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Agriculture and climate

Farmers harvesting potatoes in the Bolivian Andes

Agriculture and climate change are connected in two ways.

On the one hand, climate change is posing a great threat to agriculture. Water scarcity, extreme rains and changing climatic conditions have a negative impact on plant growth, contribute to soil erosion and lead to lower yields and a decrease in the diversity of plant species. Because of climate change, it will be a great challenge to ensure food security for the world's population, which will grow from about 7.5 billion to approximately ten billion people by the middle of this century.

But agriculture is also a major contributor to global warming. Growing demand for agro-industrial products such as palm oil, soya (for animal feed), beef and rubber has made agriculture the number one driver of deforestation. Wetlands, too (such as marshes, floodplains and bogs, all of which are significant carbon sinks), often have to make way for agricultural land use. "No more land conversion" must be the top principle when it comes to climate change mitigation in agriculture.

In addition, agricultural production must be made more sustainable. For example, livestock farming and certain production methods such as paddy cultivation of rice release the greenhouse gas methane, which is about 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere. Excessive use of fertilisers and certain forms of tillage are also detrimental to the climate. What is needed is diversified, site-appropriate production systems that take account of nutrient cycles.

Global eating habits and consumption patterns also have an impact on the level of emissions from agriculture. About one-third of all food that is produced globally spoils along the supply chain or is thrown away. Meat production is a leading cause of deforestation in South America's rainforests. More and more natural vegetated areas are converted into agricultural land to grow feedstuffs such as soya and to raise cattle.

However, agriculture also has a great deal of potential for climate change mitigation. Greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced significantly through sustainable farming and good agro-ecological practices such as the use of organic fertiliser and site-specific crop rotation, and through conservation agriculture and improved feed for livestock. Moreover, healthy soils are able to store large quantities of atmospheric carbon that has been absorbed through plants. Worldwide, soils store about five times as much carbon as above-ground biomass.

Thus, climate change mitigation in agriculture must include the following actions:

  • Stop land conversion
  • Move to site-specific, diversified production system and close nutrient cycles
  • Reduce post-harvest losses and food waste
  • Change people's eating habits and consumption patterns
Sweet potatoes on a field in Kenya

Rising temperatures lead to lower productivity

The rise in global temperatures will have a serious impact on agricultural production, and it will have considerable negative effects on food security in many developing countries. For example, it is expected that productivity per unit of area in sub-Saharan Africa will decline by up to 27 per cent by 2080 as a result of climate change.

This means that there is a need for ambitious action for adaptation to climate change in the agricultural sector. The type of action will have to be defined in line with the specific context. At the level of small farms, this can mean building organic matter in the soil through mulching and composting; planting local, adapted varieties; using water resources more efficiently; and planting several kinds of plants in one field instead of monocultures. But it can also mean adjusting livestock density to feed production or rotating livestock between pastures in a different way. Agricultural practices that are based on agro-ecological principles have proven particularly successful with a view to enhancing small farmers' resilience to climate change. However, agriculture must not be viewed in isolation. It is part of food systems, has to preserve the natural environment and must not break down when there are extreme weather events or sudden price fluctuations.

Many actions in the agricultural sector enhance resilience to climate change while simultaneously reducing emissions. For example, efforts to increase terrestrial carbon sequestration improve the capacity of the soil to take up humidity, and the land becomes less prone to erosion. Improving the level of energy efficiency in the agricultural and food industry has the same kind of multiple benefits.

The path-breaking decision on agriculture taken at the 2017 climate conference in Bonn (Koronivia Joint Work on Agriculture) paved the way for a stronger focus on agriculture and food security in international climate negotiations. The decision is intended to bring about practical progress, through workshops, on particularly important topics such as climate change adaptation and resilience and socioeconomic aspects of food security. The 2018 climate conference at Katowice saw the founding of the Global Commission on Adaptation (GCA), to which the BMZ is making active contributions, especially in the field of agriculture, food security and rural livelihoods. The GCA is preparing the ground for bold, transformative action to improve farmers' living conditions and make global food systems more resilient. Achieving these goals is a challenging task.

Infographic on the topic of "Agriculture and climate"
German activities

Fostering a climate-resilient, low-emission agricultural sector

In order to ensure food security in times of climate change, higher agricultural productivity will not be enough. There is also a need to enhance farmers' capacity to better adapt to the consequences of climate change.

Using organic fertiliser and introducing site-specific crop rotation and agroforestry systems are just a few ways in which smallholder farms can become more resilient to climate change.

In the agricultural sector in particular, it is important to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, for instance by preventing agriculture-related deforestation, the conversion of wetlands into agricultural land, and the burning of crop residue.

All this goes far beyond new technologies and practices. In order to achieve higher productivity and food security while simultaneously enhancing farmers' resilience and reducing greenhouse gas emissions, there is a need for a holistic view of landscapes, ecosystems, markets and food systems.

Drip irrigation on a field in Ethiopia

Agro-ecological approaches – one answer to climate change

In many places, food production that is based on detrimental farming methods, the expansion of agricultural land and intensive farming are the leading cause of the destruction of ecosystems and are a source of emissions that contribute to climate change. These developments can be halted through an acro-ecological approach based on agricultural practices that preserve ecosystems and reduce emissions.

Acro-ecological farming offers solutions with regard to both adaptation and mitigation. It facilitates the efficient and sustainable use of resources and is often less vulnerable to water shortages and difficult weather conditions. This means that compared with conventional farming, it enhances climate resilience. And it opens up opportunities for reducing agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, green manure and the use of compost improve soil fertility and simultaneously reduce land degradation, which also improves soil resilience against extreme weather events. As a result, inputs such as mineral fertiliser can be reduced, which in turn leads to lower emissions and less pressure on stressed ecosystems.

But an agro-ecological approach goes even further. With regard to our food system, political reforms are needed that are based on an agro-ecological perspective. This includes participatory land use planning and spatial planning, so that agricultural regions will offer good living conditions and provide good and sufficient food for all.

A farmer in Lomé, Togo, is planting a field.

Climate change affects all sectors

Agriculture is directly affected by climate change and must find further answers to this challenge. That is why many agricultural projects under German development cooperation focus on related challenges, for instance the Adaptation for Smallholder Agriculture Programme (ASAP) of the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD), to which the BMZ has contributed 33 million euros.

The Programme is geared towards strengthening the resilience of eight million smallholder farmers in more than 40 countries. One key factor for the success of the Programme is the close attention which IFAD is giving, throughout all its investment projects and country strategies, to both the risks and the opportunities involved in climate change.

Rice harvest in Bangladesh

Agricultural sector is key to partner countries' climate targets

The BMZ supports the climate policies of its partner countries, especially their efforts to implement their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs). In nearly all cases, country NDCs include priority actions that are related to agriculture. Adaptation to climate change plays an especially big role in this context, but countries have also adopted NDCs for climate change mitigation in agriculture.

The BMZ supports, among other things, the Comprehensive Africa Agriculture Development Programme (CAADP) run by the New Partnership for Africa's Development (NEPAD), which seeks to support African countries in achieving their Nationally Determined Contributions in agriculture, and the BMZ supports the work on climate change and agriculture pursued in the NDC Partnership.

Working the field in Kenya

Research and (digital) information systems

Especially with regard to rural regions, developing countries often lack reliable weather and climate data that would enable them to recognise changes at an early point. They also often lack site-specific data on soils and information on functional processes in plants, and they lack institutional capacity. However, such data is necessary in order to create models of the impact of climate change on agricultural production. In places where such data exists, small farmers and other stakeholders often have no access to it or do not even know about it, and too little use is made of the data for the planning of agricultural activities.

The BMZ is helping its partner countries to close these knowledge gaps, for example through a programme for climate-smart livestock farming, which assists partners in East Africa in related efforts, for instance their efforts to improve their procedures for measuring greenhouse gas emissions from livestock farming. This can help them to show whether their mitigation activities are really effective.

Maize plant

Better protection against climate risks and harvest loss

Poor smallholders are particularly affected when crops are destroyed by droughts, storms or floods. The BMZ therefore supports the development of climate risk insurance schemes in the agricultural sector under the InsuResilience initiative, including through the insurance programmes of the African Risk Capacity (ARC).

The BMZ also supports efforts for better food storage and transport so as to reduce post-harvest losses, and efforts to improve market access so as to increase farmers' incomes and enhance their resilience. Innovations based on renewable energy such as solar-powered irrigation and cooling systems are not only good for the climate, they are also particularly suitable for remote regions with limited access to energy.

Fieldwork in Northern Kenya
  • Farmland being prepared in a dry valley in the Yalo district in the state of Afar, Ethiopia.
    Africa: Cooperation in action

    Adapting agriculture to climate change

    In six countries, the "Soil protection and rehabilitation for food security" programme is working with small farmers to spread conservation agriculture methods and introduce agro-ecological principles.

  • A farmer feeding her goat
    Africa: Cooperation in action

    Gaining new insights into animal husbandry

    In sub-Saharan Africa, the keeping of livestock is an important source of livelihood for more than 80 per cent of poor households. However, rising temperatures and less rainfall are reducing the productivity of their livestock and the growth of fodder crops.

  • Maize plantation in Kenya
    African Union: Cooperation in action

    Getting ready for climate change

    In the Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) stipulated in the Paris Agreement, the countries party to the agreement have all specified what measures they will take to mitigate climate change. Many African countries have placed the focus of their Nationally Determined Contributions on their agricultural sectors.

  • A man on a field in Paraguay with manioc roots
    Paraguay: Cooperation in action

    Insurance products help to make small farmers more resilient

    According to the international EM-DAT disasters database, floods, storms and droughts are the most frequent extreme weather events in Paraguay – and their frequency is increasing, as is the damage they cause.

  • Niebe grows in the field of the Beninese farmer Tohomé Hadonou.
    Benin: Cooperation in action

    "I am making the soil resilient again"

    Tohomé Hadonou is a farmer in Benin, who is proud to call 5.5 hectares of land her own. But she is no ordinary farmer. Five months ago, she and 46 other members of a women's group started attending training sessions to learn how to improve soil fertility.

  • Afar people training to build water-spreading river weirs, Yalo District, Afar State, Ethiopia
    Ethiopia: Cooperation in action

    How can we enhance resilience against droughts in Ethiopia?

    In the Ethiopian lowlands, millions of people make a living based on livestock and crop farming. In this age of climate change, efforts are under way in that region to develop comprehensive methods for securing the sources of their livelihoods on a lasting basis.

Farmland being prepared in a dry valley in the Yalo district in the state of Afar, Ethiopia.
Africa: Cooperation in action

Adapting agriculture to climate change

In six countries, the "Soil protection and rehabilitation for food security" programme is working with small farmers to spread conservation agriculture methods and introduce agro-ecological principles. In western Kenya, for instance, farmers are taught to plant cover crops and maize in the same field. Cover crops improve moisture retention, facilitating higher yields. Plant residues remain in the field after harvest. Since these measures were introduced, maize and bean yields (the main staples in the country) have almost doubled.

In Benin and Burkina Faso, soil fertility has been improved through agroforestry planting programmes that use crops from the legume family. They help to boost nitrogen levels in soil - nitrogen being a valuable nutrient for plants. In all six countries involved in the project, organic fertilisers are used in order to prevent nutrient depletion in the soil and reduce the use of mineral fertilisers so as to minimise harm to the climate.

Relevant activities are being pursued, for example, in Ethiopia, where the agricultural sector accounts for half of gross domestic product but many farmers still use inefficient farming methods. In the Ethiopian highlands, smallholders who have received support under the "Soil protection and rehabilitation for food security" programme are achieving yield increases of up to 365 per cent for wheat.

Many of the activities pursued under the programme do not only contribute to adaptation but also to mitigation. In particular, plant residues and manure make soils very fertile and, in addition, contribute to the long-term storage of carbon which otherwise might end up in the atmosphere. The programme helps to analyse and process this kind of information in order to convince even more decision-makers that soil protection measures have great benefits.

Water-spreading weir designed to improve conditions for farming in dry valleys in Ethiopia
A farmer feeding her goat
Africa: Cooperation in action

Gaining new insights into animal husbandry

In sub-Saharan Africa, the keeping of livestock is an important source of livelihood for more than 80 per cent of poor households. However, rising temperatures and less rainfall are reducing the productivity of their livestock and the growth of fodder crops. Moreover, livestock farming is not only affected by the impacts of climate change, it is also a contributor to climate change. In many countries of the region, it is the agricultural sector – in particular livestock farming – that is the greatest source of greenhouse gas emissions. Cattle digestion is the source of large quantities of methane, which is about 25 times as potent as carbon dioxide in trapping heat in the atmosphere.

Germany has worked with the International Livestock Research Institute (ILRI) and the World Bank to develop a programme for climate-smart livestock farming methods. The programme helps livestock farmers to develop promising climate-resilient, low-emission practices and to test them in the field. As a result, there have been improvements in the cultivation of certain fodder crops, in feed processing, and in dung and pasture management.

On-site measurements and laboratory testing are providing proof of the contributions that this new approach to livestock farming is making to climate change mitigation and adaptation. The findings are disseminated through training-the-trainer measures and are incorporated in the curricula of relevant training and extension organisations.

In addition, German implementing organisations are working with political decision-makers in order to develop and try out potential new development paths in livestock farming. Their collaboration is helping to ensure that the likely impacts of climate change on the livestock sector are taken into account in their planning of policy frameworks, strategies and investment projects.

Simultaneously, our partner countries are receiving support to switch their monitoring and reporting systems to the more complex Tier 2 methods of calculating greenhouse gas emissions in the livestock sector. The Tier 2 methods are particularly useful for demonstrating the effectiveness of climate protection measures. They also help partner countries to improve their reporting under the Paris Agreement.

In order to ensure a broad-based approach, the findings are then used – by the World Bank, amongst others – for new large-scale investment projects. And national teams are given advice on how to include ways of fostering climate-resilient, low-emission livestock farming methods in their new projects.

Farmer in cow stable
Maize plantation in Kenya
African Union: Cooperation in action

Getting ready for climate change

In their Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) under the Paris Agreement, all countries have specified their activities for climate change mitigation and, in most cases, adaptation.

Many African countries have placed the focus of their Nationally Determined Contributions on their agricultural sectors. In Africa, agriculture is still the predominant means of securing a livelihood. Of the working population, six out of ten people work in the agricultural sector, and more than half of all farmers are smallholders engaged in subsistence farming. Since people working the land depend heavily on local rainfall, they are particularly vulnerable to changes in climatic conditions. But, without assistance, farming techniques that would help them adapt to these changing conditions tend to spread only slowly.

Through its development cooperation, Germany is supporting the Commission of the African Union (AU), as well as its planning and coordinating arm NEPAD (New Partnership for Africa's Development), in their efforts to make African countries ready for climate change.

The AU is helping its member states to develop finance plans and implementation strategies. Such plans and strategies are helping them to fulfil their NDCs in the agricultural sector. For instance, extensive training – especially in the fields of climate-resilient, low-emission farming methods, climate financing and measurement of climate contributions – is being provided for technical staff working in the ministries responsible for agriculture, the environment and finance.

In addition, Germany is supporting the South-South transfer of knowledge. At the annual forum hosted by the Africa Climate Smart Agriculture Alliance, representatives from civil society and research professionals come together to discuss the challenges facing the agricultural sector in times of climate change. The group of negotiators representing Africa at international climate conferences takes on board the insights coming out of the Forum in order to showcase what is happening in Africa and its agricultural sector. By relying on this kind of expertise, they are able to strengthen their negotiating position at the conferences.

Green house in Kenya
A man on a field in Paraguay with manioc roots
Paraguay: Cooperation in action

Insurance products help make small farmers more resilient

Agriculture is one of the most important sectors of the economy for Paraguay's approximately seven million people. It accounts for about 26 per cent of gross domestic product and employs some 40 per cent of the people. Nearly one third of the country's poor people live in rural areas. They are increasingly confronted with the consequences of climate change. According to the international EM-DAT disasters database , floods, storms and droughts are the most frequent extreme weather events in Paraguay – and their frequency is increasing, as is the damage they cause.

In order to enhance rural people's resilience to disasters, Germany has been supporting the FortaleceRES project through its development cooperation since 2016. The project focuses on developing agricultural, climate and life insurance products in eastern Paraguay. It targets primarily small farms – often farms run by women or indigenous communities.

Under the project, the country's public agricultural bank (Crédito Agrícola de Habilitación, CAH) is developing index-based weather insurance for its borrowers. If an extreme weather event occurs, they receive payments which enable them to respond more quickly and effectively to a disaster. This prevents negative coping strategies such as the sale of livestock.

Another key partner for the project is the social affairs ministry (Secretaría de Acción Social, SAS). It is planning to provide the 13,000 beneficiaries of a life and disability insurance programme with a disaster insurance that would also protect them against heavy rains and extreme drought. And the ministry of agriculture and animal husbandry (Ministerio de Agricultura y Ganadería) and the national insurance supervisory authority (Superintendencia de Seguros) are receiving advice on various forms of agricultural insurance.

FortaleceRES is thus contributing towards expanding the InsuResilience Global Partnership, which was launched at the 2017 climate conference in Bonn. The Partnership has the aim of insuring, by 2020, an additional 400 million poor and particularly vulnerable people in developing countries against climate risks.

Niebe grows in the field of the Beninese farmer Tohomé Hadonou.
Benin: Cooperation in action

"I am making the soil resilient again"

41-year-old Tohomé Hadonou is a farmer in Benin, who is proud to call 5.5 hectares of land her own. But she is no ordinary farmer. Five months ago, she and 46 other members of a women's group started attending training sessions to learn how to improve soil fertility.

She now understands why the yields from her fields have decreased so sharply over the last few years. Every year, she planted nothing but Egusi on her 1.5 hectare field. After the harvest, it was customary to set all the fields alight to burn off the harvest residue. And this is what Tohomé Hadonou used to do too. Now, there is no longer any sign of charred soil or Egusi on her field.

A smile spreads across her face when she explains what has changed: "No, I no longer burn off the scrub after harvesting my crops. Now I give my soil its strength back by using new methods."

Not burning the fields helps to preserve micro-organisms in the soil and to reduce greenhouse gas emissions in Benin – 68 per cent of which are the result of burning biomass.

Instead of Egusi, Hadonou now grows black-eyed peas on her field. This West African bean is a grain legume. It helps to fix nitrogen in the soil and provides valuable nutrients for exhausted soils. The bean is also extremely rich in proteins and contains numerous vitamins and minerals. However, in order to rehabilitate the soils over the long term, much more needs to be done. After the harvest, Hadonou leaves the crop residues on her fields so that they can gradually decompose – producing natural compost in the process.

And she has learned a few more useful tricks: "I now plant my crop rows perpendicular to slopes and have built a low wall of plant remains around the field. This helps to keep the water in the soil."

Rainfall is becoming increasingly unpredictable, with rains sometimes arriving so late that some of the planted seeds dry up. That is why Hadonou now staggers her planting, so that she runs less of a risk of losing her entire harvest. By employing these methods, and by using varieties of maize that have been adapted to climate change and have a shorter growing period, she has been able to increase the maize yields of her field by as much as 30 per cent compared with those of other fields.

All in all, the programme for "Soil protection and rehabilitation for food security" has provided training for almost 20,000 small farmers in Benin since it began in 2015.

The aim of the programme is to restore the fields of small farmers all around the world back to fertility, so that agriculture can be intensified in ways that are sustainable and adapted to climate change.

Afar people training to build water-spreading river weirs, Yalo District, Afar State, Ethiopia
Ethiopia: Cooperation in action

How can we enhance resilience against droughts and floods in Ethiopia?

The Ethiopian states of Afar and Somali are home to more than seven million people. Nearly all of them depend on livestock farming for their livelihoods, often in combination with crop farming. Over centuries, they have succeeded in adapting their habits well to local conditions. However, they are under massive pressure now. This is due to rapid population growth and to droughts and floods, which are becoming more frequent and more severe as a result of climate change. Overgrazing, erosion, deforestation and loss of soil fertility in combination with conflicts over resources thus pose great challenges to people's traditional way of life.

Fatuma Kaloita Momin from the community of Geriro in the district of Chifra says: "30 years ago, the grass was so high that all we could see was the horns of the cows. They called us the milk-and-butter people. Now the grass is gone and erosion gullies are everywhere. The land has become infertile."

The challenges are exacerbated by the fact that government institutions regard the regions of Afar and Somali as backward. The government has so far found it difficult to reconcile the half-nomadic lifestyles of people there with its national development strategies. That is why the Ethiopian government has now adopted policy measures that address multiple sectors. Germany is engaged in development cooperation with the government to help it successfully implement these measures.

The programme for improving drought resilience in Ethiopia consists of seven separate projects that are intertwined, thus guaranteeing a holistic approach. On behalf of the BMZ, the programme pursues activities in eleven districts in the central Afar region and in four districts in the Somali region. So far, it has been able to help half a million people improve their food situation. The projects target, for example, public employees, teaching them how to manage natural resources in ways that are better adapted to climate change, with special attention being given to droughts and floods. The programme also includes construction work, for example the building of water-spreading river weirs. In parallel, training and information is being provided and workers can receive in-service training on agricultural production and monitoring systems. One key factor for the success of the programme is the fact that all activities take account not only of biophysical and climatic conditions, but also, in particular, of local lifestyles.

"Since these people have done something for us, we have water again for ourselves and our animals for six to seven months," says a woman from the Hanfri Clan who keeps goats in Kalkaska in the district of Awra, where the programme has set up a river weir.

The programme has brought better food security for 500,000 people and better incomes for 50,000 people. In addition, some 100,000 people now enjoy improved water supply. Controlled flooding is used to rehabilitate eroded areas and make dry valleys suitable for farming once more. More land, biomass and water is now available for food production. As many as 4,000 hectares of land have already been improved on a sustainable basis and are being used for agricultural purposes now. The programme currently assists 18 interested communities in introducing agro-ecological and drought-resistant production systems. Four new nurseries provide the planting material that is needed.

Another important aspect is the diversification of sources of livelihood. Thanks to training funded under the programme, some 500 people now rely on direct alternatives for income generation. The project has also made it possible for local radio stations to provide information for 1.6 million people so that they can prepare for impending emergencies.

One key focus of the projects is self-determination for the people, enabling them to make their own choices. The programme has provided new options for many people who are now better able to choose their lifestyles.

Women caring for fruit tree seedlings. Their newly acquired knowledge on how to raise fruit trees enables them to improve their households' incomes and food situation (State of Afar, Ethiopia)

Videos on the topic of "Agriculture and climate change"

Drought resilience

Immediate measures and long-term solutions

Droughts are devastating natural disasters. They have caused the death of millions, destroying livelihoods across all continents. They are often linked with local conflicts, triggering forced migration of the poorest. And with global climate change progressing rapidly, droughts are predicted to increase in frequency, duration and severity.

This film not only highlights these problems but also puts forward possible solutions aimed at establishing greater drought resilience in the affected regions.

The film was produced under the auspices of the German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE) and the United Nations Convention to Combat Desertification (UNCCD), with funding from German development cooperation.

Bolivia

Innovative farming methods

Farmers in Bolivia grow apples and other fruit, including strawberries. In that region, this is only possible thanks to innovative, modern farming methods that use water sparingly. (Video in German)

Bolivia

Climate change and the apple harvest

As a result of climate change, apples in Bolivia's highlands ripen too quickly and farmers cannot ship them at the right time. Then again, a cold spell may hit all of a sudden and destroy the entire crop. (Video in German)

Ethiopia

From pastoralism to farming

In an interview with Tom Wlahischa, former livestock herder Fatouma shows her fields and banana plants and talks about how difficult it had become for her to make a living by keeping livestock, as the animals were suffering under the frequent droughts. Over several years, she learned how to use specific irrigation techniques. Now she is able to feed her family and even further relatives thanks to her farming.

Ethiopia

From dependency to self-sufficiency

In an interview with Tom Wlahischa, Woda explains how his village managed to overcome its dependency on food shipments. People from the community worked together to create terraced slopes, start plantations and set up irrigation systems. The village, which 20 years ago was going to be relocated due to excessive drought, now is able to harvest three crops a year.

Agriculture and climate

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