers’ crops are damaged or destroyed by heavy hail, rains, floods, and fierce winds. In some regions of Africa, women farmers sometimes sow as soon as the rains start. But, when the rains cease and resume later, the seeds dry in the soil and the farmers must sow again. These repeated losses mean that farmers and their families are more at risk of extreme poverty.

Participants noted, however, that climate change has prompted women in some areas to join forces to boost their finances. By establishing cooperatives and farmers organizations, these women  share risks, ensure good yields, and benefit from grants and training offered by NGOs.

It became clear in the discussions that women need to know which techniques and strategies to adopt to face climate change—for example, how to use irrigation methods when water is scarce, and how to anticipate changes in the climate, and adapt. Farmers need information about the weather, they need education on the basics of rain cycle and the environmental benefits of trees, as well as the consequences of logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. They also need training on seeds and their lifecycles and on alternate cultivation techniques.

The fourth and final week of the discussion focused on measures to adapt to climate change. Many important proposals for adaptation actions resulted from the discussions, including the following:

  • Adjust farm activities based on weather forecasts.
  • Pool efforts in common interest groups to develop and submit adaptation projects to funders.
  • Use stone barriers to reduce water erosion. 
  • Practice assisted natural regeneration in agroforestry.
  • Protect coastal areas from rising sea levels by constructing dikes with stones or other materials, or abandoning such areas.
  • Use terraces and half-moon ditches to enable water to infiltrate in the soil to increase fertility and prevent erosion in regions where rain is insufficient.
  • Build small dams to retain water for market gardening and fish farming, which helps maintain the groundwater that feeds wells.
  • Start agriculture classes to help youth quickly equip themselves with climate change adaptation measures.
  • Involve rural communities, including women, in the sustainable management of resources such as water and forests. 
  • Ensure women’s access to extension services and training on climate change adaptation techniques.
  • Promote programs and initiatives for reforestation, use of water and soil conservation techniques, organic fertilizer use, and other adaptive measures. 
  • Practice hydroponic culture in greenhouses.
  • Use zai, a traditional technique to restore the productivity of poor soils. Zai involves digging holes manually to retain runoff water and soil and planting seeds in newly moist soil. 
  • Mix crop production and livestock farming.
  • Avoid burning vegetation for agriculture and practice mulching to conserve water in the soil.
  • Plant short- or intermediate-season varieties and drought-resistant varieties.
  • Irrigate crops with water from solar-powered boreholes.
  • Adopt hybrid and improved early varieties, as well as new agricultural techniques aiming at mitigating climate change.
  • Use rentable drip irrigation systems.

During the discussion, participants identified radio as one of the most effective tools to communicate about climate change. Radio can be used to develop programs focusing on solutions to climate change challenges using information from Barza Wire and other Farm Radio International resources. Broadcasters can also interview experts on issues like soil fertility, and irrigation techniques, as well as inform listeners of important weather information such as daily forecasts.

Radio can also be used to inform listeners about how to implement community projects to adapt to climate change, talk about the harmful effects of agrochemicals on human health and environment, discuss good farming practices, and share information about markets.

Photo: Elinora Shayo, leader of a community listening group, practices beep to vox in Kikwe village, Tanzania in 2016.