Over the millennia, African farmers and herders have faced constant climatic challenges and usually found ways to adapt to them. However, this ancient knowledge, specific to the environment, has been ignored and neglected. Now, however, a new movement aims to place local knowledge at the centre of agricultural practice. Farhiya Ali Ahmed reports.
In Africa, climatic events have always been so significant that the older generations’ and rural communities’ recollections of stories place historical periods in climatic context. ‘So-and-so was born in the year of heavy rains after three years of no rains’. Even nicknames and family names have paid homage to prevailing climate conditions and climate induced outcomes. Garraw, for example, meaning ‘sorghum’ in the Somali language, was born in a year of great sorghum yield and harvest.
Climate and the impact it has on agriculture have undeniably been an important and ever-present certainty across time in the continent.
In the past, climate conditions dictated a reactive human behaviour. Nomads moved around to follow climate conditions that were favourable for their livestock. Pastoralists adjusted what they put into the earth to suit prevailing conditions and enhance the soil for desired future seeding.
The use of indigenous knowledge and adaption to local environment is gaining a political and civil society-led revival under the label of climate-smart agriculture. This philosophy of ‘nature prescribing and human behaviour conforming’ is now also coming under the attention of biotechnology advancement crusaders.
Though not a new science, it is rapidly picking up pace and its adoption or rejection is increasingly becoming a political and economic issue as the continent races towards poverty reduction and hunger eradication goals.
At the US-Africa Leaders Summit in Washington in August this year, US Secretary of State John Kerry encouraged African countries to participate in the Global Alliance for Climate-Smart Agriculture (GACSA).
He said that due to the “hotter temperature, longer droughts, and unpredictable rainfall patterns”, there was a “need for climate-smart agriculture” and “creative solutions that increase food production”.
Five African countries and the US announced their intention to join the GACSA, slated for launch at the UN Secretary General’s Climate Summit on 23rd September 2014. The five African countries are Liberia, Malawi, Niger, Nigeria and Tanzania.