The North bears the responsibility, the South bears the burden

Adaptation to climate change can be achieved by making agriculture more environmentally sustainable – if the rich countries also reduce their emissions

Ich bin ein Alternativtext
Kenya: Water, cleaned in the sediment, collects in the sandy dry riverbank. © Christoph Püschner/Brot für die Welt

Susanne Neubert

(c) Dennis Williamson

Susanne Neubert, Director of the Centre for Rural Development (SLE). Strategic development in education, training, research and consultancy. Securing and supervising SLE overseas projects. PhD in agricultural economics and ecology with a regional specialisation in Africa.

Seminar für Ländliche Entwicklung (SLE)

Welthungerhilfe

Worldwide climate change has – as we all know – long since changed from being a future scenario into something that is actually happening. The main responsibility for this lies with the Global North and China.

 

In rural regions of the Global North, climate change is becoming evident primarily in the form of increasingly frequent extreme weather events, while changes in temperature and rainfall patterns have so far generally been slow and barely perceptible. Due to the favourable starting point of a temperate, i.e. neither unduly hot nor cold climate, farmers here still have numerous options for adapting to the changes. For instance, in these circumstances, one can easily cultivate crops which thrive in warm climates, since there is a wide range of such crop species and varieties. Many agricultural businesses in the northern regions of the world also have the resources for investing in irrigation or drainage systems in order to even out the effects of major fluctuations in rainfall. In addition, the majority of German farmers are insured against major weather losses. What’s more: The Federal Republic subsidises agricultural businesses and it provides government advisers to help them, so the businesses are able to access the latest technology and relevant expertise for dealing with climate change.

 

Climate change is not the only problem: combined with poor management it has led to a deterioration in the quality of soils, pastureland and water resources, and this has created a critical situation which has already reached a dramatic level in many places

 

In the Global South by contrast, above all in the poorest countries of Africa, the situation is completely different. Particularly in hot countries where the initial conditions are already extreme and in semi-arid regions, i.e. countries with prolonged periods of drought, the range of available crop species and varieties that are able to cope with the even higher temperatures and even more erratic rainfall that result from climate change is very limited. However, climate change is not the only problem: combined with poor management it has led to a deterioration in the quality of soils, pastureland and water resources, and this has created a critical situation which has already reached a dramatic level in many places. Market and political failings on a national and regional level, together with a lack of know-how and limited access to inputs, have led to this situation, which is being further exacerbated by climate change.

 

At the local level, this has an impact on farmers in the form of a lack of options and investment opportunities, for instance, due to restricted access to seeds, loans, fertilisers, and pesticides. Furthermore, there is still a lack of professional advice which would enable farmers to improve productivity and would give them the appropriate know-how to be able to adapt to changed climatic conditions.

 

The current conditions of poverty that most farmers are in mean that they cannot run any risks, and so it’s often impossible for them to change the crop species or varieties that they grow. One example of this: Early-ripening varieties that withstand greater levels of aridity provide yields which are about 25% lower than varieties which have a longer period of growth. This means that such adaptation measures are inevitably associated with economic disadvantages compared to the initial situation. However, if the expected drier conditions then do not occur, which may well be the case since climate variability is also increasing, early-ripening crop varieties may well rot in the fields and not provide any revenue. Therefore, adaptation measures are not without their own costs, and often, or even always, they entail disadvantages, above all if they are designed as a response to a specific direction of climate change – such as even less or even more rainfall. Farmers who don’t have many resources also don’t have the money that is needed for purchasing and operating investments such as irrigation systems that can offset fluctuations in rainfall. Subsidies or loans are not normally available, or they are associated with extremely high rates of interest.

 

Politicians often have an “urban bias”, in other words they serve the interests of consumers in towns and cities and worsen the situation of producers in the hinterland areas

 

Another difficulty is that the respective agricultural policies of the countries concerned are usually completely inadequate. Politicians often have an “urban bias”, in other words they serve the interests of consumers in towns and cities and worsen the situation of producers in the hinterland areas. For example, in southern Africa, subsidies have been unilaterally provided for the cultivation of maize for decades now with the aim of promoting national food security. However, this has not achieved the intended goal, and Zambia and Malawi still rank among the countries in the world which have the lowest level of food security. A side effect of this policy is that it has led to a very low level of agricultural diversification, an increase in cultivation risks, the loss of agrobiodiversity, and an unbalanced diet.
But even if – as is the case in some other African countries – there are good political measures in place, e.g. if sensible resource-protection and adaptation programmes have been developed, the measures are not usually implemented, and so far – in cases where they have in fact been implemented – they have had little effect. A reason for this deplorable state of affairs is often the single-project approach which means that measures are taken on a local basis for a limited period of time, but they do not produce any wider effects. 

 

In this legislative period Gerd Müller (CSU) has been appointed as the minister responsible for German development cooperation for the second time in succession. The focus on rural development and agriculture within the “A world without Hunger Initiative” launched by Müller can therefore be continued for another three or four years. All the same, it is recognised that effective adaptation to climate change is a necessary precondition for also producing an agricultural sector that is successful, socially inclusive, and more economically profitable.

 

So what are the strategies and adaptation measures that should be promoted by development cooperation? Agricultural measures that are likely to succeed are above all those which focus on the increasing variability of rainfall. Such so-called “low-regret measures” are effective at dealing both with increased and reduced rainfall, and also – i.e. unlike the above example – they don’t represent a wasted investment if the expected changes don’t occur. What specific measures could these be? They are typically systematic, and they primarily represent a balancing out of risks. In addition to the taking out of insurances, access to more climatic and pricing information, and greater diversification of agriculture and of all the systems that are used for securing people’s livelihood – which includes the opening up of new sources of non-agricultural income – they are primarily measures for preserving soils which enhance the resilience of agriculture in relation to the cultivation of all types of crops.

 

An organic soil is much better at compensating both for a lack of rainfall and for excessive rainfall

 

For instance, soil which has a high organic matter content is much more capable of absorbing water than a mineralised soil. Soil that is organically farmed dries out much slower than an eroded soil that is stripped of vegetation. An organic soil is much better at compensating both for a lack of rainfall and for excessive rainfall. This interrelationship is common knowledge, and it shows that mineral fertilisation alone is not beneficial. Farmers must therefore improve the organic management of the soil. In semi-arid regions the problem is that there is a lack of organic matter – precisely because there is a lack of the most important element for promoting its growth, i.e. water. Composted household waste is a good approach to use, but the amount available is only sufficient for manuring a garden. On the other hand, the benefit of using “catch crops” or “green manures” in fields is extremely limited since the rainy season, i.e. the growing season in these regions, is so short that such measures, i.e. the green manure plants, are in direct competition for water with the main crops.

 

Nevertheless, even in these cases there are opportunities for tackling climate change. Depending on the location, these may include other “conservation agriculture” techniques, various types of “rain water harvesting“, sustainable, collaborative river basin management, agroforestry and silvo-pastoral systems, and improved management of pastureland. For instance, in the Sahel new forms of “benefit sharing”, the balancing of benefits between arable farmers and herds-people, could be effective. Such initiatives are not really aimed at introducing a new crop species or a new method of pest control, or an expensive irrigation system, because measures like this would either be too specific or too costly, and they also involve increased risks. Rather they consist of non-specific measures – such as organic soil management – or social-institutional innovations which aim to achieve an improved level of organisation that makes joint or complementary farming and learning possible, while at the same time involving little financial expense.

 

If one goes down this route it will lead to agriculture becoming more ecological, and to stronger connections being formed between the rural and urban populations – who usually already live in multi-locational networks (with multiple livelihoods) in order to achieve a spread of risks. It would represent a “greening” of agriculture because it doesn’t focus on the use of conventional inputs like chemical fertilisers and pesticides – since that is expensive and increases the risks – instead the emphasis would be on diversification. However, such a course of action is only realistic if it is pursued on a non-dogmatic basis and is also accompanied by a significant mechanisation of agriculture in order to make up for the increased workload that is involved in organic soil management and diversification.

 

Within international cooperation measures these informal networks are usually ignored, as they don’t suit the personalised ways of thinking that are prevalent in western industrial societies

 

Just as important is the strengthening of multi-local networks or “livelihoods” which are traditionally used in African and Asian countries for the provision of mutual support within families. Since there are still virtually no formalised social security systems in the poorest countries, up to now these informal networks have been the only means of providing support for the sick and elderly. Within international cooperation measures these informal networks are usually ignored, as they don’t suit the personalised ways of thinking that are prevalent in western industrial societies. Development cooperation could align itself with these multi-local realities by providing informal information systems and marketing and insurance systems that are linked to them. Innovative approaches – particularly including the use of digital systems – can easily be combined with such measures. This approach could also be combined with the goal of expanding the networks which have traditionally been limited to the extended family. For instance, improved relationships between herds-people and arable farmers can lead to farmers making more effective use of the manure produced by the cattle, and conversely to cattle herders being able to buy grain cheaply.

 

So what is involved are socio-ecological innovations which are affordable and which can increase the resilience of the rural population in terms of its adaptation to climate change. These measures must also be economically worthwhile in order for them to be attractive enough for the local population that they can be implemented even without political support. In addition, investments will also be needed in order to make the learning and experimentation possible that is necessary for these measures to be organised in the right way. This money could be taken from the international Adaptation Funds, and the measures themselves could be usefully supported by development cooperation work.

 

It remains clear that the need to undertake climate adaptation measures in the South must be accompanied by a reduction of emissions in the North. This is the only way to achieve sustainability and to improve the credibility of the global communication process. It is unacceptable for adjustment efforts to be made in developing countries while emissions in the Global North continue to increase.

 

The Global North should, for instance, significantly reduce the emissions that are produced in industrial agriculture. This likewise requires a “greening” of agriculture, and consequently organic soil management. This would mean that more excess carbon dioxide would be stored in the soil (sequestration), and the reintroduction of site-specific livestock farming together with other measures such as afforestation could achieve the necessary reductions in emissions. Such measures also include the intelligent use of animal and human excrement and waste, and reductions in the amounts of mineral fertilisers and pesticides that are used. Nevertheless, consumers in the North would still have to pay more for their food, which would reduce meat consumption as well as the excessive ecological footprint of the North that it imposes on the countries of the South. The areas of land that are freed up in developing countries could be used for the cultivation of food crops which would benefit the South’s growing rural and urban population.

Go back

Similar articles

The human finca

Interview with Marvin Antonio Garcia Otero

In Eastern El Salvador, campesinos are cultivating a self-image to encourage rural youth to remain in rural areas. With help from Caritas, they have adjusted the cultivation methods to their soils and traditions - Marvin Antonio Garcia Otero,the deputy director of Caritas of the Diocese of San Miguel believes this is the best way to prevent rural exodus and criminality.

Read more

(c) Nina Schroeder/World Food Programme

Policy against disasters

Interview with Thomas Loster

Insurance companies could provide protection during droughts in Africa. How exactly this could be done is what the industry is currently trying to figure out. First experiences are available. An interview with the Managing Director of the Munich Re Foundation, Thomas Loster

Read more

(c) Privat

A classroom in the Garden of Eden

By Iris Manner

Deforestation harms people and the environment. With nurseries, farmers can earn money and do good. You just have to know how to do it

Read more

Is the international community still on track in the fight against hunger?

Interview with Miriam Wiemers (Welthungerhilfe)

The Global Hunger Index (GHI) 2020 shows that the world is not on track to meet the international goal of “zero hunger by 2030”. If we continue at our current speed, around 37 countries will not even have reached a low hunger level by 2030.

Read more

Climate Adaptation Summit 2021: ‘We can do better’

Event report by Jan Rübel (Zeitenspiegel)

The first Climate Adaptation Summit put climate adaptation at the center of politics for the first time. The virtual meeting united global players with one goal: building resilience is just as important as climate protection itself. Around 15,000 participants discussed direct proposals.

Read more

GFFA 2021 focussed on climate and COVID-19

A report by David Sahay (Zeitenspiegel)

110 speakers from 120 countries met virtually at the Global Forum for Food and Agriculture (GFFA) to discuss the challenges to global food supply. They asked the question: How can food systems support the health of people and the planet?

Read more

Mr. Samimi, what is environmental change doing to Africa?

Interview with Cyrus Samimi (IAS)

Environmental change is having a particularly strong impact on the African continent. Its landscapes see both negative and positive processes. What is science's view of this? A conversation with Cyrus Samimi about mobility for livelihoods, urban gardening and dealing with nature.

Read more

“We have to prepare for the unexpected”

Interview with Dr Maria Flachsbarth (BMZ)

In August, Germany’s development ministry set up a division concentrating on One Health topics. Parliamentary State Secretary Maria Flachsbarth on knowledge gaps at the human-animal-environmental interface, the link between One Health and food security, and lessons learnt from previous pandemics.

Read more

KLAUS WOHLMANN / GIZ

"Farmers are smart"

Interview with Maria Andrade

From the lab to the masses: Maria Andrade bred varieties of biofortified sweet potatoes which are now widely used all over the continent. She sets her hope on the transformation of African agriculture.

Read more

©WFP/Rein Skullerud

Revolutionising Humanitarian Aid

A contribution by Ralf Südhoff

Financial innovations can prevent a crisis turning into a catastrophe. The livelihoods of people in affected areas may well depend on intervention before a crisis – and on risk funds.

Read more

"We must mobilise all available resources"

A contribution by Ismahane Elouafi (ICBA)

Freshwater deficits are affecting more and more people throughout the world. In order to counter this, our global food system will have to change, our author maintains. A case for more research on alternative crops and smart water solutions.

Read more

© GIZ

Resilient small-scale agriculture: A key in global crises

A contribution by Kerstin Weber and Brit Reichelt-Zolho (WWF)

Biodiversity and sustainable agriculture ensure the nutrition of whole societies. But there is more: These two factors also provide better protection against the outbreak of dangerous pandemics. Hence, the question of preserving ecosystems is becoming a global survival issue.

Read more

The Forest Maker and his director

Double interview with Tony Rinaudo and Volker Schlöndorff

Tony Rinaudo uses conventional reforestation methods to plant millions and millions of trees – and Volker Schlöndorff is filming a cinema documentary about the Australian. The outcome so far: An educational film on behalf of the BMZ (Federal Ministry for Economic Co-operation and Development).

Read more

(c) Nina Schroeder/World Food Programme

Green from the growth container

A contribution by Maria Smentek (WFP)

If there is a lack of fertile soil and rain, hunger breaks out quickly. Maria Smentek from the World Food Programme (WFP) explains how farmers and pastoralists can counter climate change with hydroponic-systems.

Read more

Gender equality: Essential for food and nutrition security

A contribution by Carsta Neuenroth (BfdW)

The majority of producers in developing countries are women. Although they contribute significantly to the food security of their families, they remain chronically disadvantaged in male-dominated agriculture in terms of access to land, credit, technology and education.

Read more

Can we win the race against deforestation?

Interview with Bernadette Arakwiye und Salima Mahamoudou (World Resources Institute)

Deforestation is leading to a shortage of ressources. What are the options for counteracting? A conversation with Bernadette Arakwiye and Salima Mahamoudou about renaturation and the possibilities of artificial intelligence.

Read more

From Berlin to Yen Bai: 10,000 trees for Vietnam

A contribution by GIZ and BMZ

It began with clicks at a trade fair and ends with concrete reforestation: a campaign at the Green Week in Berlin is now enriching the forests of the Yen Bai Province in Vietnam. A chronicle of an education about climatic relevance to concrete action - and about the short distances on our planet.

Read more

Quinoa could have a huge potential in Central Asia, where the Aral Sea Basin has been especially hard-hit by salinisation.

Planetary Health: Recommendations for a Post-Pandemic World

A contribution by Dr. Kathleen Mar and Dr. Nicole de Paula

Against the backdrop of the COVID-19 pandemic, health is receiving unprecedented public and political attention. Yet the fact that climate change is also affecting the environmental and social determinants of health in a profound and far-reaching way deserves further recognition.

Read more

© GIZ

Actual Analysis: The locusts came with the crises

A report by Bettina Rudloff and Annette Weber (SWP)

The Corona-Virus exacerbates existing crises through conflict, climate, hunger and locusts in East Africa and the Horn of Africa. What needs to be done in these regions? To face these challenges for many countries, all of these crises need to be captured in their regional context.

Read more

"Extreme is the new normal"

A report by Alexander Müller and Jes Weigelt (TMG)

As the climate changes, the population of Africa is growing and fertile land and jobs are becoming scarcer. New ways are currently leading to urbanisation of agriculture and a new mid-sized sector in the countryside

Read more

© GIZ / Angelika Jacob

This is how developing countries can adapt better to droughts

A contribution by Michael Brüntrup (DIE) und Daniel Tsegai (UNCCD)

Droughts are the natural disasters with far-reaching negative consequences. While rich countries are still vulnerable to drought, famines are no longer found.

Read more

(c) Christof Krackhardt/Brot für die Welt

Together and resourceful against worldwide hunger

A contribution by Brot für die Welt

Climate change disturbs the climate in Ethiopia. The answer from small farmers in the northern region is convincing: diversify!

 

Read more

(c) Christoph Mohr/GIZ

Microinsurance against climate change

A contribution by Claudia Voß

Climate change is destroying development progress in many places. The clever interaction of digitalisation and the insurance industry protects affected small farmers.

Read more

(c) Nina Schroeder/World Food Programme

Hunger is caused by people, not the climate

Interview with Jacob Schewe (PIK)

A study by the World Bank predicts that millions of people in sub-Saharan Africa will have to leave their homelands because of climate change. We have spoken with one of the authors

Read more

“Healthy ground brings good and many fruits”

Interview with Ben Sekamatte and Boaz Ogola

Africa's cotton production plays a key role in the fight against poverty. The "Cotton Made in Africa" initiative promotes sustainable cultivation - one element of which is the use of organic pesticides. Entomologist Ben Sekamatte and cotton company manager Boaz Ogola talked with Jan Rübel about soil and yields.

Read more

"Agriculture can become a job engine"

Interview with Reiner Klingholz

How can agriculture modernise Africa? And does the road to the cities really lead out of poverty? Dr. Reiner Klingholz from the Berlin Institute for Population and Development in conversation with Jan Rübel .

Read more

Pesticides – a blessing or a curse?

A debate between Lena Luig and Ludger Weß

What are the consequences of using synthetic pesticides in agriculture? Where do they help, where do they harm? Lena Luig, expert for the development policy organization INKOTA, and science journalist Ludger Weß discuss this controversial topic of international scope.

Read more

© GIZ

One Health – What we are learning from the Corona crisis

A contribution by Dr. May Hokan and Dr. Arnulf Köhncke (WWF)

Due to the coronavirus crisis, the connection between human and animal health has gained new attention. Politicians and scientists are joining forces to propagate the solution: One Health. But what is behind the concept? And can it also guarantee food security for all people worldwide?

Read more

(c) Thomas Lohnes / Brot für die Welt

The hype about urban gardening: farmers or hobby gardeners?

A contribution by Stig Tanzmann

Urban gardening is becoming increasingly popular in northern metropoles. People who consider themselves part of a green movement are establishing productive gardens in the city, for example on rooftops or in vacant lots. In severely impoverished regions of the global South, urban agriculture is a component of the food strategy.

Read more

Joerg Boethling/GIZ

"The Green Revolution reaches its limits"

Interview with Stig Tanzmann (BfdW)

Stig Tanzmann is a farmer and adviser on agricultural issues at ‘Bread for the World’. Jan Rübel interviewed him about his reservations about AGRA's strategy.

Read more

Food system transformation starts and ends with diversity

A contribution by Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs (IPES-Food)

While having failed to solve the hunger problem, industrial agriculture appears to be causing additional ones both in environmental and health terms. Emile Frison and Nick Jacobs call for a transformation.

Read more

Biodiversity and agriculture – rivalry or a new friendship?

A contribution by Irene Hoffmann (FAO)

In this article, the author describes what we know about interlinkages, what role agriculture has to play in the sustainable use and conservation of biodiversity, and what the necessary changes in agricultural systems might look like, both on small and large-scale farms.

Read more

5 Questions for Gunther Beger (BMZ): What must be done?

Interview with Gunther Beger (BMZ)

How much will it cost to sustainably end world hunger by 2030? This question was posed by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ) that commissioned two research teams with finding an answer. The results of the studies will be presented on October 13 in the run-up to World Food Day.

Read more

5 Questions for Jann Lay: What is Corona doing to the economy?

Interview with Jann Lay (GIGA)

The Corona pandemic is hitting economies around the world very hard - but developments in African countries are quite diverse. There are different speeds, resiliences and vulnerabilities. What are the reasons for this? Apl. Prof. Jann Lay of the GIGA Institute provides answers.

Read more

(c) GIZ

COST-BENEFIT ANALYSES FOR MORE SOIL CONSERVATION

With the help of sustainable farming methods, soils can be preserved and made fertile again. The investment required is also worthwhile from a financial perspective.

A project of GIZ

Read more

Small-scale farmers’ responses to COVID-19 related restrictions

A study by SLE

The lockdown due to COVID-19 hit the economy hard - including agriculture in particular with its supply chains and sales markets. What creative coping strategies have those affected found? The Seminar for Rural Development has begun a research study on th

Read more

Building our food systems back better

A contribution by Jes Weigelt and Alexander Müller

What is required to make food systems provide sufficient, healthy food while not harming the planet? How should food security be maintained given the threat posed by climate change? Our authors look at some aspects of tomorrow’s food systems against the backdrop of the corona crisis.

Read more

The state of food security in Cape Town and St. Helena Bay

A study by Markus Hanisch, Agustina Malvido, Johanna Hansmann, Alexander Mewes, Moritz Reigl, Nicole Paganini (SLE)

Post-Covid-19 lockdown: How food governance processes could include marginalised communities - an extract of the results of an SLE study applying digital and participatory methods.

Read more

5 questions posed to the SEWOH commissioner Dirk Schattschneider

Interview with Dirk Schattschneider (BMZ)

For about a year now, Dirk Schattschneider has been the commissioner for the special initiative "ONEWORLD No Hunger" (SEWOH) of the BMZ. In the interview, he looks back on the challenges of the past year and at the same time takes a look into the future.

Read more

Not waiting for a savior

An article by Lidet Tadesse

While Africa is the least affected region by Covid-19 so far, the number of confirmed cases and deaths on the continent is quickly rising. Despite the challenges many African countries continue to face, the African response to the coronavirus pandemic displays innovation and ingenuity.

Read more