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Climate-Smart Agriculture in Sub-Saharan Africa



Climate change is already a reality. The latest assessment of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) shows that global climate change is already damaging crops and undermining food production capacity in much of the world, particularly in poor countries. Negative impacts on crop yields have been more prevalent than positive ones. Even worse, that is often the case for staple foods such as wheat and maize, which feed much of the global population.

Sub-Saharan Africa is particularly vulnerable to climate change. The region is marked by strong dependence on rain-fed agriculture and natural resources, high levels of poverty, and limited infrastructure in rural areas. This region is projected to suffer further water stress, more frequent droughts, floods, and other alteration in rainfall patterns, leading to lower agriculture yields unless adaptation measures are taken. Furthermore, climate change is likely to reduce the land suitable for agriculture, potentially leading to increases in clearing of native forest and pasturelands for crop cultivation, with a consequent significant increase in carbon release. The effects of climate change on African agriculture thus are severe and a major challenge.

In this context, we have set out to analyze the barriers and opportunities for promoting climate-smart agriculture (CSA) in sub-Saharan Africa. This means agriculture that: (i) increases productivity and income, (ii) adapts and builds resilience to climate change, and (iii) reduces greenhouse gas emissions where needed. We have conducted scoping studies through the work of national consultants and assessed practices and policies in 15 Eastern and Southern African countries (Botswana, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, Lesotho, Madagascar, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Swaziland, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe). Each of those consultants conducted literature reviews, policy reviews, and key-informant interviews with multiple stakeholders in their countries.

This research has been commissioned by the Food, Agriculture and Natural Resources Policy Analysis Network (FANRPAN) with funding from the African Capacity Building Foundation (ACBF) and the Norwegian Agency for Development Cooperation (NORAD). FANRPAN is a regional network of organizations in 20 countries in Sub-Saharan Africa focused on policies for a food-secure Africa free from poverty. Within its Climate Change portfolio, FANRPAN implements a number of projects including initiatives on Climate-Smart Agriculture (CSA). The overall objective of the FANRPAN CSA policy programme is to increase agricultural productivity and strengthen the resilience of vulnerable smallholder farmers to the impact of climate change. The Earth System Governance Foundation has conducted the comparative assessment and synthesis of the findings from across Africa. Earth System Governance Research Fellow Dr. Mairon G. Bastos Lima (Wageningen University) has led this effort, in collaboration with FANRPAN and the Rio+ Centre for Sustainable Development.


Our findings reveal that the onset impacts of climate change (particularly droughts, floods, and other alterations in rain patterns, with their associated impacts on crop yields and livestock) are already being perceived both by formal experts and by rural populations across Eastern and Southern Africa. Yet, the promotion and uptake of CSA practices remain limited. All countries have examples of both traditional and research-based agricultural practices that can be deemed climate-smart, but they are not mainstreamed and still receive limited support. Such practices include both agroecological techniques (e.g. mulching, intercropping, agroforestry, mixed farming) and agricultural biotechnology, such as high-yield and/or drought-tolerant crop varieties and livestock breeds.

Similarly, Eastern and Southern African countries generally have policies on agriculture and climate change – and do recognize the impacts of the latter on the former. Some countries have developed National Climate Change Policies (e.g. Madagascar, Malawi, Uganda and Zambia), while others countries have National Adaptation Programmes of Action (NAPA) in place (e.g. DRC, Tanzania, Uganda); and/or National Climate Change Response Strategies (Kenya, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe).

However, those policies often lack instruments to achieve the goals they set. Furthermore, they are not sufficiently connected across sectors. There is a clear need for greater policy coherence to avoid conflicts and create synergies. Finally, perverse incentives that hinder CSA implementation (i.e. larger subsidies or other policy incentives for practices that are not CSA) sometimes remain in place and need revision.

Other challenges include limited material (including human resource) capacity, insufficient smallholder participation in governance, and persistent gender discrimination. There are not only financial constraints but also limited access to technology for scaling up CSA practices. Many CSA practices – notably those based on biotechnology, but also suitable machinery for conservation agriculture or small-scale farming – remain expensive and dependent on foreign actors. This reveals an urgent need for South-South and North-South cooperation that promotes the endogenous technological development of Africa.

For greater CSA uptake, it is also fundamental that smallholder, particularly women, have greater participation in policy- and decision-making. Currently, most agricultural and climate policies have been top-down and carried out through “one-way” extension services that tell farmers what to do but hardly listens to them. As a result, not only there is a governance participation deficit, but also difficult implementation. It is essential that institutions be revised to eliminate discrimination against women (e.g. limiting their participation in decision-making or their rights over land) and incorporate the views, needs, interests and concerns of the smallholders who make up the majority of farmers in Africa.

All in all, Eastern and Southern Africa hold great potential for CSA, but this potential needs to be further explored. The region has a large number of traditional agricultural practices as well as research-based programmes and techniques that have CSA qualities. CSA promotion requires concerted action from multiple actors, perhaps most notably from governments themselves, as from non-state actors who can work as CSA advocates. To the same extent that climate change poses an enormous challenge to African agriculture, it may bring about an opportunity to transform it. Not simply an opportunity to change its material basis, but one to shift its policies, institutions, and development strategies in the direction of sustainability and of a food-secure future free from poverty.


Findings from this study have been presented by Dr Mairon G. Bastos Lima and/or Hlamalani Ngwenya at a number of platforms at national, regional and global levels, such as:





Principal ConsultantDr Mairon G. Bastos Lima, Wageningen University, and Earth System Governance Research Fellow. (

Lead National Consultants: Prof Nnyaladzi Batisani (Botswana); Dr. Michel Ngongo Luhembwe (DRC); Dr Stephen Wambugu (Kenya); Mr Patrick Gwimbi, (Lesotho); Dr Rakotondrasoa Lovanirina Olivia (Madagascar); Dr Joseph Dzanja (Malawi); Prof Sunita Facknath (Mauritius); Prof Firmino Mucavele (Mozambique); Dr Irvin D.T. Mpofu (Namibia); Prof Pearson Mnkeni (South Africa); Prof A.M. Manyatsi (Swaziland); Dr Filbert B.R. Rwehumbiza (Tanzania); Prof David. S. Osiru (Uganda); Mr Misael Kokwe (Zambia); and Prof Emmanuel Manzungu (Zimbabwe).

CoordinationHlamalani Ngwenya, Knowledge and Communications Manager, FANRPAN; and Ruben Zondervan, Executive Director, Earth System Governance Project

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