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Research project empowers African farmers and agribusinesses to adapt to climate change

Published on
March 15, 2021

Africa is at the forefront of climate change impacts. These changes can wreak havoc on production and sourcing of agricultural commodities, such as grains, cotton and vegetables. Soil health management and better seeds for instance can help, but where to begin? That is what Wageningen University & Research and The Dutch Development Bank FMO, HEINEKEN International, the African Cotton Foundation (ACF) and Export Trading Group (ETG) aim to find out in a new ambitious research project: Climate resilient agri sourcing in Africa.

This Public Private Sector Consortium led by a multi-disciplinary team of WUR scientists consisting of economic, climate and plant researchers is joining forces to map climate risks for prioritisation, execute deep dives on high risk agri production areas and its drivers, and define feasible technical and economic improvement options for climate mitigation and adaptation for farmers and agri product buyers.

The WUR research team will develop a scalable approach for climate resilient agri sourcing for the benefit of farmers and buyers of agri products to establish food security.

Goal

The goal is to generate insights in the physical impact of climate change in 20 countries and 15 agri products across the continent and to identify viable and practical improvement options for climate mitigation and adaptation.

Pieternel Boogaard, Global Head Agribusiness, Food & Water at FMO: “Climate change is already impacting African farmers and other agribusinesses along the supply chain. We urgently need to accelerate mitigation and adaptation efforts and help build resilience to more severe climate changes that are coming. FMO supports this initiative by the WUR research team because we are looking for scalable insights and improvement options that will help us and our clients not only to understand the changes in risk profiles but also to learn what they can potentially do to reduce the impact. This is a perfect way for us to bring value to our clients and potential new clients. I am very much looking forward to the first results, and our cooperation with the WUR research team, HEINEKEN International, ACF and our customer ETG for the coming years.”

Satellite and ground data

The researchers will take an innovative approach by linking different levels and disciplines at Wageningen University and Research to efficiently use information from satellites. On the ground they will employ available data of agri production areas and plant growth. They will be using crop growth modelling, extrapolation and prediction of shifts in production regions, including the level of crop productivity under different climate change scenarios, such as chill hours, length of wet seasons, pest pressures, heat which impact the crop specific suitability of production regions. The envisaged climate risk assessment framework is a generic and stepwise approach to climate-proof agriculture and sourcing, leading to advanced climate proof decision making.

Willem Ruster, Programme Manager Sustainability Management in Agri & Food of Wageningen Economic research: “We will develop a scalable tool and process that will substantially increase the speed of generating climate risk profiles, priority areas and adaptation options. We all know that we have to adapt, and that agri value chains will be largely affected but we lack the overview of what will happen and how to act.”

Aiming for solutions at a large scale

This new research is intended to help farming communities protect and improve their livelihoods, increase resilience and to encourage agri off-takers to invest in climate adaption to secure long-term supply.

Ongoing research and development is making progress toward climate related adaptation in agriculture, but many of these do not have access to, and are therefore not based on robust climate risk data.  This project will provide that essential foundation to inform and enhance activities intended to improve environmental sustainability and farming community resilience.

Most problematic areas first

The research runs from 2021 up to 2024 and uses a funnel approach. The first year will focus on scanning climate risks in 20 countries and 15 agri products and prioritise the highest risk areas. The consequent year’s research will focus on the most problematic areas and prioritise feasible adaptation options. They will combine knowledge about crops with local regional knowledge about the landscape, production systems, the soil and trends in local weather conditions.

All meant to calculate the impact of these factors on the growing areas of crops. The growing areas with the highest risk are shortlisted based on their sensitivity to climate changes like increasing periods of drought, heat and intense rainfalls or even pest pressure. Based on these data the researchers will develop ways to tackle these problems, starting with the most affected crops.

Local parties will also be involved. Willem Ruster: “The local farmers are a central part of the solutions, which have sometimes been present all along. We are keen to short-list solutions that align with the incentives of both the farmer and the buyers, and involve local governments, who also are a key partner in terms of information, experience and developing solutions at scale.”