UN gathers experts to help West African farmers cope with climate change

Lower precipitation due to climate change causes water scarcity and reduced food production

28 April 2009 – A United Nations-backed workshop aimed at identifying ways for West African farmers to limit the damaging effect climate change has on their livelihoods kicked off in Burkina Faso today.

West Africa, home to 43 per cent of the total population of sub-Saharan Africa, is one of the most vulnerable regions to climate change in the world.

The region suffered a 20 to 40 per cent drop in rainfall from the mid to late 20th century, according to a UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

In addition, IPCC projections indicate that Africa is very likely to warm during this century, decreasing the length of growing seasons for farmers and cutting the potential size of harvests in West Africa.

For some countries yields from rain-fed agriculture could fall by up to 50 per cent by 2020, threatening the survival of large West African populations dependent on semi-subsistence farming.

The four-day climate change adaptation workshop, held in Burkina Faso’s capital of Ouagadougou, will determine action that can be taken to alleviate the impact of global warming for farmers in the region.

Some 70 experts, brought together with the help of Spain by the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) and the UN Environment Programme (UNEP), will discuss and recommend measures for the agriculture, livestock, forestry and fisheries sectors in West Africa to help them adjust to a changing environment.

“A principal WMO goal is to make farmers more self-reliant by better preparing them to cope with major issues influencing agricultural production,” said WMO Secretary-General Michel Jarraud. “It will increasingly be necessary to use science to identify integrated adaptation and mitigation strategies for a range of agro-ecosystems.”

Noting that sustainable agriculture holds the key to mitigate climate change through carbon storage and better use of carbon in crops, Peter Holmgren, Director of FAO Environment, Climate Change and Bioenergy Division, said that “millions of farmers around the globe could become agents of change helping to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Mr. Holmgren stressed that farmers, particularly in poor countries, should be involved in carbon sequestration, a strategy to be discussed at the workshop, as well as more efficient use of water; changing crop variety; altering planting schedules; improving pest, disease and weed management practices; and making better use of seasonal climate forecasts to reduce production risks.


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