By Caroline Mwongera
When I went to Northern Uganda for the first time with my research team, we weren’t sure what to expect. We were of course aware of the devastation in the war-torn area, but the full scale of the impact on agricultural production – the life line of local communities – was not so well known.
This a young generation was born in the Internally Displaced Camps, and deficient of agricultural skills. Others were once farmers, returning back to their land, with no farm implements and inputs, and with close to two decades of lost experience in agricultural production.
In a region with the highest population growth rate in the country, farmers need to produce food not only for their families but for surrounding families and refugee communities fleeing the crisis in South Sudan. This despite challenges posed by climate change, which is exacerbating weather events in already pressed communities.
Farmers can’t predict their calendars. Their traditional seasons for planting have been thrown out of the window, together with much of the information inherited by generations about when and what to plant, and how. Yet climate change continues to have far-reaching consequences for agriculture and will disproportionately affect people dependent on agriculture for their livelihoods.
Focusing on smallholder farmers in Uganda and Tanzania, we set out four years ago to identify, prioritize, test and generate science-backed evidence on Climate-Smart Agricultural (CSA) practices to help crop, land and livestock farmers in these countries improve food security for their families and for dependent communities including refugees, as well as and build resilience to climate change.
As part of the IFAD-supported project, the: “Increasing Food Security and Farming System Resilience in East Africa through Wide-scale Adoption of Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices” program first built trust within communities, raising awareness of beneficial techniques to boost agricultural production despite poor soils, lack of experience or relatively more expensive inputs.
Our research has built on social learning: what leads farmers to adopt certain practices over others; what gender biases there may be to adopting a certain practice? Our work will inform decision makers about the best ways to reach farmers with information that they will trust.
It includes considerations such as: how does the health of the soil – also affected by climatic changes – impact production? What do policy makers need to consider, to pass policies which are understood by farmers, and within their capacity to implement?
We are developing a set of briefs aimed at helping decision makers – investors, governments, funders – decide where to prioritize limited funds earmarked for climate change. They outline 9 things to consider when aiming to “scale up” climate-smart practices, or ensure they are adopted by farmers – and how.
The lessons have implications beyond Tanzania and Uganda: methods and site-specific recommendations to help small scale farmers adapt to and mitigate the effects of climate change; or for decision makers about how to scale up successes and build wider resilience within communities, have far-reaching implications.
In Uganda for example, it has not been easy to convince farmers with less than four years of agricultural experience – having spent most of their lives in camps for Internally Displaced People – that growing drought resilient maize is beneficial. Their main consideration is to simply grow enough food to eat.
How do we learn from these communities, to find out what is really beneficial for them? How do we convince them to adopt agricultural practices which can be more beneficial to them – and surrounding communities – in the long term?
Stay tuned for our 9 briefs about how to scale up Climate-Smart Agriculture!
The project: “Increasing Food Security and Farming System Resilience in East Africa through Wide-scale Adoption of Climate-Smart Agricultural Practices” is supported by the International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) and the CGIAR Research Program on Climate Change and Agriculture for Food Security (CCAFS).