On the initiative of Farm Radio International, a discussion brought together broadcasting partners from Africa and climate experts from November 22 to December 2021. There were 250 people from ten sub-Saharan African countries who attended the discussion in French in a dedicated WhatsApp group. About 200 people participated on an online discussion platform, where the conversation took place in English, and 45 Mozambican radio broadcasters participated in a Portuguese-langage discussion on WhatsApp as well.
Hosted following the 2021 United Nations Climate Change Conference in Glasgow, this dialogue on agriculture and climate change is based on the increasing and sometimes disproportionate impact of climate change on agriculture.
For four weeks, and under the supervision of facilitators Meli Rostand, Busi Ngcebetsha and Tunecas Homo, with the technical input of several subject-matter specialists. Participants included radio broadcasters from across Africa, who shared their understanding of climate change and its tangible effects on agriculture in their regions, and the relevant adaptation measures taken.
Climate change is detrimental to the daily life of farmers, fishers, and herders. These deteriorations reduce biodiversity and crop yields. Erratic rainfall prevents crop from growing and the excess rainfall causes floods with adverse effects on farming. Sea level rising results in the destruction of houses and plantations located on coastal areas. Women account for about 70% of small-scale farmers in sub-Saharan Africa. Unfortunately, they do not benefit from the required attention to face these ravages of nature.
Farmers need more information on adaptation techniques, reliable weather data for a better planning of farming activities, and good practices for a sustainable management of land.
Participants also noted that farmers’ sources of information include public meteorological and environmental services, non-governmental organizations through conferences and seminars, FRI’s resources, farmer groups, social media, and specialized programs on climate change action in some countries.
This discussion also provided the opportunity to reflect on the impact of climate change on women considering their predominance and their significant role in agriculture, and the way they strive to adapt to challenges. The discussion revealed that educated women and men are more likely to understand this phenomenon. Many observe helplessly the early or delayed start of seasons, the droughts during the rainy season, and the early and delayed end of rains, which result in low yields.
For many farmers, climate change means crops destroyed by heavy hail and heavy rains, with flooded fields and fierce winds. Also, droughts occurring in the wrong time cause serious delays in crop development and low productivity. In some African regions, female farmers sometimes sow as soon as rains start, but, when rains cease and resume later, seeds dry in the soil and these farmers must sow again, playing a game of charades over time.
Participants noted however that climate change enabled women in some areas to join forces to boost their economies. Through the establishment of common initiative groups and farm organizations, they were able to share the risks to ensure good crop yields and benefit both from grants and training offered by NGOs.
Crops hit heavily by the impacts of climate change differ from one region to another and women are present in the value chain (production, semi-industrial or traditional processing, and marketing).
Women and men need to know which technique or strategy they should adopt to face climate change, they should know what affects seasons, causes erratic rains, and get training on good farming practices, for example, how to use irrigation methods in case of water scarcity, and how to anticipate climate change and adapt. Farmers need weather data, sufficient education on the basics of rain cycle and the benefits of tree, as well as the consequences of logging and slash-and-burn agriculture. They also need to be trained on the irrigation system, know everything on seeds and their cycles, and get a grasp of alternate cultivation techniques.
The fourth and last week of the discussion focused on the adaptation measures. Many equally important proposals resulted from it, including:
- adjusting farm activities based on weather forecasts;
- pooling efforts in common interest groups to develop and submit adaptation projects to funders;
- using stone barriers to stop water erosion and practice assisted natural regeneration in agroforestry;
- ensuring protection through the construction of dikes with stones or other materials, or withdrawing, that is leaving the coastal area in the face of rising sea levels;
- using terraces and half-moons to enable the infiltration of water in the soil to increase fertility and prevent erosion in regions where rain is not enough;
- building small dams to retain water for market gardening and fish farming, which helps supply the groundwater table that feed wells;
- starting agriculture classes from the outset with theories and practice to help the youth quickly equip themselves with climate change adaptation measures;
- involving rural communities, namely women in the sustainable management of resources like water and forests; facilitating women’s access to extension services and trainings on climate change adaptation techniques;
- promoting programs and initiatives for reforestation, water and soil conservation technique usage, organic fertilizer use, etc.
- practising hydroponic culture, under fitted greenhouses;
- practising the zai, a traditional technique meant to restore the productivity of poor soils. This technique involves digging holes manually to retain the runoff water and the organic matter to plant seeds inside;
- associating crop production and livestock farming as this has benefits. Waste from livestock farming could be used as a fertilizer;
- leaving the grass without burning it or doing mulching to ensure a good conservation of water in the soil;
- using short-season or intermediate-maturing varieties, drought-resistant varieties;
- practising irrigation through solar-powered boreholes, adopting hybrid, and improved early varieties, as well as new agricultural techniques aiming at mitigating climate change;
- using rentable irrigation systems called ‘drip irrigation’ with a pipe network or drilled oil bottles placed at the base of plants.
The unifying role of the radio
During the discussion, radio was identified as one of the most efficient tools used to communicate messages and engage masses. As such, radio can develop programs focused on solutions to challenges related to climate change. Radio stations can share information from Barza Wire and other documents and texts from Farm Radio International on the adaptation to climate change. They can interview experts on interesting issues like soil fertilization and irrigation techniques for better yields. Radio stations should inform listeners of the eventual length of the growing season and the daily weather forecasts with the support of relevant extension officers.
Radio can also be used to inform people on community project implementation, show the harmful effects of chemicals on health, environment, etc., through many types of radio formats (spots, drama, panel discussions, magazines, and dialogue) related to good farming practices, and share information about markets and weather. The effectiveness and efficiency of this approach rely on the use of the most appropriate communication language for farmers in the covered zone and the prime time to ensure messages reach their targeted audience.