• June 3rd, 2020

Drought and the wounded earth

In its bulletin of  May 6 this year, africanews.com reported on the Namibian government’s declaration of a state of emergency in respect “of the natural disaster of drought in all regions”.

   Further reading shows that several other countries are tackling a similar challenge. The Global Drought Observatory reported that, “the picture is grim for South Africa, notably the central and eastern regions…the nations of eSwatini and Lesotho. Other countries affected are Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique and Angola.” 

The drought has paralysed life across the continent. Two days ago, The New York Times newspaper had a story headlined “U.N. Aid Chief Warns of Looming ‘Horror’ as Somalia Again Faces Famine.” Indeed, several parts of the Horn of Africa have similarly succumbed to the dry weather.

   Livestock prices have declined by half in many situations. The heart breaks upon seeing pictures of livestock and wildlife which cannot survive. The Global Drought Observatory report notes that, “a failure in the rainy season entails a year-long water deficit”. 

Esther Ngumbi has investigated the incidence of drought in a piece entitled “Becoming Drought Resilient: Why African Farmers Must Consider Drought Tolerant Crops.” She observes that, “drought isn’t uncommon in Africa. It happens somewhere on the continent every year. But weather patterns are becoming more unpredictable, as well as more severe.

   Smallholder farmers are most affected by drought because many don’t have irrigation technology and rely on rainfall for their crops. Growing drought tolerant crops has many benefits including increasing farm crop yields.”

On the surface, this seems to provide an answer: “drought resilient crops are a smart strategy and investment for Africa’s smallholder farmers. They offer a buffer to drought, both now and in the future, bringing greater yields, improved incomes and increased food security.”

   However, Ngumbi sensitively cites the challenges involved: “Unlike traditional seeds, drought tolerant seeds have to be bought every year. Many farmers are afraid of being locked in this cycle of financial obligation.”

I agree that this is the crux of the matter; financing. The Bank of Kigali recently launched a digital product called Ikofi. It is described as “a revolutionary universal wallet that offers financial services with focus on Rwandan farmers, agro-dealers, agri-businesses and other players in the agricultural ecosystem.

   For a long time, agriculture has been considered to be a high risk sector for financial institutions mainly due to the lack of accurate and real time information regarding the dynamics of the sector…in Rwanda, though seventy percent of people live off agricultural activities, contributing to thirty percent of GDP, only less than six percent of the total commercial loans is allocated to the sector.”

The Ikofi project seeks to take full advantage of modern telecommunications technologies. It is akin to what some commentators have called a financial inclusion strategy. One long time banker once remarked that, “you cannot farm from your pocket!”

   For agriculture to move nearer its targets, it is clear that multifaceted approaches are the answer. Governments, farmers, industrialists, domestic and external stakeholders, financial and other support institutions, and development partners have roles to play in sustaining especially the smallholder sector.
The high dependence on rain-fed agriculture is a major drawback. Its full implications are unmissable when viewed against the background of the global impact of climate change. Dams and irrigation schemes hold the promise of much-needed relief.

   It is vital to emphasize that the importance of agriculture to African economies has involved thriving smallholder farmers. They have played a crucial role in contributing to food security; generating incomes and reducing poverty in rural areas; promoting diversification of farm produce and creating much-needed employment.

Given that the majority of the continent’s people live in rural areas, nearly all rural households directly or indirectly depend on agriculture for a living. Agriculture also provides vital horizontal and vertical linkages to virtually all economic sectors.

   Lessons from the droughts and the wounded earth must stay on the priority lists of governments, farmers, researchers, donors and business.

Staff Reporter
2019-06-07 10:21:31 | 11 months ago

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