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Fri Dec 19 19:27:19 SAST 2014

Plan farms for climate change: Minister

Sapa | 13 September, 2011 13:39
A farmer loads harvested Merlot grapes onto a trailer truck. File picture
A farmer loads harvested Merlot grapes onto a trailer truck. File picture
Image by: SRDJAN ZIVULOVIC / REUTERS

Adapting agriculture in Africa to accommodate drastic climate changes will reap benefits for future food security and the poor, International Relations and Co-operation Minister Maite Nkoana-Mashabane says.

"Food security is important to Africa's economy as it impacts heavily on a country's poverty alleviation and sustainable development plans," she said at an African ministerial meeting on climate change in Johannesburg.

"It is critical that governments and nations should assess the range of risks [with climate change] and plan to reduce vulnerability accordingly."

Climate change could affect agriculture through higher temperatures, greater crop water demand, more variable rainfall and extreme climate conditions like heat waves, floods and droughts.

A knock to a country's farming sector would affect not only food, fibre and fuel production, but the Gross Domestic Product (GDP), employment and foreign exchange earnings, she said.

Sub-Saharan Africa was particularly vulnerable as agriculture contributed to 30 percent of the region's GDP and employed up to 70 percent of its labour force.

"Millions of hungry and starving individuals have their hopes invested in us," said Tina Joemat-Petterson, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

"The sharing of experiences on this continent will lead to shared actions [and] not just plans of action."

Climate-smart agriculture included proven, practical techniques like mulching, intercropping and no-till farming, which increased organic content in soil.

"By increasing organic content... its water-holding capacity increases, making yield more resilient to climate change, and increasing the stock of carbon on farmland," Joemat-Petterson said.

She said reducing carbon emissions was an important goal for Africa, as its agriculture sector contributed about 14 percent to total greenhouse gas emissions.

On Tuesday, the World Bank said investing in agriculture was a priority, with a US6 billion (R44.3 billion) budget planned for this year alone.

"Food price volatility has already pushed 44 million people into poverty," said the bank's special envoy for climate change, Andrew Steer.

He said worldwide food production would have to increase by a projected 70 percent by 2050 to accommodate an increasing population, estimated to reach nine billion people.

Political enthusiasm would need to be harnessed to tackle food security, climate change and disaster risk management holistically.

The African ministerial conference on climate-smart agriculture will continue until Wednesday.

The preliminary discussions come ahead of the 17th Conference of Parties under the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change, to be held in Durban from November 28.

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