Climate change adaptation and mitigation

Strengthen the adaptive capacity of Africa’s most vulnerable
livestock-keeping households so that they may find, test
and adopt new ways of coping with climate change.

The cross-sectoral activities needed to enhance adaptive
capacity are essentially the same as those promoting sustainable development;
an increased ability to adapt to climate change
may well yield greater overall resilience to change.

Communities most vulnerable to climate change
will  take centre stage in research to enhance
their long-term capacity for adaptation.

The world’s climate is changing at unprecedented rates. African agriculture and pastoralism will suffer some of the greatest impacts of the twin threats of global warming and increasing climate variability. Africa is already warmer than it was 100 years ago; by mid-century, extreme droughts will prevail over large areas of the continent now relatively drought-free.

The risks are greatest in the tropics, where people are most reliant on natural resources, are most vulnerable to environmental disasters, and are least equipped to adapt to change. The more than 300 million people in sub-Saharan Africa living on less than USD1 per day, most of them farming or herding livestock for their livelihoods, are likely to bear the greatest costs of climate change. The continent is also among the lowest emitters of greenhouse gases, making climate change a global ethical as well as scientific and development challenge.

Climate change will severely impact Africa’s poor livestock keepers. It is under-reported and under-appreciated that declining crop- and rangeland productivity will reduce the amount and quality of already scarce crop by-products and forage with which virtually all African smallholders feed their  livestock. Less water will be available to raise farm animals, which typically constitute the prime asset of smallholders. And as rising temperatures alter the distribution of parasites and their vectors, allowing them to move into new areas, many communities already in poverty traps will have to cope with new human as well as livestock disease burdens.

All of this will force Africa’s livestock keepers to make major changes in their production systems. Among the most likely are the keeping of less-productive breeds that tolerate more heat and  disease as well as less feed and water; greater reliance on planted forages, crop by-products and common range- and other public lands to feed ruminant animals; and replacement of pastoral cattle with drought-tolerant camels, sheep and goats.

Climate change will also impact Africa’s hundreds of millions of smallholder mixed crop-and-livestock farmers who will be forced to shift, for example, from maize production to growing millet, sorghum and other less lucrative but more drought-tolerant grains. These mixed crop-livestock producers, the ‘backbone’ of African agriculture, will also have to rely to ever greater extents on their livestock enterprises to cope with declining crop yields as well as more frequent crop failures.

Despite the central importance of farm animals to Africa’s poor and the magnitude of the changes expected to befall Africa’s more than 160 million poor livestock keepers due to climate change, scant attention has been paid to issues of livestock and climate change, particularly livestock-related adaptive responses to climate change. Little is known, for example, about how climate interacts with other drivers of change in livestock production systems. We lack analytical frameworks and tools with which to conduct such studies. We lack indigenous research and technical capacity to address livestock adaptation issues impinging on Africa’s poor.

We work on livestock based adaptation to the impacts of climate change, examining growing tradeoffs between livestock production and other ecosystem services and managing livestock negative impacts on climate change.

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