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CRAFT: Working on climate-resilient agriculture in East Africa

Published on
October 27, 2022

Climate change has brought more droughts to Tanzania. This not only affects the cultivation of sunflowers, but also the production of sunflower oil. To counter this, oil producers are searching for a solution. Researchers from Wageningen University & Research (WUR) analysed the expected decline in production as a result of climate change in East Africa. With this knowledge, traders and food processors can assist farmers with drought-tolerant seeds and better tillage techniques and irrigation systems.

All over the world, farmers are facing a variety of consequences as a result of climate change: more drought or, on the contrary, more intense rainfall, higher temperatures or greater risks of night frost, flooding and salinisation. In the future, climate change may lead to higher food prices, also in urban areas in Africa. To prevent this, the agricultural sector needs to become more climate resilient. But how can we realise this? Wageningen University & Research (WUR) is participating in a Dutch project, coordinated by the SNV Netherlands Development Organisation, which took the lead in East Africa in Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda.

Beans, sesame and potatoes

‘We focus specifically on food crops that are cheap but are in demand,’ said Annemarie Groot, a researcher from Wageningen University & Research, in 2019, a year after the start of the CRAFT-project. De focus was on sunflowers and the common bean in Tanzania, at sesame and soya in Uganda and at potatoes and mung beans in Kenya. In Tanzania, for example, many farmers cultivate sunflowers. There is a high demand for sunflower oil in the city and in the rural areas.

But the increasing drought has caused a decline in the production of sunflower seeds and has seen a drop in the quality of the harvest as well. This creates a shortage of good sunflower seeds, leading to a problem for both the farmers and the companies that process these sunflower seeds. ‘The processors cannot meet the demand for oil and are unable to work efficiently, as many machines are left standing idle. This means that companies are feeling the economic impact of climate change and are therefore interested in investing in solutions that can help farmers to secure their crops,’ said Groot.

Effect on the harvest

This project was looking for collaboration with producers, food processors and sellers through workshops that discuss climate forecasts. This is where the contribution of WUR made its impact. Researchers monitored the effects of climate change on agricultural production. They worked with the CAFFS’s climate projections specifically for regions and crops. Researchers at WUR were looking at what these climate projections meant for the cultivation and yield of a crop in a particular area. The projections could show that the rainy season started earlier or later. Scientists from WUR then looked at how this affects the time of sowing and harvesting. And when there is an increased risk of drought, researchers could model the effect of this on the yield of the crop.

Climate risks

In climate risk assessment workshops, the participants discussed the climate forecasts and the effects. In addition to flood damage and the increased chance of diseases and pests, the greatest threat is the growing risk of drought. Asked about how they are experiencing climate change, all participants mentioned the higher temperatures. Some areas experienced less rainfall in the growing season, while others got more. By discussing the effects of climate change now and in the future, the participants determined whether there were real climate risks. If there is little water due to drought and heat, but the farmers have good irrigation systems, they are not exposed to any risks. But when the groundwater sinks so deep that irrigation is no longer possible or becomes too expensive, there is a climate risk.

Training, seeds and irrigation

Once the risks had been identified, the workshop participants discussed ways to make the activities in the supply chain – from farmers and processors to traders and other market parties – more climate resilient. Groot: ‘Climate change also offers opportunities, including for companies that sell drought-resistant seeds and for insurance companies where farmers can cover themselves against drought damage,’.

In april this year, CRAFT published results. From the start of the project till the end of 2021 the project supported 54 companies in the Climate Smart Agriculture chain with a total of 7 million euros. The local private agri sector itself invested 13 million euros. That sector has already supported 266,000 small-scale farmers active in various crop value chains, consisting of legumes, oilseeds and potatoes, in Kenya, Uganda, and Tanzania.

Climate resilient agri-businesses for tomorrow

Climate Resilient Agri-businesses For Tomorrow (CRAFT) is a five-year project that was started in 2018. In addition to Wageningen University & Research, the following partners participate in this project: SNV, which coordinates the project, Rabobank, Agriterra and the CGIAR programme Climate Change Agriculture and Food Security (CAFF). This project is financed by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs.